I am always amused when Australia is depicted as a land of gigantic man-eating insects. The truth is that Europe has some huge insects – stag beetles, hornets...and Carpenter Bees (Abeille charpentière in French). The four species of European Carpenter Bee, from the genus Xylocopa, are not the biggest bees in the world – that honour goes to a leaf-cutter bee from Indonesia which is 39mm long. Nevertheless, carpenter bees are amongst the largest in Europe and generally come in at 20+mm.
The most common species is the Violet Carpenter Bee Xylocopa violacea, but the exact species is very difficult to distinguish in photos. Usually the only way to narrow it down is if you have a photo of a male and can see the colour of the antennae tips. The Violet Carpenter Bee is the only one to have red tips.
Here is a male Violet Carpenter Bee feeding on the flowering succulent known in Australia as Pigface, but in Britain it is called Hottentot Fig (and Figues des Hottentots in French). You can see the red antennae tips in at least one of these photos if you click on them to enlarge.
Another specimen feeding on a Sweetpea. You can see that this flower, or some other recently visited bloom, has taken the opportunity to whack the back of the bee with it's pollen capsule so it will carry it away and pollenate a neighbouring plant.
Carpenter Bees nest in holes in wood. They will either chew out the hole themselves, or adopt a found hole.
of the stable block at our place.
Carpenter Bees pose no threat to your buildings, nor do they sting unless very severely provoked. They are a real pleasure to have around, and lovely to watch.