Valley Carpenter Bee: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell

The valley carpenter bee is a fascinating species of bee that has a lot to offer.

One significant aspect of valley carpenter bees is that they are not always good pollinators, unlike other carpenter bees.

In general, carpenter bees are excellent pollinators of various plants, including eggplants, tomatoes, and other vegetables and flowers.

The valley carpenter bee is unique in the way it takes nectar from some flowers. Instead of entering the flower to drink nectar, it cuts a hole in the nectar tube.

Due to this reason, it is not always a good pollinator of the plant. Lets learn more about these fascinating creatures.

Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Understanding Valley Carpenter Bees

Valley carpenter bees, also known as Xylocopa varipuncta, are a type of solitary bee native to California.

They get their name from their nesting behavior, as they carve out nests in decaying wood or untreated lumber.

Valley carpenter bees play an essential role in pollination, just like other carpenter bee species.

Identifying Features of Valley Carpenter Bees:

  • They are large and stout, with females appearing shiny black and males possessing a golden brown color.
  • Females often “nectar rob” by piercing the flower tube to steal nectar instead of entering the flower.
  • They create distinctively round and large holes in wood where they build their nests.
Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Valley carpenter bees differ from other carpenter bees, such as small carpenter bees (Ceratina) and eastern carpenter bees (Xylocopa virginica), in terms of size and appearance.

Females of the Valley carpenter bee are generally larger than their eastern counterparts. In contrast, male Valley carpenter bees are golden brown, whereas males of other species are black in color.

Valley carpenter bees, like other carpenter bees, are considered solitary even though multiple bees might share a nest structure.

This means they don’t form large colonies like honey bees or bumblebees. They are not aggressive by nature, but female Valley carpenter bees may sting, especially if threatened.

To support these beneficial pollinators, you can help by providing nesting and overwintering habitats such as twigs and logs, as well as planting a diverse range of flowering plants, including drought-tolerant and California native species, to give them a good source of nectar and pollen.

By understanding the importance and unique characteristics of Valley carpenter bees, you can better appreciate their role in your garden and California’s ecosystem.

Physical Characteristics

Color and Size

The valley carpenter bee has a distinct appearance that sets it apart from other bees.

They have a striking coloration, with the females being mostly black, while the males can appear with typically golden-brown or yellow hairs.

Male valley carpenter bee

Valley carpenter bees are quite large, typically measuring about an inch long.

In addition to their size, you can also identify valley carpenter bees through their wings, which are dark with a slight purplish sheen, as well as their large, green eyes.

Structural Differences Between Males and Females

Males and females also display structural differences which make them easy to tell apart.

Male valley carpenter bees have yellow faces, while females have a black face. Another difference is that females have a dense brush of black hairs on their hind legs, which males do not possess.

Female valley carpenter bees also have stingers, while males don’t. Despite the presence of stingers, you’ll be relieved to know that females are not aggressive and will only sting if they feel extremely threatened.

Lastly, antennae are present in both male and female valley carpenter bees but differ slightly in length and curvature.

FeatureMale Valley Carpenter BeeFemale Valley Carpenter Bee
ColorGolden-brown or yellowBlack
FaceYellowBlack
Hairs on hind legsAbsentPresent (black)
StingersAbsentPresent
SizeAbout 1 inch longAbout 1 inch long
EyesGreenGreen
WingsDark, purplish sheenDark, purplish sheen
Distinctive AntennaeSlightly shorterLonger, more curved

These physical characteristics will help you easily identify and differentiate male and female valley carpenter bees when you spot them.

Male Valley Carpenter Bee
Dead Female Valley Carpenter Bee

Distribution and Habitat

The Valley Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa varipuncta) can be found in various parts of North America, with a wide distribution in the Southwestern United States.

They are commonly seen in states like California, Arizona, and Texas.

These bees also inhabit parts of southern California, as well as Mexico. You might even spot them in some regions of Florida.

Valley Carpenter Bees prefer habitats with a variety of flowering plants that provide nectar and pollen, such as wildflower areas.

Additionally, they need suitable nesting locations, which often include softwood or deadwood from trees or wooden structures.

Feeding Habits

Valley carpenter bees (Xylocopa varipuncta) are known for nectar robbing.

They have short tongues and can’t easily drink nectar from tubular flowers.

Hummingbirds have evolved a unique way to solve this problem – they use their long beaks to get to the flower’s nectar.

But valley carpenter bees do not have this advantage. 

Instead, they use their powerful mandibles to cut a slit in the flower and steal the nectar.

Male Valley Carpenter Bee

This is called nectar robbing because the plants don’t get pollinated.

The bee doesn’t get close enough to rub pollen onto the plant’s reproductive parts.

The carpenter bee stores the stolen goods in her crop – a pouch near her stomach.

However, the valley carpenter bee does not always use this method – so it is not a completely lost cause as a pollinator.

Nesting and Reproduction

Building a Nest

Valley carpenter bees, like other carpenter bee species, prefer to nest in wood. In fact, it creates long tubular double ended holes in the tree to nest.

If you come across a wooden surface with small circular holes, it could be a sign of their nesting activity.

Carpenter bees create these holes by tunneling into the wood and excavating galleries for their offspring to grow.

Female Valley Carpenter Bee

Here are some characteristics of their nests:

  • Made in soft, decaying wood
  • Entrance holes are about half an inch in diameter
  • Galleries can extend up to 10 inches or more in length

To build a nest, the female carpenter bee will use her strong mandibles to chew through the wood, creating tunnels for brood chambers.

Inside these chambers, she’ll lay her eggs, one in each cell.

Lifecycle and Reproduction

Carpenter bees follow a fascinating lifecycle. Let’s break it down into stages:

  1. Egg: The female lays her eggs in individual cells within the tunnels.
  2. Larvae: Upon hatching, the larvae feed on a mixture of pollen and nectar, called “bee bread,” which the mother has provisioned in each cell.
  3. Pupa: Larvae then develop into pupae before becoming adult bees.
  4. Adult: The adult bees emerge from the nest, ready to begin their reproductive cycle.

