Blue Carpenter Bees: All You Need to Know in a Quick Guide

folder_openHymenoptera, Insecta
comment14 Comments

Blue carpenter bees are fascinating creatures that play essential roles in pollination. These large, heavy-bodied bees are easily recognized by their distinguishable blue color and unique pollen-gathering behavior.

These insects belong to the family Apidae, which also includes bumblebees and honeybees. While similar in size to bumblebees, blue carpenter bees have a shiny and hairless abdomen, setting them apart from their fuzzy counterparts.

Blue Carpenter Bees
Carpenter Bee

One notable feature of these bees is their method of gathering pollen known as “buzz pollination,” where they use their powerful thoracic muscles to shake the pollen grains out of the flower’s anthers, benefiting plants like eggplants, tomatoes, and other vegetables and flowers.

Some key characteristics of blue carpenter bees include:

  • Size: Approximately 0.75-1 inch long
  • Abdomen: Shiny and black or blue
  • Thorax: Covered with yellow fuzz
  • Face: Females have a black face, while males may have a yellow or white face source.

These bees are not only admired for their beauty and pollinating capabilities but also important to understand and appreciate their role in our ecosystem.

Blue Carpenter Bees: Overview

Identification and Appearance

The Blue Carpenter Bee, scientifically known as Xylocopa caerulea, is a unique species notable for its metallic blue color and light blue hairs.

These bees are often mistaken for their fuzzy relatives, bumble bees, but here are some differences to help with identification:

  • Blue Carpenter Bees have a shiny, metallic appearance
  • Bumble Bees have a fuzzy, yellow and black coloration

Habitat and Distribution

Blue Carpenter Bees can be found across South Asia and Southeast Asia in countries such as India, China, and Indonesia.

Their habitat consists of areas with abundant wood, which they use for nesting and tunneling. They prefer living in decayed wood or structures with existing holes in them. Some common locations include:

  • Rotten tree trunks
  • Wooden structures and buildings
  • Fence posts and utility poles

Behavior and Social Structure

These bees are solitary by nature and carve nests for their young using their strong mandibles.

Female bees take care of their offspring, while male bees are harmless, as they cannot sting. The blue carpenter bee feeds mainly on nectar, which makes them crucial pollinators.

However, the tunneling behavior may cause structural damage, especially when multiple bees choose the same location. Preventing the damage can be done in several ways:

  • Filling existing holes with caulk
  • Using insecticides for severe infestations

Despite their potential to inflict structural damage, some advantages of blue carpenter bees include:

  • Effective pollinators for many plants
  • Minimal risk of stinging incidents due to male bees’ inability to sting

Life Cycle and Reproduction

Mating and Nesting Habits

Blue carpenter bees, found in Southeast Asia, India, and Southern China, have a unique life cycle. In spring, males and females engage in mating. Females are responsible for building nests, often in the form of tunnels in wood.

Their strong mandibles help them carve out these tunnels, where they’ll lay their eggs.

Eggs

After mating, the female bee lays an egg in a sectioned-off area within the tunnel. Each section will have:

  • One egg
  • A provision of pollen and nectar for the developing larva
  • A partition made of chewed wood pulp

Larva and Development

Once hatched, the larva will consume the provided pollen and nectar. Larvae undergo a few stages in their development, including:

  • Eating provided food
  • Spinning a cocoon
  • Pupating

After this stage, they’ll emerge as adult bees and leave the nest to begin the cycle anew. The process from egg to adult takes roughly two months.

Comparison: Blue Carpenter Bees vs. Eastern Carpenter Bees

Feature Blue Carpenter Bee Eastern Carpenter Bee
Region Southeast Asia, India, Southern China North America
Nesting location Tunnels in wood Tunnels in wood
Aggression Low aggression Low aggression
Honey production Not honey producers Not honey producers
Pollination ability Efficient pollinators Efficient pollinators

Pollination and Feeding Habits

Flowers and Pollen Collection

Blue carpenter bees are efficient pollinators, often visiting flowers to collect pollen. They are known for using a technique called buzz pollination. Here’s how buzz pollination works:

  • Carpenter bees grasp the flower
  • They vibrate their thoracic muscles
  • This shaking releases pollen from the flower’s anthers

Blue carpenter bees are excellent pollinators for various flowers and vegetables, such as tomatoes, eggplants, and more.

