Friday, May 07, 2010

Greed Trumps Health and Common Sense Yet Again

The last sentence in an article in this morning's paper caught my attention, "About 80,000 chemicals are in commercial use in the United States, but federal regulators have assessed only about 200 for safety." ("Panel: Cancer-causing Chemicals Abound", The Wichita Eagle, Friday, May 7, 2010, p. 1A, 4A)

Innocent until proven guilty is admirable in dealing with people. It's stupid when dealing with chemicals.

Oh, and by the way, can you say, "No new taxes!"? Assuming that corporations who plan to make mega-millions from a chemical will accurately and completely test a chemical and then report the results of those tests truthfully is naive at best and stupid and short-sighted at worst. Even if it does mean the government is spending less of "your" money by "wasting" it on testing for and regulating chemicals.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Bee Battles, Part Two

So I have these somewhat combative acting but generally sweet-at-heart bees cohabiting our home with us. What's not to like, right?

Well, there's the little issue of the holes that they drill into wood....

Just to be clear, carpenter bees do not eat wood. They eat pollen and nectar, and do an incredible service as native pollinators while they are eating. Carpenter bees do, however, dig their nests, tunnels that are called galleries, into wood.

The females chew these tunnels out of generally soft, unpainted wood. A typical hole is about 1/2" in diameter and is essentially perfectly round. It starts out perpendicular to the grain of the wood for 1-2", then turns 90 degrees to follow the grain of the wood. After the turn, a gallery is usually chewed out to a length of 4-6". (The reason that we inherited the carpenter bees was that the prior owners of our home used cedar for the trim boards and didn't paint it.)

When you think about it, this is a lot of wood chewing for a 1" long bee. Our intrepid female is chewing a tunnel the diameter of her bodythrough solid wood. Her speed averages 1" of tunnel constructed every 6 days, if she's starting from scratch. Not surprisingly, female carpenter bees prefer to reuse old galleries, if they can, rather than have to chew out new ones. I would prefer to reuse old galleries, too, if those were my choices.

Whether it's a new gallery or a refurbished old one, once the gallery is prepared, the female carpenter bee makes a ball of "bee bread," a mix of pollen and regurgitated nectar, which she deposits in the gallery. When the bee bread ball is complete, she lays an egg on top of the ball and then seals off that part of the tunnel with a wall of chewed wood pulp. Each female will make from 6 to 10 of these larval chambers, all in the same gallery, before she dies.

The egg hatches and the larval (baby) carpenter bee commences eating. The bee bread ball provided by his mother is sufficient food for him to complete his growth. He then pupates and finally takes adult form. From egg-laying to adult form is about 7 weeks, depending upon the temperatures. The new adults emerge around the end of August, then hibernate in their natal galleries over the winter. In April they re-emerge, mate, and the cycle starts all over. There is only one generation a year.

A single nest isn't that big a deal, but apparently a nest that's been used year after year after year can be expanded to include multiple tunnels for different females. The eventual length can reach 10'...and now you're definitely talking a structural problem in a building.

So I'm battling myself about what to do. I don't want my house to have structural issues because I've let the carpenter bees continue nesting unchecked...but we've painted the cedar trim now, so no new holes will be constructed. Will leaving the existing galleries really create such a major problem?

Carpenter bees are fantastic native pollinators, and native pollinators are particularly important these days, with all of the problems the honey bees are experiencing. Not to mention that I just love to share my home territory with a wide variety of living creatures.

I don't know. I do know that if I'm going to act, this is the time of year to do it so that I can exclude the bees from our house without chemicals and with minimal numbers of carpenter bees being lost. It's fairly early in the year. The males are still alive and guarding the nest sites, so I think that if I plug the holes thoroughly during the day while the bees are outside, I can force them to find new nesting sites.

My internal battle rages on....

Bee Battles, Part One

If you come up to our front door these days, you are likely to get attacked...or at least to feel like you're getting attacked. When we bought our house 3 years ago, we inherited a couple carpenter bee galleries along with it. One of them is in the trim board around the front door and another is in a nearby porch column under the downspout of the gutter.
What this means for you, the casual visitor to our home at this time of year, is that as you wait for us to answer your ring of the doorbell, you will get dive-bombed by a big, black, noisy bee that looks suspiciously like a bumble bee. Relax. It's just a male carpenter bee mistaking you for something that might threaten his female or his nest.

That still sounds dangerous, you think? Well, the male carpenter bee would certainly like you to think so, but he doesn't (as they say) have the necessary equipment to do more than bluff. Stingers are modified ovipositors, or egg-layers, and thus stingers are the sole jurisdiction of female bees and wasps.
Meanwhile the female carpenter bee is generally a docile animal, intent on cleaning out her nest, reprovisioning it with balls of "bee bread" (a mix of pollen and regurgitated nectar) upon which she has laid a single egg each, and building new walls to protect her developing young. Concensus among sources seems to be that the only real way to get a female carpenter bee to sting is to literally handle her.
So how do you know that you are dealing with a threatening-looking but basically benign carpenter bee and not a well-armed bumble bee?

First of all, bumble bees nest in the ground and do not patrol a territory in the same way that carpenter bees do. The fact that a big bee is patrolling a territory around a wooden structure is, in essence, a dead giveaway about that bee's identity.

Secondly, take a look at the bee's abdomen. Carpenter bees' abdomens are shiny black with little hair on them. Bumble bees' abdomens are very hairy, usually with lots of yellow hair as well as black hair. The photo at the start of this blog is of a carpenter bee. The photo below is a bumble bee.

Same general size. Same general shape. Same general vocal ability. The abdomens, however, are quite different. (Never thought you'd be particularly interested in looking at a bee's abdomen, did you?)

The upshot of all this is that visitors to our home don't have to worry about actual physical damage from the flying guardians of our front porch. Mental damage might be more problematic....

All that said, however, there is another, related battle going on around that same front door, one that may carry casualties of one sort or another. I am battling within myself about whether to let the carpenter bees continue to share our home, or whether it's time to move them on their way. That, though, is another blog entry for another time. I'll keep you posted.