During the mating process, the male valley carpenter bee guards the nest and releases certain scent markers, called pheromones, to attract females.

Once the females have mated, they will lay eggs in the corolla of the flowers they visit, as well as in the nests they have built.

Interactions with Human Structures

Valley carpenter bees, like other carpenter bees, can cause damage to human structures made of wood.

They prefer to bore into dead wood of trees such as oak, cedar, pine, and cypress. Here are some examples of the structures they target:

  • Decks
  • Siding
  • Structural timbers
  • Rafters
  • Boards

These insects often avoid painted or stained surfaces, but they can still damage unpainted or weathered wood.

Among natural environments, they are commonly found in oak trees and may also target decaying wood.

When valley carpenter bees infest your wooden structures, they can cause structural damage. It’s essential to keep an eye on vulnerable areas and take preventive measures.

To protect your wooden structures, you can:

  • Paint or stain exposed wood surfaces
  • Use treated or hardwood lumber for construction
  • Regularly inspect and repair any damaged areas

Keep in mind that carpenter bees are also beneficial pollinators.

While it’s essential to protect your home or building, make sure to use non-lethal methods when possible, to maintain a healthy ecosystem.

Comparisons to Other Bees

Let’s dive into the fascinating world of valley carpenter bees (Xylocopa sonorina) and explore how they differ from other bee species.

Valley Carpenter Bee vs. Honey Bee

  • Size: Carpenter bees, like the valley carpenter bee, tend to be larger than honey bees. In contrast, honey bees measure about half an inch in length.
  • Lifestyle: Valley carpenter bees are solitary bees, meaning they do not live in large colonies like honey bees.
  • Nesting: Carpenter bees, including the valley carpenter bee, bore holes into wood to create nests. Honey bees form colonies in hives.
Africanized honey bee.

Valley Carpenter Bee vs. Bumblebee

  • Appearance: Bumblebees are furry, while the valley carpenter bee has a smoother, shiny appearance.
  • Size: Carpenter bees are generally larger than bumblebees.
  • Nesting: Bumblebees nest underground, while valley carpenter bees create nests in wood.

Valley Carpenter Bee vs. Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica) and California Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa californica)

These different species of carpenter bees are quite similar, with a few slight differences:

  • Geography: As their names suggest, the eastern carpenter bee is found in the eastern North America, while the California carpenter bee is found in the western regions.
  • Size: Eastern carpenter bees are smaller than California carpenter bees.
  • Pollination: As mentioned earlier, Valley carpenter bees sometimes use nectar robbing which does not pollinate the plant.
Eastern Carpenter Bee

Interesting commonalities between carpenter bees

  • Stingless: Male carpenter bees, including the valley carpenter bee, are stingless.
  • Pollination: Carpenter bees are effective pollinators, but they can also be resourceful, cutting into the sides of flowers to access nectar.
  • Structural damage: The wood-boring behavior of carpenter bees can sometimes cause structural damage, particularly in areas with populations of the eastern carpenter bee.

Now that you have a better understanding of how the valley carpenter bee compares to other bees, it’s easier to appreciate the unique characteristics of each species.

Is the Valley Carpenter Bee a Pest?

Valley carpenter bees, known as Xylocopa varipuncta, fall under the category of carpenter bees. They are considered by some to be pests, while others see them as beneficial. Let’s take a closer look.

These bees are sizable, growing to about an inch in length. Key characteristics of valley carpenter bees include a black abdomen, areas of yellow hair on their thorax, and a white spot on the adult male’s face.

This white spot is crucial for identification purposes. However, don’t let their appearance fool you. They are typically docile creatures and rarely cause harm.

Female Valley Carpenter Bee

Carpenter bees are not aggressive, the female can sting but rarely does, and the male, though unable to sting, will hover in an attempt to intimidate potential adversaries.

While the risk of injury from these bees is minimal, they pose other concerns, like the structural integrity of wooden structures.

These bees tend to burrow into sound wood, creating sawdust piles and holes in structures like rafters, deck joists, and fascia boards.

This burrowing action can cause potential damage to wooden structures, especially if they’ve been infested year after year.

However, it may help to remember that there are steps you can take, such as sealing your wooden surfaces, to minimize the potential damage caused by valley carpenter bees.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the valley carpenter bee, a unique species native to the Southwestern United States, plays a complex role in our ecosystem.

While their nectar robbing behavior can impact pollination, they remain important pollinators.

Their distinctive physical characteristics, nesting habits, and interactions with human structures highlight the need for a balanced approach to managing their presence, ensuring both the preservation of these bees and the protection of wooden structures.

Footnotes

  1. Carpenter Bees – US Forest Service 2 3

  2. Carpenter Bee: Beneficial Insect or Pest? 2

  3. Carpenter Bees | NC State Extension Publications

Reader Emails

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

Letter 1 – Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Subject: Baby it’s hot out here!
Location: Mesa , Arizona
June 20, 2016 4:10 pm
Hi
I thought you might get a kick out of this photo of what I believe is a drone carpenter bee. It climbed up on my finger while I was out on my patio today. I think it found the surface of my skin much cooler than the 116 degree surface of my table. That is in the shade by the way. I finally persuaded it to leave my finger and perch on the side of a plant pot. I felt guilty for leaving it out there while I returned inside my house, but since it is native I’m sure it it’s taking the heat better than us mammals. Stay cool everyone!
Signature: Toasty Arizona nature lover

Male Valley Carpenter Bee
Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Dear Toasty Arizona nature lover,
This is indeed a male Valley Carpenter Bee.  Males are shorter lived than females who need to construct and provision a nest after mating.  In Los Angeles, male Valley Carpenter Bees are generally flying in the spring and long gone by the time summer arrives, so they don’t compete with females for food.