Nectar Consumption

Next to pollen collection, carpenter bees also consume flower nectar. Comparing these bees with honey bees and bumblebees:

Bee Type Pollination Efficiency Nectar Foraging Honey Production
Carpenter Bees High Active No
Honey Bees Moderate to High Active Yes
Bumblebees Moderate to High Active No

Carpenter bees and other pollinators share some similarities:

  • They all have wings and hairs to facilitate pollination
  • They can visit many flowers in a single day
  • They consume nectar as an energy source

Honey Production

However, there is a significant difference between carpenter bees and honey bees: honey production. Carpenter bees do not produce honey, while honey bees are known for their honey-making abilities.

Interaction with Humans and Property

Damage to Wood and Structures

Carpenter bees are known for their ability to cause damage to wooden structures, like homes, sheds, and decks. The female carpenter bees excavate holes in wood to create nests. These holes may lead to structural damage.

Damage is common in:

  • Eaves
  • Doors
  • Walls

These bees prefer the following varieties of trees to make their homes

  • Cedar
  • Redwood
  • Pine

Carpenter Bee Control Methods

If you’re experiencing a carpenter bee infestation, there are some methods to help control them:

  1. Paint: Apply paint or stain to wooden structures to make them less appealing to carpenter bees.
  2. Sealing off holes: Fill the nest openings after bees have vacated to prevent re-infestation.
  3. Pest control: Contact a professional pest control company for extermination.

Bug Control Recommendation Tool

What type of pest are you dealing with?

How severe is the infestation?

Do you require child/pet/garden safe treatments (organic)?

Are you willing to monitor and maintain the treatment yourself?


Aggression and Stinging Behavior

Differences Between Male and Female Bees

Male and female carpenter bees have distinct physical appearances. Males have yellow faces and females have black faces. Here are some key differences:

  • Males: Yellow faces, no stingers, cannot sting
  • Females: Black faces, possess stingers, can sting if threatened

Carpenter bees become active in spring and start to seek nectar from flowers. Males can be seen hovering around, while females collect pollen and excavate tunnels in wood.

Stinging Incidents and Remedies

Carpenter bees are typically an inch long with a shiny black abdomen, which may frighten people.

Although male carpenter bees are often perceived as aggressive with their hovering behavior, they are harmless as they do not have stingers.

Females can sting, while males cannot, but will show aggressive behavior, like hovering, to intimidate adversaries.

If you are stung by a female carpenter bee, here are some remedies:

  1. Remove sting (if it remains in the skin)
  2. Clean the area with soap and water
  3. Apply ice pack to reduce swelling
  4. Seek medical help if symptoms worsen or an allergic reaction occurs

Comparing male and female carpenter bees’ aggression and stinging behavior:

Feature Male Carpenter Bees Female Carpenter Bees
Aggression Hovering, harmless Less likely to sting
Stingers No Yes
Stinging ability Cannot sting Can sting if threatened

Conclusion

In conclusion, Blue Carpenter Bees, with their distinctive metallic blue hue and unique characteristics, play a vital role in pollination, notably through buzz pollination.

Native to regions in South and Southeast Asia, these solitary bees exhibit differences in aggression and stinging abilities between genders.

While they are essential for the ecosystem, their tunneling behavior can cause structural damage, necessitating control methods.

Understanding and appreciating these fascinating insects is crucial for coexisting harmoniously and leveraging their pollination benefits.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Carpenter Bee from Borneo

Large, Black Bee from Borneo
Location: Kota Kinabalu, Borneo
February 20, 2011 12:28 am
Dear Bugman,
My husband and I recently took a trip to Borneo (early February, 2011). He went for the beach and I went for the bugs. These very large, black bees were fairly common in Sabah, the eastern state of Malaysian Borneo. We often saw them buzzing around ferns and flowers. These Hymenopterans are so lovely and so large, but I am having a hell of time finding out much more about them, even online. Can you help? Thanks so much! Kudos on the book.
Sincerely,
Marian Lyman

Carpenter Bee

Dear Marian,
Thanks for your kind comments on the book.  The structure of the antennae and large size of the eyes visible in your photo are very distinctive.  We could not imagine that this handsome bee could be anything but a Carpenter Bee, so we did a web search for Carpenter Bee Borneo. 

Imagine our glee when we found a gallery on FlickR devoted to bees from Borneo.  Scrolling down the page, we found a likely candidate identified as Xylocopa latipes, Giant Bee in Borneo.  Armed with that information, we did a new web search and learned that this is one of the largest known bees in the world when we found the Vespa bicolor website that has this account: 

“Common name(s): Carpenter bee
A very large bee, reaching 35mm. Fully black. Wings with metallic blue, green and purple colours under sunlight. This species is not as sexually dimorphic (distinguishable) as many other species are at first glance, as the male neither differs in colour nor has the front of his head lighter in colour.

