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Mr. Bee aka Xylocopa virginica - Eastern Carpenter Bee

Updated: Jan 31, 2022

August 1, 2020 was a hot day. While sitting in the Native Plant Pickup Yard, a giant carpenter bee crawled onto my foot. I noticed it had only one good wing and the other wing did not develop all the way. So, I walked over to the wood pile and shooed it into it knowing it would not make it very long in this condition. I sat back in my chair and an hour later it was back on my foot. Again, I put it back in the woodpile. Thirty minutes later, it was back on my foot. I put it back in the woodpile for the night. Needless to say, the next day it found me again. I got the hint, it needed me.

I figured this bee had not had any nourishment in some time so I let it crawl on a stick and put it on the Pycnanthemum tenufolium (Threadleaf Mountain Mint) I had for sale in the Yard. Little critter went to town! While it enjoyed the mountain mint, I did some research on my Mac regarding Carpenter Bees. I found out the big bee was a male because of the large white patch on his face and that the males do not sting.

Curiously, I put him on a stick and then allowed him to crawl on my hand. He started using his tongue, called a proboscis, on my cuticles and it felt quite bizarre.

Well, now I have become this bee's life line and I knew it was just a matter of time before he was no longer going to be with us. Everyday I would bring him outside and put him on the Mountain Mints and he would spend his day there. Then on August 5, the big storm Isaias was about to approach and I couldn't leave him outside. I set him up in a big container with a shallow dish of water and fresh flower cuts that were changed out every 2 hours. Every night he came inside and he would sleep.

I knew the day would come, he passed exactly 2 weeks from the day he found me and I cried for hours. I buried him under a Rubus odorata (Flowering Raspberry). If he was left to nature he never would have made it that long. Carpenter bees can live up to three years. I'm thinking he was a young one who's wing just never fully developed. I learned a lot from Mr. Bee and it taught my fiancé to have a little more respect for this great pollinator. Of course, he still hates them for drilling in the eaves of the house (the females are responsible for this) but I keep telling him a nice coat of paint will deter them. This year we will have some wood set aside to maybe deter them from drilling in the eaves.

Carpenter bees will forage from flowers like Penstemon, Salvia and other long necked flowers which are too small for them to crawl into. Instead they use their mouthparts to cut a slit at the base of the corolla and steal away with the nectar without having pollinated the flower, this being called nectar robbing. Being generalists, they also forage in our vegetable and flower gardens. Just like bumblebees they perform 'buzz pollination' on peppers, eggplants, tomatoes and other vegetables. This is where they use their jaws and strong thoracic muscles to hold the base of the flower and beat their wings to sonicate the dry pollen grains out of the flower's anther.

Think about this the next time you get angry with them for drilling into your 'poorly maintained eaves'.

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