Letter 2 – Violet Carpenter Bee from Spain

Subject:  Bee
Geographic location of the bug:  Spain
Date: 08/07/2018
Time: 07:01 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Please identify this beautiful bee. Sorry the photo isn’t clearer. The body is covered in black hairs. The wings are irridescent blue. 6 legs
How you want your letter signed:  Dave

Violet Carpenter Bee

Dear Dave,
This is a Violet Carpenter Bee,
Xylocopa violacea, which is pictured on Iberia Nature where it states:  “Their wings are brown like old film negatives, until the light catches them and they turn blue. The males signal their sex with orange antennae tips.”  According to Independent:  “It’s about three times the size of the biggest bumblebee. It may have astonished you on a holiday in the Med or other warm climes but otherwise you’re unlikely to have encountered anything like it. But now you can see it in Britain – for the violet carpenter bee, the biggest and most remarkable-looking bee in Europe, has crossed the Channel and has begun breeding in this country.”  Their presence in Britain might be evidence of global warming.

Many thanks. I’m on holiday in Spain & my grand children were fascinated to know what it was. So was I!
Sad that it was dead when I found it.
Dave

Letter 3 – Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Bee? Fly? Moth? I don’t know….
Location: Huntington Beach, CA
November 5, 2010 8:46 am
Good Morning, A friend of mine posted a picture of a bug, that’s been sluggishly hanging around her patio for 3 days. I have been going to numerous websites, to no avail. I even tried to contact The Ohio State Entemology department, who blew me off. Here’s the info. Any consideration is appreciated.
Signature: Brian VanTilburg

Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Hi Brian,
We fired off a quick response to you before heading to work because we did not want you to accuse WTB? of also blowing you off, though in defense of the Ohio State Entomology Department, they may not have much experience with the Valley Carpenter Bees that are so common in Southern California.  This is a male Valley Carpenter Bee.  The species exhibits somewhat extreme sexual dimorphism.  The female Valley Carpenter Bee is a glossy black insect with dark wings while the male is a lovely golden color with green eyes.  It is our observation that the males are also more nervous in their flight patterns, generally avoiding contact with people, while females relentlessly gather honey and pollen to feed the brood without seeming to notice human observers.

Yes, “blew me off” may have been a rash & a bit of a rude comment.  I’m sure they are busy at the university.  Again, thank you for your speedy response.  I’ve located the VCB on your site & I must say that brilliant blue bee from Malaysia was incredible!  Thanks for all you do!

Letter 4 – Violet Carpenter Bee from Czech Republic

Subject:  Big black bug with blue wings
Geographic location of the bug:  Czech Republic, South Moravia
Date: 07/09/2018
Time: 09:44 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hello, I’ve seen this bug on the sideway, we’ve seen anything like this never before.
Any ideas what is it?
How you want your letter signed:  Nice but unknown bug

Violet Carpenter Bee

This is a Violet Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa violacea, a species we identified on iNaturalist.  Perhaps due to global warming, it has recently been reported from the UK where it has spread from its normal rage that included continental Europe.  According to Independent:  “Even though it is one of the scariest-looking insects you’re ever likely to catch sight of (typically measuring at least 25mm in length but appearing considerably larger in flight), it is the violet, not the violent carpenter bee. A killer bee it is not; it is not aggressive and is unlikely to sting you. The name comes from the violet wings, which appear to give a blue sheen to its black body when in flight.”  According to Life In Galicia:  “they are harmless – only the female can sting but will do so only if directly provoked. The male just buzzes about, guards the nest and looks after the female.” 

Letter 5 – Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Found in Pomona, CA
Location: Pomona, CA
November 10, 2011 2:21 pm
IDK if its a Bee or Beetle? or anything else
Signature: Southern CA Resident

Valley Carpenter Bee

Dear Southern CA Resident,
This is a male Valley Carpenter Bee.  Females of the species are black and larger.

Letter 6 – Male Valley Carpenter Bee from Mexico

Subject: Furry Golden Monster
Location: Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico
February 3, 2013 3:31 pm
Dear Bugman,
While sitting on the end of a pier in Puerto Vallarta last week this scary guy landed on my shoulder. It was probably a little over 2 inches long and sounded like a helicopter when it buzzed by my ear. I’ve been trying to find out some facts about him but the internet has let me down. Please help!
Signature: -Bewildered Bob

Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Dear Bewildered Bob,
This is either a male Valley Carpenter Bee,
Xylocopa varipuncta, or a closely related species in the same genus.  Valley Carpenter Bees exhibit sexual dimorphism, and there is a distinct visual difference between the sexes.  Males are golden in color while female Valley Carpenter Bees are black.

Letter 7 – Male Valley Carpenter Bee

golden bumble bee??
Hi!,
I took pictures of this guy today, he is as big as a bumble bee, but golden with green eyes! He sure loved all the pollen! Can you tell me what type of bee he is? Thanks,
Amber
Madera California

Hi Amber,
This is our featured Bug of the Month, the Valley Carpenter Bee. The male bee is golden like your example, and the female bee is black. We have not seen any male bees in our yard yet this year, but the females are very busy gathering pollen from our sweet peas and honeysuckle. We photographed a female bee today and will be posting that image after we answer some of our readers’ questions.

Letter 8 – Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Subject: Inch long far hairy yellow flying insect
Location: Walnut creek California
March 19, 2014 11:21 pm
I found this bug dying on my lawn today and am wondering if it is anything to be concerned about with respect to sting allergies? I have not seen it before and it’s size is concerning: an inch long, maybe more, very yellow and very hairy
Signature: Not needed

Male Valley Carpenter Bee
Male Valley Carpenter Bee

This is a male Valley Carpenter Bee, and we just featured a posting of a sighting in after our own posting with a Mount Washington, Los Angeles sighting.  Male Bees, including Valley Carpenter Bees, are incapable of stinging because the stinger is a modified ovipositor, an organ for laying eggs, and only female bees can lay eggs.  Female Valley Carpenter Bees are black.

