Thursday, May 06, 2010

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.


Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

I will have to look at the bees closer. Thanks for the explanation and photos.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Trust me, it's my pleasure! :)

Bloomin'Chick Jo said...

We have a yearly battle with the carpenter bees as well. Plug as much as you can but they'll only work around that. (They scare the life out of me when they dive bomb me when taking out trash or going down the stairs to the basement, lol!)