Sunday 10 May 2009

Violet Carpenter Bees

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.
Here is a bee investigating the possibilities
of the stable block at our place.

And here are the holes it set up home in.
Carpenter Bees will also investigate guttering and downpipes. You can always tell if you have a carpenter bee in your downpipe, as the buzz reverberates impressively. We don't have a recording of this sound, but Simon pointed out to me that Steely Dan demonstrate the noise admirably in this video clip:

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.



Jean said...

Gorgeous photos, Susan. I like the Steely Dan clip too.

Ken Broadhurst said...

I've seen these huge bees in Saint-Aignan but didn't know what they were called. Thanks. I'll have to look for those red antenna tips next time, if I'm brave enough to get that close to such a monster.

Barbara said...

Those photos are gorgeous. It's not an easy thing to photograph a busy bee ( I know, I've tried )

Great great oldies with Steely Dan :) Could art be immitating nature here a bit ? You never know where inspiration will strike.

Simon said...

Would it spoil the entry to say how many out of focus photos of bees I have?

Thought so... There are a few though!

The guitar sound on Steely Dan is well known in guitarist circles as "the bee in the coke can sound"

Ken - don't be scared, they are the most amenable of bees.

sharp green pencil said...

Hi there Susan, lovely to find your words of praise for the Carpenter bees. I found your post too late to refer to the Steely Dan sound in my blog post about them ( I have been drawing them).. may have to add it though! .. Steely Dan one of our favourite bands from all those years ago.

Susan said...

Val: I've just had a nice trawl through your charming blog - very well done. It's always comforting and afirming to find a like mind :)

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