However, he has unusual legs; they are unusually hairy, and the front legs are lighter in colour, with long, smooth hairs arranged in a strange “brush-like” way.
This species is quite widely distributed across Southeast Asia, and is also one of the commonly seen species in Singapore.


As mentioned earlier, this species is probably the largest
Xylocopa, and in fact, the largest overall bee! (See comparison on the main solitary bee section).

This giant bee is commonly seen feeding from flowers. For some reason, this species seems to feed on flowers much higher up than the other common species, Xylocopa confusa. It also appears to prefer purple flowers, as opposed to Xylocopa confusa, which prefers yellow ones, although both these notes are not absolute rules but just general observations.

This species is said to be quite versatile in choice of nesting sites. However, 70% of the nests I found were in tree branches. Although this bee is far wider in proportion than many of its kin, the entrance hole is not always significantly larger than that of other carpenter bees; in fact, the size of the entrance hole seems linked to the area and structure the nest is built in.

For instance, in open locations such as wooden poles used to support small trees or basketball posts, the hole usually leads straight into the nest, and the diameter is quite small for such a large bee (1 cm).

However, in shady, wooded areas, these bees make far larger entrance holes which lead into the tree branch at an angle; these holes may be 2 cm in diameter!

Furthermore, a nest on such a tree trunk may have 2 or 3 entrances, instead of just one! On my visit to Singapore in September 2006, I found a branch with 3 separate nests; there were 9 entrance holes, 3 to each!

This bee frequently evokes both fear and fascination in those who see one. It is assuredly safe to watch this gentle giant going about its work, collecting nectar and pollen or biting a nest entrance in a branch.

The Indian Bees Gallery on FlickR has some images of the male Xylocopa latipes on his territorial perch (see here and here) which makes us inclined to identify your specimen as a male on his territorial perch.

As a postscript, we invite you to view the comparison on the Solitary Bee page of Vespa bicolor between the relative sizes of the Largest Bee in the World, Wallace’s Giant Mason Bee, Megachile pluto, and your species of Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa latipes, as well as this explanation:  “Although most Megachiliid bees are quite small, a species known as Megachile pluto (Wallace’s giant mason bee) is in fact the longest bee known.

Females reach 38mm and have unusually large heads and mandibles. This rare species is found only in Bacan, an island in the northern Moluccas in Indonesia. It is also unique in that it nests in termite nests!  However, the bulk, width wingspan and other measurements (except the head) of Xylocopa latipes (arguably the largest of its group) distinctly exceed that of Megachile pluto.

Furthermore, at 35mm, the carpenter bee is only slightly shorter than the Megachiliid. The illustration above clearly shows the comparison. The length of the Megachile pluto has been pumped up to 40mm; this shows that even a specimen of larger than known size still falls short of the bulk of big Xylocopa.

The information and illustration was kindly provided by and copyright of David Williams.

Dear Bugman,
Hooray! Thank you so much. What wonderful information. I can now put a species name to the photo for my travel blog and sound a little less like an armchair entomologist.

It doesn’t surprise me that this species is one the biggest bees in the world because Borneo is bursting with superlative insects. On our trip, we were also lucky enough to see the world’s smallest firefly! Bugs are the best. Thanks again!
Sincerely,
Marian Lyman

Identification courtesy of John Ascher
April 22, 2012
I agree with the likely det. as X. latipes (subgenus Mesotrichia). It’s a male.

Update:  December 27, 2013
According to the Vespa Bicolor website:  “A sting from one of these giant bees is a lot less painful than one would expect, although it does cause some swelling. Furthermore, these bees never attack, so the only way one may be accidentally stung would be to actually crush one or to unknowingly touch the entrance hole.”

Letter 2 – Carpenter Bee from the British Virgin Islands

Subject: Golden Bee
Location: British Virgin Islands
April 7, 2016 10:14 am
Is this a male Carpenter bee?
Signature: Thanks

Carpenter Bee
Carpenter Bee

This is a male Carpenter Bee.  According to image 29 of the University of Nebraska online document The Bees of Greater Puerto Rico, it is Xylocopa mordax.

Letter 3 – Carpenter Bee from Australia

Bumble Bee – Australia
Sat, Dec 20, 2008 at 11:38 PM
I took this picture on the 21/12/2008 in my garden. Is this a Bumble Bee or a Carpenter Bee? What would be the common name and scientific ID? The bee was moving from flower to flower on a Purple Duranta. It had a loud slow wing beat so that when I took photo’s in flight I could actually get a still picture of the wing.
Nat
Mid North Coast New South Wales Australia

Carpenter Bee
Carpenter Bee

Hi Nat,
This is a Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa aruana, which we identified on the Insects and Spiders of Brisbane website, which indicates:  “Body length 25mm  They are very large and hairy bees, with black abdomen and yellow thorax.   Theirs wings are dark brown in colour.

