Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Eastern Carpenter Bee (Macro Photos + Education)

I started taking pictures of Bumblebees today when I realized these weren't bumblebees at all.

Though these bees look similar to a Bumblebee from a distance (or with eyes blurred), this is in fact a Carpenter Bee -- more specifically the Eastern Carpenter Bee.

As you see in the image below, the Carpenter Bee has a shiny abdomen while the Bumblebee is slightly wider with more fur.
The Eastern Carpenter Bee

Just one of over 500 species of Carpenter Bees in the world, the Eastern Carpenter Bee is the most common such bee in the Eastern United States.

A very docile insect, stings are rare and accidental (such as stepping on one with bare feet). They're made even more remote since the males do not have a stinger, therefore unable to inflict wounds.

While some insects are difficult to sex with human eyes, Eastern Carpenter Bee Males have a noticeable white cuticle area on their face, while the face of a female is completely black.
Original image from Bugguide.net. Map by Mike Boone.
Habits and characteristics

While males only visit flowers to keep themselves fed (or wait for "willing" females), the females gather pollen and nectar from flowers to help build and maintain their nests.

The Eastern Carpenter Bee is a clumsy flyer, often crashing into objects - only to harmlessly bounce off. This is most likely because of their "Jumbo-like" physical structure. They can, however, fly several miles from their nests daily.
This has been a busy bee. Notice the pollen dust on its back.
Similar but very different than Bumblebees

Like Bumblebees, these bees are excellent and noteworthy pollinators. Unlike Bumblebees, Carpenter Bees reside year-round in nests bored into wooden structures - thus earning the name "carpenter."

Though damage from Carpenter Bee's boring habits are not considered extensive (such as that occuring with Termites), it is enough to label them "pests" in many people's eyes. This is because more structural damage occurs when woodpeckers seek out larva from within these nests.

Year-round nesting habits

These bees are crafty woodcutters, however they do not ingest the wood - rather, the females use them to build walls inside their nest tunnels, where they lay their eggs and eventually overwinter.

When the following Spring arrives, the male Eastern Carpenter emerges to look for a mate while the female spends much of its time enlarging its existing nest, or boring a new tunnel nearby. Often the same nest is used year-round for many years.

Though they are neither considered a social or non-social insect, females do appear to form some long-standing bond with their sisters of daughters - frequently living in the same nest, or in one close by.
Male Eastern Carpenter Bee taking off from flower.
Final word

If your home (or any other prized possession around your yard) is not made from wood, there is really no reason at all to hate or discourage these wonderful pollinators.

The Eastern Carpenter Bee is not aggressive and cannot or usually won't sting, plus they encourage growth of any vegetation around your yard.

Do you like or dislike Carpenter Bees? Got a story to tell? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

P.S. Read this touching story about the Carpenter Bee and Her Mate


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