This summer, for the first time since our family moved to Middletown, I found a new creature that was circling my raised beds that were full of vegetables and herbs–buzzing loudly, a bit of an annoyance. Many of my neighbors were experiencing the same thing. So, to my computer, I went to research this new occurrence.
These creatures were large with yellow and black patterns. They were about one inch in length, and their abdomens were shiny, black, and fat. They were not bumblebees because bumblebees have hairy abdomens that allow pollen to cling to their bodies. Pollen on a carpenter bee falls on its shoulders because of the process they use in pollination. The males have yellow faces with a white dot on their heads. Females have faces that are black. They are commonly seen in the spring, hovering like helicopters near the eaves, porch rails, and under decks–and in my case, by the wooden raised beds in my garden. I found out that carpenter bees are worldwide in distribution, with seven species in the United States. They do not have hives as honeybees do and are semi-solitary bees.
Carpenter bees are often called “wood bees” because they bore into wood. They do this not for nutrition but for the rearing of the young. The female carpenter bee bores a channel or corridor in wood from 6 inches to as long as 4 feet. This is so that they can lay their eggs in divided areas called “galleries” or “cells.”The female deposits an egg into each cell and then brings pollen for newly hatched larvae to feed on. The cell is sealed off before the process is again repeated. Although they are wood-boring insect, science does not consider them to be a true structural pest. They do not spread throughout an entire structure, preferring unpainted or finished wood. On the other hand, bumblebees nest on the ground and are quite different in their behavior from carpenter bees.
In exploring the realm of carpenter bees, I discovered that scientists and researchers feel that these insects do more good than harm, and therefore, we need not kill them. According to Brannen Basham in Spriggly’s Beescaping, carpenter bees are amazing native pollinators and an important part of the ecosystem. They pollinate flowers, feed birds and increase the yield of certain plant species. Yes, they excavate wood for nests, but it is done along the wood grain and that does surprisingly little structural damage.
Whit Gibbons from the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory at the University of Georgia tells us that males sometimes appear aggressive and may even seem to threaten someone by buzzing loudly and flying in front of the person’s face. However, the males are completely harmless, as only the females have stingers.
Carpenter bees have the ability to vibrate their flight muscles at specific frequencies while visiting flowers. Known as “buzz pollination,” this vibrates the flower and dislodges pollen. Tomatoes, blueberries, eggplants, and cranberries all benefit when buzz pollinated. Honeybees do not possess this ability. Carpenter bees are able to recognize one another and if moved up to 7 miles away, can find their way back home.
Basham said that as our forests are cut down and manicured, fewer options for nesting sites are left for the carpenter bees–and you can then understand why wood on houses, decks, and barns is inviting for these creatures. Luckily, there are some ways to make your property less appealing. Properly staining and/or painting exposed wood on your property is first and foremost. It doesn’t guarantee that the bees won’t move in, but it is less likely if no unfinished wood is visible. Secondly, try to provide another possible nesting site nearby, such as a pile of wood or a dead tree. These bees prefer pine and cedarwood over other types, so those woods are not good choices for your home.
With this information, stop for a moment to watch and hear the live-action nature show produced by this industrious pollinator. That’s the advice of the University of Georgia and other experts in this field. Just think of the beautiful flowers and vegetables you will have because they are doing what they are supposed to do: pollinating your garden.
Garden Club R.F.D. is a member of the Garden Club of New Jersey, the Central Atlantic Region of State Garden Clubs, Inc. and the National Garden Clubs, Inc. If you are looking to advance your knowledge in various areas of gardening and the use of flowers as well as being in the presence of others with similar interests, contact Ruth Korn at email@example.com.