Letter 9 – Valley Carpenter Bee Male

Albino Carpenter Female??
I was relaxing on my back patio in San Jose CA when this 1in+ bee fell, landing on it’s back I put the oak leaf on it so that it could turn itself over then ran inside to get my camera. I was very thankful that it didn’t fly away when I got back. I was able to get 3 decent pictures before it decided to leave. Any help identifying this green eyed beauty would be appriciated.
Michael Blair

Hi Michael,
This beauty is a normally colored Male Valley Carpenter Bee. The species exhibits sexual dimorphism, with the females being blue-black and the males golden with green eyes. The males are generally short lived, nervous active creatures. We usually see them in the spring here in Los Angeles.

Letter 10 – Male Valley Carpenter Bee

This isn’t a bug, it’s an alien!
I love your website. I’ve always been fascinated by the strange and wonderful world of creepy crawlies. What is this bug? My girlfriend had a nighttime rendezvous with it in her garage. She lives in Southern California. Thanks,
Joel

Hi Joel,
This isn’t an alien, it is a native (to Southern California) male Valley Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa varipuncta. We saw our first male Valley Carpenter Bee yesterday flying around our oak tree sapling in a territorial manner. Females of the species are a rick black color and are slightly larger.

Letter 11 – Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Grizzly Bee?
Bugman,
This thing has been flying around a dedicated area of a guava tree outside my window all day without taking a rest. It has to be 2 inches long… What is it? I live in San Diego, CA.
TN

Hi TN,
This is one of our favorite harbingers of spring in Southern California, the male Valley Carpenter Bee. The golden male bees with green eyes fly for a short period of time in the spring and they have a rapid aggressive flight. The black female bees look like a different species. they have a more plodding flight and they are longer lived.

Letter 12 – Male Valley Carpenter Bee

can you please identify this bug?
Hello,
We found this bug in our garden near the beach in southern California. Would you be able to identify it for us? Thanks for your help!
Lindsey

Hi Lindsey,
What a wonderful “up close and personal” image of a Male Valley Carpenter Bee you have sent our way. Female Valley Carptenter Bees are a rich black color.

Letter 13 – Male Valley Carpenter Bee

What Is this
Hi Mr. Bugman,
Could you help me identify this critter? It is as large as the biggest woodcutter bee, but never seems to behave like a bee. We see it annually in the spring in San Jose California. It only appears in the afternoons once the temperature hits 70 degrees F, or more (never less). It takes up a station in a spindly bush where it charts out an erratic course and constantly flies in, and through, the bush. I have never seen one land, it just flies constantly, making picture taking a challenge. I have never seen it engage in any feeding behavior, sipping nectar from flowers, munching on leaves or even chasing or catching other insects. Seems to have no stinger or proboscis. The wings are clear. There are several that have appeared this year, but each stakes out a plant and flies sentry duty around it, chasing other examples away. They seem partial to blueberry bushes and plants in that family, though this one was seen near a dwarf apple tree. They never appear when the plant is fruiting, however. I took this picture about a month ago, and this seems about the end of the season for spotting them. I can not detect any coloration on the clear wings, but they do appear to be veined. Can you help with the identification? Thanks,
Bill Knickel

Hi Bill,
This is a male Valley Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa varipuncta. The female is a robust black bee and the much shorter lived male is this lovely golden color.

Letter 14 – Male Valley Carpenter Bee

I can’t find it…
…and I don’t know how your readers get such clear closeup photos! I just found a (dead) fuzzy golden winged beetle-looking bug in the driveway. I’m attaching a couple of also fuzzy photos.
Richey and Lee Grude
Sunnyvale CA

Hi Richey and Lee,
This is a male Valley Carpenter Bee. The golden males are very short lived. The black female bees live much longer. There are currently 3 females busily gathering nectar from our wisteria which has just begun to bloom.
Regarding your problems with focus on your digital camera: Many digital cameras have a macro feature for close-ups. We would strongly recommend enrolling in a digital photography class at your nearby Community College. At Los Angeles City College, we offer a beginning digital photograpy course and many people who just want to learn to use their own digital cameras more competantly enroll in the course. They also benefit from close association with dedicated studentw who want to make photography their career.

Letter 15 – Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Golden Bee on Don Juan Rose
This bee seemed to be coming out of a pupae ? state since it couldn’t fly at the time these pictures were taken. I live in Tucson, AZ. and I also have a nest of giant Carpenter Bees in my back yard. Although they are black and do not appear to have a stinger. Could this be a youngster or a Queen? Thought you might like to see the pictures. I know you guys are busy! This was just a curiosity not an emergency. Sincerely,
Steve Dennett

Hi Steve,
The Valley Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa varipunctata, is sexually dimorphic. The female is the large black bee you mention, and the male is the lovely golden bee in your photo. These bees are found in California, Arizona and Baja California Mexico.

Letter 16 – Valley Carpenter Bee Female

The black Female Valley Carpenter Bees have been having a field day on our sweet peas and honey suckle.

Valley Carpenter Bee Male

Letter 17 – WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

Late in the afternoon on Labor Day, while preparing for Diorama Club, I noticed a very large, very shiny female Valley Carpenter Bee buzzing loudly and crawling around on a dead branch of my carob tree. I also noticed a perfectly round hole in her proximity. Issuing from the hole was additional buzzing. In the spring, a female VCB had been seen in the vicinity. At that time the honeysuckle was in full bloom along the street, and female VCB’s were often found lapping up nectar. Could it be that I was witnessing the emergence of her brood from the tunnel she had dug for them? I hoped if I watched long enough, I would get to see one of the males. The sexual dimorphism that occurs in the VCB is quite extreme, and a Casual Observer

Letter 18 – Male Valley Carpenter Bee

what kind of bug is this!!!
Wed, Mar 4, 2009 at 4:19 PM
i found this bug sitting on the walkway to my house. it’s march 4, 2009. i already have a scorpion infestation. i don’t want to look forward to something else. please help me identify what kind of bug this is. and also, if you have any tips of getting rid of scorpions, do tell!!!
lacey micallef
chandler, arizona

Valley Carpenter Bee
Valley Carpenter Bee

Hi Lacey,
This is a harmless male Valley Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa varipuncta.  The female is larger and black.  If Valley Carpenter Bees become extremely plentiful in an area, the females may cause damage to wood if large numbers of them carve brood burrows in structures.  Telephone poles are quite attractive as nesting sites.  We don’t offer extermination advice.

