July 17, 2015 by wagnerfreeinstitute
Scientific name: Xylocopa virginica
Range: Eastern North America
Perhaps no bee is a victim of misunderstood fear as much as the poor carpenter bee. Though their large size and lawnmower-like droning noise may cause trepidation, they are completely harmless, with the males lacking stingers and the females rarely using theirs even when aggressively handled.
Carpenter bees are very curious, which is why they often fly into and hover around people’s faces. They earned their name from their wood-boring ability, which they use to build tunnels for raising their larvae. Carpenter bees are most often seen hanging around wooden structures and crawling in and out of them. They burrow perpendicular to the grain, leaving a pile of sawdust outside of the hole. While sometimes considered destructive pests, the damage they leave to wooden structures is mostly cosmetic.
Carpenter bees are also essential pollinators; the strong vibrations of their wings knock loose a great deal of pollen. They also, however, exhibit “nectar robbing” tendencies – meaning they bore into flowers and avoid the pollen. Nonetheless they are an important link in any ecosystem.
The carpenter bee is a quirky little insect with interesting behaviors. Males are so curious that if one throws a small pebble or object, they will rush to investigate it. For those who fear these bees, this is a way to remove them. They are faithful to their homes, not straying too far to build new nests and often raising young in the tunnels in which they themselves were born. They are notoriously clumsy fliers, recklessly careening into objects and terrified people.
Remember the next time you see these large bees that they are curious like kittens and are nothing to fear!
This post was written by Wagner Free Institute of Science Summer Museum Assistant Adam Knapp.