In North America there are several species of large carpenter bees (Genus Xylocopa
, latin for “woodcutter”). On the east coast, the most common is the impressive eastern carpenter bee, Xylocopa virginica,
, which is a large bee (up to 2.5 cms long) with a shiny black abdomen. It is often mistaken for a large bumblebee (genus Bombus
), as they are similar in size and coloring. Bumblebees, however, have hairy abdomens. Eastern carpenter bees are important pollinators, especially of open-faced flowers, though they are also known to "rob" nectar by boring holes in the sides of flowers with deep corollas (thus not accomplishing pollination). To build their nest, X. virginica
females bore perfectly circular holes into wood (often using human structures and dwellings and thus can be considered minor pests). Unlike termites, carpenter bees do not eat the wood they bore into, but they use chewed wood bits to form partitions between the cells in the nest. Eastern carpenter bees are not social, but they tend to be gregarious, and a female can live together with, and care for her sisters, perhaps illustrating a transitional step in the evolution of sociality. Females tend to nest in the same tunnels generation after generation, and often overwinter as adults in these tunnels also. They only produce a few young bees a year. Male eastern carpenter bees have a patch of white cuticle on the face, as opposed to females, whose faces are black. Males are curious, but not aggressive. Like all bees, only the females can sting. Female carpenter bees are docile and are reported to sting only if handled. Exterminators can control X. virginica
using chemical insecticides and mechanical destruction of nesting bees and larvae. However, often the damage these bees cause is superficial and they can be discouraged from particular areas by painting wood surfaces with polyurethane or oil-base paint, or by putting out other wood to redirect their attention, and blocking up their holes.
; Wikipedia 2011