They are solitary, i.e., living on its     own, not like the Honey Bees that living in group. In late spring, we found it     resting on a footpath, could not fly nor walk, seemed having some problems.    

We took it home, for the next day it seemed become normal. We let it go. It     flied away and disappeared within seconds. They feed on pollen. Females make     tunnel and lay eggs in decaying wood, including dry flower sticks of grass-trees Xanthorrhoea .”

Authors

  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts
Tags: Carpenter Bee

Related Posts

14 Comments. Leave new

  • last year i had one of those bees in the same plant in my backyard to.

    Reply
  • Hi, I just saw this bee in Sarawak near Kuching.
    The locals say it has a very severe sting that can even be fatal. If stung the antidote is rumoured that you should rub fresh pig dung on the effected area. Does anyone have any other information on the dangers of this bee and remedies, medical or folklaw?

    Reply
  • Hi, I just saw this bee in Sarawak near Kuching.
    The locals say it has a very severe sting that can even be fatal. If stung the antidote is rumoured that you should rub fresh pig dung on the effected area. Does anyone have any other information on the dangers of this bee and remedies, medical or folklaw?

    Reply
    • We believe the locals are yanking your chain with the pig dung remedy, though we cannot say for certain that there is no medical benefit to the treatment. To the best of our knowledge, Carpenter Bees rarely sting. We cannot provide any information on the sting of the Carpenter Bee from Borneo, but the Penn State University Entomology site does have this information: “The male bee is unable to sting. It is the male carpenter bee, which is most often noticed. They hover in the vicinity of the nest and will dart after any other flying insect that ventures into their territory. A common behavior of the males is to approach people if they move quickly or wave a hand in the air. The males may even hover a short distance from people causing unnecessary panic. The female however, is capable of stinging but seldom does. She must be extremely provoked (i.e. handled) before she will sting.” The Penn State University Entomology site makes no mention of pig dung. According to the Vespa Bicolor website: “A sting from one of these giant bees is a lot less painful than one would expect, although it does cause some swelling. Furthermore, these bees never attack, so the only way one may be accidentally stung would be to actually crush one or to unknowingly touch the entrance hole.”

      Reply
  • Hi, thanks for the info. I think for this and other aliments the locals make up a remedy that is worse than the symptoms. That stops anyone complaining.

    Great Web site!

    Andy

    Reply
  • Hi, thanks for the info. I think for this and other aliments the locals make up a remedy that is worse than the symptoms. That stops anyone complaining.

    Great Web site!

    Andy

    Reply
  • Hello, I have some of these huge carpenter bees in Argentina. They have apparently made a big nest near my fence. It seems as if they have dug a hole in the ground. Or should I look more upwards? They have already attacked two times (stinging) when I unknowingly stood near or maybe upon their nest. How to get rid of them?

    Thank you for your answer.

    Audrey

    PD: yesterday I discovered they had entered one of the wooden support branches of my pergola……

    Reply
  • Hello, I have some of these huge carpenter bees in Argentina. They have apparently made a big nest near my fence. It seems as if they have dug a hole in the ground. Or should I look more upwards? They have already attacked two times (stinging) when I unknowingly stood near or maybe upon their nest. How to get rid of them?

    Thank you for your answer.

    Audrey

    PD: yesterday I discovered they had entered one of the wooden support branches of my pergola……

    Reply
  • Thanks a lot, Bugman! Now it feels that I know everything about “my” Xylocopa latipes!

    Reply
  • Hi there, my husband just found this bee on our backyard on the trampoline, and I’m pretty sure it’s the same bee. We live on the Central Coast, NSW, North of Sydney in Australia. It’s a bit unreal to think that they could be here? Could this be true that we wod have them in Australia too?

    Cheers
    Teresa

    Reply
  • Hi there, my husband just found this bee on our backyard on the trampoline, and I’m pretty sure it’s the same bee. We live on the Central Coast, NSW, North of Sydney in Australia. It’s a bit unreal to think that they could be here? Could this be true that we wod have them in Australia too?

    Cheers
    Teresa

    Reply
  • Paula Forbes
    July 11, 2019 12:18 pm

    We have seen one of these in a remote part of Tuscany, Italy – can that be right? It looked exactly like the photo – shame I didn’t have my phone to hand to take a photo at the time …. will try again if I see one.,,

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.
You need to agree with the terms to proceed

keyboard_arrow_up