Carpenter bees are misunderstood but important pollinators | News from the farm
Imagine a peaceful flower on a warm summer morning that is visited by a multitude of tiny insects as they start a new day.
A light breeze is blowing, and as it intensifies, a loud helicopter noise fills the air.
When the gust hits a zenith, its source makes its presence known – a giant carpenter bee lands on the flower, ingesting nectar and pollen, and likely pollinating the plant as well.
When leaving, the other floral occupants are stunned, and rightly so. You have just witnessed a visit from North America’s largest bee.
As an absolute pollinator juggernaut, carpenter bees are indispensable flower visitors for almost every flowering plant in an ecosystem, especially when it is cold, windy or otherwise bad weather.
Unfortunately, when trying to pass the wonders of these bees on to anyone I can struggle with, it is not uncommon to receive a few grins and glances as they are often deeply misunderstood.
Although they have a habit of drilling into man-made structures, this occasional inconvenience should often be overlooked rather than seeing the benefits that carpentry bees can bring to your yard and the surrounding landscape.
Indeed, the choice of your deck over a more natural setting is often due to the lack of suitable living space nearby and / or exposed wood without adequate sealing or painting.
Just because of their sheer size, carpenter bees and other large bees like bumblebees can fly in weather that would send smaller beetles in downward spirals.
These two large species are also active in cold and dark weather and pick up the pollination lull for plants in years with extended storms during the flowering period.
The easiest way to tell the difference between bumblebees and carpenter bees is usually to look at their belly – bumblebees tend to have a fuzzy rump, while carpenters prefer a shiny rump.
While visiting flowers, carpenter bees are also one of the few bees that are capable of pollination, vibrating their flight muscles at specific frequencies to remove pollen.
This is especially effective on plants with inverted flowers such as tomatoes and blueberries. Studies have shown that plants that have been highly pollinated see benefits in the form of more fruit set and larger fruit compared to other forms of pollination.
Carpentry bees use the pollen they collect to feed their young, which are housed in long nests that are drilled into the wood called the galleries. They appear to be semi-social, able to live in small colonies that share work when necessary, but they can also be loners at times.
They are incredibly docile and females only sting as a last resort. The males, who cannot sting and can be recognized by a large yellow dot on the forehead, will mark out a small area.
Once established, they will try to keep all animals (except the female carpenter bee), including mosquitoes and even humans, outside. These charismatic bees will jump in your face, but once they learn to spot you, their inquisitive head butts will soon subside and they will just follow you and watch your movements.
Because of their large, sometimes social nests, once they have established themselves, it is difficult to remove carpenter bees from a location.
The best way to keep them at bay is prevention – they seem to prefer aromatic woods like pine and cedar, so don’t use these in problem areas.
Be sure to keep wooden structures well painted or sealed, and I’ve also heard that almond oil can repel carpenters too.
Brannen Basham and his wife Jill Jacobs run Spriggly’s Beescaping, a company dedicated to the conservation of pollinators. He can be reached at [email protected]