Letter 19 – Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Kind of Cicada?
September 1, 2009
Dear Bugman,
This bug appeared in my backyard for the first time this year. We’ve lived in the house for 6 years. My wife though bee family, I’m thinking cicada. Verdict?
Mickey
Encino, CA

Valley Carpenter Bee
Valley Carpenter Bee

Hi Mickey,
This golden green-eyed male Valley Carpenter Bee differs significantly from his sexually dimorphic, black mate.  The larger female Valley Carpenter Bee lives longer and visits flowers to gather pollen and nectar to feed her brood.

Letter 20 – Valley Carpenter Bee nest we believe

Yellow and Black Burrowing Bee Like Insect
February 8, 2010
Hello,
I was doing yard work and picked up a broken branch there was a significant vibration and sound of swarming bees from the branch. I broke it open and there where these beetle like bee insects inside. I have attached a photo but unfortunately only got this one photo. They were quite large, larger then any large bee like insect here that I have ever seen.
Matt
Scottsdale Arizona

Valley Carpenter Bee nest, we suppose

Hi Matt,
It is difficult to distinguish details in your photo that would assist in the proper identification, but based on your description, we believe you discovered the nest of a Valley Carpenter Bee.  The female creates a series of chambers in a burrowed tunnel in a branch, and she provisions each chamber with pollen and lays an egg.  Female Valley Carpenter Bees are black and the males are a golden yellow.  You subject line does not indicate if the insects are each yellow and black, or if there are different colored insects, and your photo has what appears to be a golden male Valley Carpenter Bee about to emerge.

Letter 21 – Valley Carpenter Bee

Valley Carpenter Bee?
March 18, 2010
Found this beautiful carpenter bee pillaging my flower garden. I’m pretty sure it’s a valley carpenter bee, but thought you might like the pics…
David
Los Angeles, CA

Valley Carpenter Bee

Hi David,
You are correct in your identification of this female Valley Carpenter Bee.  We currently have several gathering nectar from our wisteria, and when the sweet peas bloom, they gather nectar from them as well.  We have yet to see a golden male this year.

Valley Carpenter Bee

Letter 22 – Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Is this a Beetle?
March 23, 2010
Hey there,
I was out in my backyard in Glendale, Arizona when I stumbled on this odd looking bug.
What exactly is it? Is it dangerous in any way? I searched your site and googled a description, but I couldn’t find any info on this bug.
Thanks for your time!
Joe
Glendale, AZ (USA)

Valley Carpenter Bee

Hi Joe,
This is a perfectly harmless male Valley Carpenter Bee.

Thank you for the quick reply!!
Man, that bee is huge!  I’ve never seen one like that before.
Thanks again, we were a little nervous because we have a 2 year old who runs around a lot in the back yard.
Joe

Letter 23 – Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Large, colorful bee-like bug; what is it?
Location: Silver Lake, Los Angeles, CA
November 8, 2010 2:03 pm
Hi! A friend found this bug in his yard, and brought it over for me to look at. It looks like something that hitched a ride from another continent. I’ve also posted the photos on our bee blog:
http://beehuman.blogspot.com/2010/11/what-hell-kind-of-bug-is-this.html
Signature: Backwards Beekeepers

Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Dear Backwards Beekeepers,
After firing back a quick response that this is a male Valley Carpenter Bee, we checked out your website and we are very intrigued.  First, a bit more about your bee.  Valley Carpenter Bees exhibit pronounced sexual dimorphism.  The females are large black bees with black wings that live rather long.  The short lived males are a pretty golden yellow color with green eyes.  They are more active and have a shorter season.  The male in your photo does not look normal.  Perhaps he has neared the end of his life.  Since we are neighbors, we may try to attend your next meeting: When: Sunday, November 21st at 11am.  Where: Under Spring outdoor space at Farmlab in downtown L.A.

Letter 24 – Male Valley Carpenter Bee, dead of unknown causes

Big flying orange insect
Location: Las vegas, nv
April 15, 2011 8:19 pm
We currently live in las vegas nv and we have a problem with black carpenter bees but just recently we started seeing these orange furry bees similar to the carpenter bee and has been behaving as one would but they seem to be a lot more aggressive. I would liked to know if they are harmful as I have three young children any help would be great thanks.
Signature: Crystal

Valley Carpenter Bee: Unnecessary Carnage???

Dear Crystal,
This male Valley Carpenter Bee does not appear to have died of natural causes.  Female Valley Carpenter Bees are large black bees that spend much of their time gathering pollen to provision a nest that is excavated in wood.  We have read in Charles Hogue’s excellent book, Insects of the Los Angeles Basin, that they are especially attracted to telephone poles as nesting sites.  The Valley Carpenter Bee exhibits pronounced sexual dimorphism.  The male is a beautiful golden color with green eyes.  Male Valley Carpenter Bees are incapable of stinging.  They do aggressively defend their territory, however, they cannot harm people, including young children, nor will they harm pets.  Though female Valley Carpenter Bees might sting, they are not aggressive insects.

Letter 25 – Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Male Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa varipuncta?)
Location: Hawthorne, California
June 25, 2011 12:46 pm
Hi Daniel,
This beauty (new to my yard) let me photograph him for quite some time yesterday. I’m curious as to what the three black things on top of his head are, can you help?
Signature: Thanks, Anna Carreon

Male Valley Carpenter Bee on Pincushion Flower

Hi Anna,
What a positively beautiful male Valley Carpenter Bee.  We saw one visit the Buddleia or Butterfly Bush while we were in the garden.  Then we remembered that we began to prepare your posting, so we came back inside to complete the preparation.  Those are simple eyes or ocelli forming a triangle on the Valley Carpenter Bees head.  There are some drawings and photos on BugGuide.  We believe the simple eyes help flying insects navigate, but we are not certain of the exact function.

