“I’ve got black bumblebees buzzing around our backyard like crazy,” the caller said. “They’re loud. Very loud. They’re dive-bombing and scaring the cat and dog. I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
The unwelcome visitors were not bumblebees. They were carpenter bees.
Carpenter bees? No, they don’t know how to read blueprints or frame floors and walls. They nest in weathered wood, like your fence posts, utility poles or firewood. They tunnel into your deck, railing, shingles and shutters.
They are pests. But they’re also pollinators.
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, professor emeritus at the UC Davis Department of Entomology, fields many calls about carpenter bees.
This one pictured below is a male carpenter bee, Xylocopa tabaniformis orpifex Smith NB, Thorp says.
“It is stealing nectar from the base of the flower. They also spend a lot of time cruising around chasing everything that enters their territory.”
Contrary to popular opinion, carpenter bees don’t consume wood. If you don’t want them around, paint or varnish your wood. You can also plug their (unoccupied) holes with steel wool or caulk, or screen the holes so they don’t return.
The female and male carpenter bees that nectar the salvia (sage) in our bee friendly garden are about the size of bumblebees. “Robust” comes to mind. Okay, fat. They’re fat.
Their abdomens are bare and a shiny black. If you photograph them, you’ll see your own reflection. It’s like seeing your reflection in a black Lamborghini.
The female carpenter bees are a solid black, while the male carpenter bees are lightly colored around the head.
In comparison, bumblebees have hairy abdomens with at least some yellow markings.
If I were a carpenter and you were a…nah, I’d rather be a bumblebee.