They're not bumble bees. They're not scary. But well, they ARE big. About an inch long.
The Valley carpenter bee (Xylocopa varipuncta) is the largest bee in California. The female is solid black with metallic wings. In a great example of sexual dimorphism, the male looks nothing like the female. It's a green-eyed blond, fondly known as "the teddy bear" bee because it's fuzzy-wuzzy and cannot sting. (See Bug Squad photo of the teddy bear bee.) "Boy bees can't sting because they have no stingers," native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, is fond of saying at UC Davis open houses and area workshops.
But it was the female we were checking out last weekend. She buzzed from the blanket flower (Gaillardia) to the lavender patch and clung to a blossom.
A honey bee seeking the same nectar landed next to her. Talk about size comparison! Neither seemed to mind the presence of the other. Plenty of nectar. Plenty of time. Plenty of work to do.
When the honey bee finally left--"I'm outta here!"--the Valley carpenter bee climbed to the top of the stem as if claiming it. "This is mine! This is all mine."
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A Valley carpenter bee and a honey bee sharing the same lavender stem. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Close-up of the Valley carpenter bee. You can easily see the pollen dust on her. First and foremost, the Valley carpenter bee is a pollinator. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
"This is mine! This is all mine!" A Valley carpenter bee clings to the top of the lavender stem. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)