I knew the lure of a brand new wooden screen door would be too much.
I knew I should have painted it before my brother had it installed. I knew I wouldn’t get around to painting it and leaving it unfinished was inviting trouble — Carpenter Bee, kind of trouble.
Olivia, her friends, Katie and Krista, and my niece, Tiffany, got a front-row-seat in the living room to the construction of a carpenter bee drilling a nest. It must have been a day, yesterday, for entomology, with the Eastern Tent Caterpillars and then the invasion of that one carpenter bee.
Sometimes, people confuse the carpenter bee for the bumblebee. Although, when compared side-by-side they look different. The image on the left is the carpenter bee and the image on the right is the bumble bee. Thanks to Lee Townsend at the University of Kentucky for the comparison photos. Unlike my confusion with caterpillars, I happen to already know what the bee looks like and have been trying to figure out where this particular bee had chosen it’s new home. I had mostly seen it at our back door and thought it might be building in the eaves. Guess not!
Male carpenter bees are very aggressive, but pose no harm, since they don’t have a stinger (like all male bees and wasps). They will fly right up to people, hovering as they inspect us. Can you imagine what we look like to them. They also have a very loud buzz. There are two species native to South Carolina — the huge Xylocopa virginica, or Eastern carpenter bee (this is the one we have), and the smaller, Xylocopa micans, with its glossy, iridescent black color. Besides honeybees, there are an estimated 500 – 800 species of bees in our state.
Although carpenter bees prefer softwoods such as cedar, redwood, or cypress, they happily attack pine and most other species of wood. Once the male and female have paired and mated, the female bee drills into a suitable site while the male stays nearby to ward off intruders. For a moment of science on the carpenter bee, you can watch a video showing the inside of a carpenter bee’s nest, exposing it chambers.
“The fertilized females excavate tunnels in wood and lay their eggs within a series of small cells. The cells are provisioned with a ball of pollen on which the larvae feed, emerging as adults in late summer,” according to the UK website. Carpenter bees overwinter as adults in wood within abandoned nest tunnels.
Clemson Extension Entomologist Michael Hood posted that “the excavating bee will bore directly into the wood with her mouth parts for about an inch, then turn sharply and bore at a 90 degree angle, usually along the grain of the wood. Normally, the gallery will extend about four to six inches, but with repeated use, galleries have measured ten feet long. Nest sites by a single bee results in slight damage, but repeated colonization over several years may result in considerable damage.”
Painting seems to be the only way to prevent these bees from drilling into the wood. Stains may work, but doesn’t always fool the bee, like painted surfaces. When we lived uptown, a house painter once told me a good deterrent for carpenter bees on your porch was to paint the ceiling blue. He said it confused the bee into thinking it was the sky. I don’t know about this, but we got our ceiling painted a nice shade of blue, anyway. It made the porch look good.
There are several ways to get rid of carpenter bees, but they don’t bother me. In fact, I have tried several time, unsuccessfully, to photograph our guest. He gets close enough, but flies away too fast. Maybe I’ll get the shot now that I know where it is hanging out.
Former commercial bee keeper, David L. Green, has a wonderful article on The Bees of South Carolina in the July/August 2008 edition of South Carolina Wildlife magazine by SCDNR. I wonder how many varieties can be found in my yard. We have blueberry bushes and now I’m curious if we have blueberry bees, another SC native. Wouldn’t it be cool if blueberry bees were blue.
Just wishful thinking; that bee is called the Osmia lignaria, and is commonly known as the orchard mason bee, blue orchard bee or blue carpenter bee. Which, can be found in our state, as well. Once again, our Clemson Cooperative Extension offers a lot of information and a list of native flowering trees and plants to help our pollinators in their work. Go Clemson Tigers!
This particular blue-boy was found on the tumblr page Voices of Nature. I sure hope I see one of these in our yard. That would be such a special sighting. Take the time to check out the pollinators in your area and let us know what you find with a comment below. Nature will always surprise and delight me.
(Featured photo credit: http://jimmccormac.blogspot.com/2010/04/carpenter-bees.html)