Letter 26 – Male Valley Carpenter Bee

A Queen Bee of some kind?
Location: Phoenix, AZ
April 10, 2012 8:01 pm
Found this flying around me in Phoenix AZ on 04/10/12. Can you tell me what it is?
Signature: bdbengtsson

Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Dear bdbengtsson,
Your “queen bee” is actually a male Valley Carpenter Bee.  This is a sexually dimorphic species and the female is a deep black color. 

Letter 27 – Valley Carpenter Bee

Dear Daniel,
Perhaps you can help me figure out the answer to the perennial question: What’s That Bug? It’s hard to draw this bug. It was moving so fast and very erratically and it was extremely LOUD buzzing and it swerved towards me as if it were drunk! I drew it actual size–to the best of my knowledge.

Dear Bugged by Buzzing Behemoth,
To the best of my knowledge, you have had an encounter with a female Valley Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa varipuncta). These very large (1 inch) bees are so named because they bore into wood, forming tunnel-like nests for the rearing of young. Telephone poles and fences are often attacked. The Valley Carpenter Bee has earned itself a bad reputation because of its formidable size and habit of “buzzing” people. The green-eyed male is light brown with golden hairs and looks velvety. The female is a shiny black with bronze reflections on the wings. The female bees can sting, but do so very reluctantly, causing only mild pain.

Letter 28 – Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Subject: Big Brown Bee by Orange Tree
Location: Sherman Oaks, CA
March 13, 2013 6:31 pm
Hello,
I noticed about 5 of these big brown bees flying in and around my orange tree with is starting to bud.
I’ve been living at this location for 3 years and have never seen this bug here or ever before.
Is it even a bee?
I live in the san fernando valley in southern California. Los Angeles County.
It seems to be about an inch in length. Orangish-brown in color and buzzes like a bee.
Let me know what you think.
Thanks
Signature: Rory Ambron

Male Valley Carpenter Bee
Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Dear Rory,
You are absolutely correct that this is a Bee, and more specifically, it is a male Valley Carpenter BeeValley Carpenter Bees exhibit sexual dimorphism, meaning that the male and female look very different from one another.  The male is a lovely golden color with green eyes and the female is larger and black with black wings.  The female excavates a gallery for her brood in dead wood, and it is reported that Valley Carpenter Bees can do considerable damage over the years to telephone poles if they are plentiful.

Male Valley Carpenter Bee
Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Letter 29 – Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Subject: Giant flying peanut?????
Location: Norther california bay area
April 11, 2013 7:26 pm
I have only seen this bug once, buzzing around the buckeye tree by the creek in Northern California.
It sounded like a bee, at first glance we thought that it was a carpenter bee loaded with pollen, but after I took the pictures, you can see that it is not! Sorry they are blurry, he never landed!
Do you have any idea what it could be????
Thanks for your help!
Signature: AMK in NorCal

Male Valley Carpenter Bee
Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Dear AMK in NorCal
This is a Carpenter Bee.  Male Valley Carpenter Bees are golden in color and live for a shorter time than the black females.  There is a pronounced sexual dimorphism in Valley Carpenter Bees.

Thank You!  I had no idea- we must have a lot of females since I have never seen this before.
Very interesting.  I really appreciate your response- especially so quick!!
Keep up the good work ;}

Letter 30 – Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Subject: Is this a bumble bee covered with pollen?
Location: North Richland Hills, Texas
September 23, 2013 10:30 pm
I have been seeing alot of thesehandsome bees in my backyard, they love the passionvine. I thought they where bumblebees covered in pollen.
But I’ve also noticed that I have bumblebees as well and they seem to bee a bit smaller than these golden bees.
I would be interested in knowing all about this insect?
Signature: Karen Bernard

Male Valley Carpenter Bee
Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Dear Karen,
This is the loveliest photo of a male Valley Carpenter Bee,
Xylocopa varipuncta, a species with extreme sexual dimorphism.  The color palette of your photo is quite harmonious.

Letter 31 – Male Valley Carpenter Bees flying in Mount Washington

Male Valley Carpenter Bees nectar from wisteria
Location:  Mount Washington, Los Angeles, California
March 16, 2014  11:30 AM
This morning while working in the garden, we observed at least three male Valley Carpenter Bees,
Xylocopa varipuncta, gathering nectar from the wisteria growing on the front porch.  The Valley Carpenter Bee exhibits extreme sexual dimorphism, with the male having a lovely golden color while the female, who appears to be a different species, is a deep black.  There were no black female Valley Carpenter Bees to be seen, though we did notice females earlier in the week.  The males fly for a very short period of time, unlike the females that live much longer so that they can have time to provision a nest with pollen for their broods.

Male Valley Carpenter Bee
Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Male Valley Carpenter Bees are perfectly harmless, though they will attempt to defend territory.  Since they do not have stingers, they are incapable of harming a human.  Females do have stingers, but they are very reluctant to use them.  Valley Carpenter Bees frequently visit wisteria and sweet peas in our garden, but they do not have tongues long enough to reach the nectar, so they use their mandibles to pierce the base of the bloom, allowing access to the nectar.  In researching this posting, we learned on BugGuide that:  “Their eggs are the largest of all insect eggs. The Valley carpenter bee egg can be 15mm long. (UC, Davis).”  While taking these images, we observed the first Western Tiger Swallowtail of the year flying overhead, but it did not alight for the camera.  Guess our 90˚ temperatures today have brought out many spring creatures a bit early.

Male Valley Carpenter Bee
Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Letter 32 – Valley Carpenter Bee currently Flying in Southern California

Subject: Strange bumble bee
Location: Chino, California
March 17, 2014 9:46 am
I found this burnt orange bumble bee type bug on my walk in Chino, California this morning.(3-17-14)We do have bumble bees around here but I’ve never seen anything like this one.
Signature: Melissa

Male Valley Carpenter Bee
Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Dear Melissa,
We just posted a photo taken at our offices in Mount Washington yesterday of similar male Valley Carpenter Bees nectaring on wisteria.  We believe male bees emerge first and defend territory against other males, though that is just speculation.  The seem much more wary and flighty than the larger black females that are so sexually dimorphic that they appear to be a different species.  Female Valley Carpenter Bees are the largest Bees in California, and their eggs, according to BugGuide, are the largest of all insect eggs.

