Carpenter bee

Carpenter Bees

Carpenter bees (Xylocopa) are a type of solitary bee that we are lucky to find here in the United Kingdom. Unlike honey bees and bumblebees, they do not live with others; they prefer the single life.

Across the globe, there are over 500 known species. Most of them reside in tropical regions where the climate is nearly always perfect. However, some have decided to nest with us in Britain (despite our less than warm weather at times).

Nesting Habits

As their name suggests, these little fuzzies make their nests in wood.

Of course, it is the fertilised female that builds the nests. They use their jaws to “drill” perfectly round holes into any wooden surface. Usually, they will be no bigger than the size of your pinky finger. She will tunnel down a short distance and then make a sharp turn to construct a connecting tunnel to the surface. 

Inside her handmade tunnels, she will make five or six cells (one for each of her eggs). Before actually laying her eggs here, she will go out and collect pollen and nectar for the larva. Once all this has been done, she will seal off the cell with chewed up wood.

If you are close enough for this process, you might be able to hear them boring into the wood — how cool is that? Don’t worry, if you missed their hard work, you might still be able to see some sawdust around the perimeter of their tunnel openings.

What Do Carpenter Bees Look Like?

The adults tend to be around ½ to 1 inch long (12.5 to 25 mm).

Although they look incredibly similar to bumblebees, there are some distinguishing features. Typically, they are glossy and black all over but some types display purple or green tones which become more apparent in the right light. 

The drone caste (males) exhibit a yellow face with a signature white dot on the top of their heads. In contrast, the female displays an entirely black face. 

Do Carpenter Bees Sting?

The good news is that a male Carpenter bee does not have a stinger. However, they can be fairly aggressive when they are looking after their nest. If you walk over to it, they will probably dive-bomb on to you. Of course, this cannot harm you, but it can be fairly scary due to the incredibly loud buzzing sound and the sheer size of it. 

On the other hand, females do have a stinger. Luckily, you aren’t at risk from being stung by them unless you decide to physically infiltrate their burrow or personal space. Bear in mind that their sting is insanely painful; sometimes it is unbearable and requires medical treatment.

Are Carpenter Bees Endangered?

While they are not on the endangered species list, like other solitary bees found in the UK they have been subject to diseases, pesticides, stress, malnutrition and pests. All of these could impact the Carpenter bee UK population which, ultimately, will affect our entire ecosystem.

How to Attract Them to Your Garden

If you want more Carpenter bees (Xylocopa) to come into your garden, you need to provide an environment in which they will thrive.

To start with, make (or buy) them a bee house. Since they nest in holes drilled into bits of wood, you can simply grab an untreated log and drill the holes yourself. You can then hang it up in a safe place and watch as they lay their larvae!

Even if you don’t have time to make a hotel for them, try to provide lots of fence posts, old wooden planks and other items that they can bore down into.

Now, all you need to do is make sure you plant flowers that the Carpenter bees will pollinate and suck nectar from. Just make sure to never use pesticides and try planting some of the following:

  • Blueberries (Vaccinium)
  • Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis)
  • Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum)
  • Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)
  • Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
  • Stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida)
  • Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea)
  • Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
  • Giant ironweed (Vernonia gigantea)

Remember that all of our bees need to be saved since, without them, our world just wouldn’t be able to function! Even if you don’t necessarily want them in your garden, don’t go out of your way to discourage them — they are beautiful and vital in our ecosystem!