Male Valley Carpenter Bee
Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Letter 33 – Violet Carpenter Bee

Subject: bug in the algarve, portugal
Location: lagos, portugal
February 26, 2015 12:02 pm
Hi, i found this in the mouth of my four month old puppy this morning, just wondering if it dangerous?
Signature: clare curry

Hi, have managed to find out, it is a violet flower bee

Violet Carpenter Bee
Violet Carpenter Bee

Dear Clare,
Though you have identified your Carpenter Bee,
Xylocopa violacea, we are happy to post the image to our site.  According to TrekNatureReadily identified by its color, this handsome solitary bee flies in summer and autumn and again in spring, after hibernation.”  We don’t know what your weather is like right now, but we are speculating this sighting occurred on a warm day which brought the Violet Carpenter Bee out of hibernation.

Letter 34 – Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Subject: Bumble bee sized buzzing and fuzzy home invasion in Northern CA Bay Area
Location: Halfway between San Francisco and Sacramento on the I-80 corridor
September 17, 2015 3:17 pm
This bee-like bug came into our home in the early afternoon. We have orchards behind our home. He was fairly calm…not the typical frenetic bee like flying, but he had a very loud buzz. He seemed to hug the surfaces he landed upon and was attracted to light.
Signature: Mommy Susie

Male Valley Carpenter Bee
Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Dear Mommy Susie,
This is a harmless male Valley Carpenter Bee.  This is a species with extreme sexual dimorphism.  Males are golden and females are black, so the sexes appear like different species.  Females rarely sting and males are incapable of stinging.

Letter 35 – Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Subject: What is this
Location: Pacific Palisades CA 90272
November 23, 2015 3:36 pm
Not sure if it is a drone bee or not. Found it in our yard
Pacific Palisades CA
Thanks
Nancy
Ps. Doing this on my phone. Hope the first picture is of it next to the ruler. Can’t see the image it’s so small
Signature: Nancy

Male Valley Carpenter Bee
Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Dear Nancy,
Thanks for sending three images.  That gives us a choice of what to post.  We are posting the close-up of this male Valley Carpenter Bee.  The species has pronounced sexual dimorphism, and the golden males look like an entirely different species than the black female Valley Carpenter Bee.  The differences are most stunning when the sexes are viewed together, and if there is still any doubt that they are the same species, here is a mating pair of Valley Carpenter Bees.

Letter 36 – Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Subject: Unidentified flying insect
Location: Vacaville, CA
March 25, 2016 8:45 pm
My sister found this bug in her fireplace, March, 2016, in central California. It flew around, and was about an inch long.
Signature: Betty S

Someone has ID’d it for me as a male carpenter bee.

Male Valley Carpenter Bee
Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Dear Betty,
We are glad to hear someone identified your male Valley Carpenter Bee.  It is possible it emerged from firewood brought indoors.  Though female Valley Carpenter Bees are capable of stinging, they seldom do.  Males are incapable of stinging.

Daniel,
Thanks for the corroboration.  Though no one said it was a Valley Carpenter Bee, just Carpenter Bee, so that’s even better.  And yes, my sister found large round holes in firewood she had setting in the living room!
Thanks, again,
Betty

Letter 37 – Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Subject: Mad as a hornet
Location: San Jose, CA
March 19, 2016 4:26 pm
Five or six of these appeared in my yard and the rest of them are still doing laps but I caught one and cannot figure out what it is.
Signature: Kate

Male Valley Carpenter Bee
Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Dear Kate,
You would probably also get mad if someone trapped you under glass and wouldn’t let you free.  This is a harmless male Valley Carpenter Bee.  Male bees cannot sting.  The sexually dimorphic black female Valley Carpenter Bee is capable of stinging, but seldom does.

Thank you!
I let it go after about 15 minutes. Such a fascinating creature!
Kate Russell

We are glad to hear that Kate.  Though they cannot sting, male Valley Carpenter Bees seem more aggressive as they defend territory.  They are also much more wary when they fly.  Female Valley Carpenter Bees are more lumbering in their flight.

Letter 38 – Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Subject: Biggest Bumble Bee I Have Ever Seen
Location: Glendale, CA
March 17, 2017 5:04 pm
Dear Bugman,
I near Los Angeles, CA and saw this HUGE and distinctly colored Bumble Bee outside my door today. It’s orange color, big bristly fur, and yellow head were too cool not to go outside and get a closer look. Can you help me in identifying what species of Bumble Bee I got the pleasure to see today?
Thanks,
Signature: Teacher Todd

Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Dear Teacher Todd,
This is not a Bumble Bee.  This is a male Valley Carpenter Bee, a species with pronounced sexual dimorphism.  Even larger females are black and look like a different species.  The golden male Valley Carpenter Bees are usually seen only in the spring, though the females that live much longer are found at other times of the year.  Here is an image of a mating pair of Valley Carpenter Bees from our archives.

Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Letter 39 – Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Subject: What is this?
Location: Folsom, California
July 19, 2017 6:24 am
What is this big and what does it do?
Signature: Cindy

Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Dear Cindy,
This is a male Valley Carpenter Bee, and we suppose his main purpose in life is to mate with a sexually dimorphic, black, female Valley Carpenter Bee.  While awaiting that opportunity, he will also pollinate flowers.

Letter 40 – Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Subject:  What type of bee? is this??
Geographic location of the bug:  North America, California, Northern California
Date: 02/20/2018
Time: 08:41 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Please help me identify this little nugget! I’m so curious, especially as I have exhausted my own resources for identifying it. Thank you!
How you want your letter signed:  Kayt

Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Dear Kayt,
This is a male Valley Carpenter BeeFemales of the species are black and they are more commonly sighted as they have a longer life span.

Letter 41 – Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Subject:  Large Golden Bee
Geographic location of the bug:  Tucson, AZ
Date: 06/28/2018
Time: 10:13 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  What is this? Large similar to the size of a beetle but looks like bee.
How you want your letter signed:  Anna

Male Valley Carpenter Bee

Dear Anna,
This is a male Valley Carpenter Bee, a species with pronounced sexual dimorphism.

Authors

    by
  • 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.

  • 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.

22 thoughts on “Valley Carpenter Bee: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell”

  1. May 22, 2014. I also found what seems to be a Male Valley Carpenter Bee in my yard swarming trying to land on my apricot leaves. At first wasn’t sure of what it was until I looked it up. I’m in Merced, California. I was too concerned of what it was and if it was something to worry about. Are these common in our area?

    Stephanie Northcutt

    Reply
    • Male Valley Carpenter Bees cannot sting, so there is nothing to worry about regarding his appearance. Though female Valley Carpenter Bees are capable of stinging, they rarely sting people. Valley Carpenter Bees will be more plentiful in areas where nesting sites, food sources and few predators permit their numbers to increase.

      Reply
  2. May 22, 2014. I also found what seems to be a Male Valley Carpenter Bee in my yard swarming trying to land on my apricot leaves. At first wasn’t sure of what it was until I looked it up. I’m in Merced, California. I was too concerned of what it was and if it was something to worry about. Are these common in our area?

    Stephanie Northcutt

    Reply
  3. I saw and took photos of a huge bumblebee in the garden where I live. I have posted photos on my Facebook wall, and on a Facebook post by my friend Charles “Chip” Ashley. What I saw was found in Fresno, CA. Maybe it was a male carpenter bee. I don’t know. But it was larger than the normal black bumblebees that frequent the garden. What I captured with my DSLR camera makes for some great photos, at least. I would like to know what it is. Thank you for any help! I can perhaps also send photos to you somehow.

    Reply
  4. I live on a now very busy corner in Arlington, VA. I have an unintenyional 4’x8′ and spreading spearmint patch.

    This my first attempt to find out what wasp-looking, but not aggressive, bug that has a somewhat iridescent blue sheen over its thorax and wings, two yellow dots on its upper abdomen, and a definite red butt. It’s red over about .4 of is abdomen. Could it be a fly? The biggest ones are 1″ mandible to wherever they might sting me with. There seem to be more of them all over the spearmint every year, and some are smaller, They seem very calm for Hymenopterans

    Reply
  5. I live on a now very busy corner in Arlington, VA. I have an unintenyional 4’x8′ and spreading spearmint patch.

    This my first attempt to find out what wasp-looking, but not aggressive, bug that has a somewhat iridescent blue sheen over its thorax and wings, two yellow dots on its upper abdomen, and a definite red butt. It’s red over about .4 of is abdomen. Could it be a fly? The biggest ones are 1″ mandible to wherever they might sting me with. There seem to be more of them all over the spearmint every year, and some are smaller, They seem very calm for Hymenopterans

    Reply
  6. My boyfriend and I saw two golden male Valley Carpenter bees today flying amongst seven females. We thought they were albinos and amazed there were two of them.
    Sadly, this awesome wonder was tainted by the fact the bees had all just lost their homes because the landlord unnecessarily removed a dead Mulberry tree which many carpenter bees had been using for months. The poor bees hovered about for awhile looking for the missing tree and acting like they were double checking their navigation. Some would hover and land on the ground where leftover wood chips still remained, particularly the males. One by one they left to scout out a new place to make home. One female was already checking our neighbor’s eaves for a good spot. Goodbye gentle carpenters. Your fate is ours as well, for the landlord is selling our trailer park, and that right soon.

    Reply
    • Once a Valley Carpenter Bee is in the winged adult form, it no longer returns to the nest. A female Valley Carpenter Bee will search for a new location to construct a nest for her brood. Male Valley Carpenter Bees never return to a nest as their primary interest is finding a mate, though defending territory for a potential nesting site is a possibility. Good luck with your own relocation.

      Reply
  7. My boyfriend and I saw two golden male Valley Carpenter bees today flying amongst seven females. We thought they were albinos and amazed there were two of them.
    Sadly, this awesome wonder was tainted by the fact the bees had all just lost their homes because the landlord unnecessarily removed a dead Mulberry tree which many carpenter bees had been using for months. The poor bees hovered about for awhile looking for the missing tree and acting like they were double checking their navigation. Some would hover and land on the ground where leftover wood chips still remained, particularly the males. One by one they left to scout out a new place to make home. One female was already checking our neighbor’s eaves for a good spot. Goodbye gentle carpenters. Your fate is ours as well, for the landlord is selling our trailer park, and that right soon.

    Reply
  8. Hi!
    I sent you a few images in the end of January 2017. You gave a Genus (?) name on one of the moths (Giant silk moth (Saturniidae sp.).I don´t know how to find the image on your home page. I have now been able to get species name for that moth Via (Dr Phd) David Thomas England, from Prof. Dr Ahmet Ömer Koçak & Asst. Prof. Dr Muhabbet Kemal (Centre for Entomological Studies, Ankara, Turkey), both experts on moths and hawkmoths in central China. I have also received names for two more of my moths/hawkmoths.
    If you would like me to send them to you, please let me have your e-mail-address again. It has disappeared since out latest contact.
    Cheers
    Stefan Lithner (slit)

    Reply
  9. Hi!
    I sent you a few images in the end of January 2017. You gave a Genus (?) name on one of the moths (Giant silk moth (Saturniidae sp.).I don´t know how to find the image on your home page. I have now been able to get species name for that moth Via (Dr Phd) David Thomas England, from Prof. Dr Ahmet Ömer Koçak & Asst. Prof. Dr Muhabbet Kemal (Centre for Entomological Studies, Ankara, Turkey), both experts on moths and hawkmoths in central China. I have also received names for two more of my moths/hawkmoths.
    If you would like me to send them to you, please let me have your e-mail-address again. It has disappeared since out latest contact.
    Cheers
    Stefan Lithner (slit)

    Reply
  10. I found one of these resting on the underside of a sunflower leaf today. He was huge! I got pictures but he was facing away, so I couldn’t see his eyes.

    Reply

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