Do carpenter bees live in California? Yes. Here are the three major species of California Carpenter bees.

Bees are essential to the world, and their presence is an indication of a working ecosystem. They are critical factors to the existence of our forests, pollination of crops and they are also a source of food to a lot of other specie

In California alone, there are about 1600 species of native bees. A lot of them can be found in the gardens; they are quite different from the popular honey bees that are social, live in hives, and produce honey.

Most of these native bees live in solitude, and they are not social, they live in woods, underground, or tunnels, and they do not produce honey.

A lot of these native bees come in different shapes, colors, and sizes. Some are very long like the valley bees, some are very big while some are small, for example, the sweat bee is tiny, and it is less than a quarter-inch long.

Their difference is also seen in their body types; some bees are very hairy; for instance, the bumble bee. There are also other distinguishing features, but it will take a magnifying glass to see them. Their habitat, the choice of flowers, and even the season they choose to appear are different from one specie to another.

California Carpenter Bees

Carpenter bees look so much like bumblebees to the extent that unless you are a professional, you will find it hard to tell one from the other. But here is how you would know if it a carpenter bee;

  • If it has a shiny abdomen
  • If the legs of the male are not hairy, the body is also not hairy
  • If the males of carpenter bees have a white or yellow face
  • If the front wing of a carpenter bee has a small stigma
  • If the marginal cell in the front wing is narrow and long
  • If the eyes of the male carpenter bee are more significant than that of the female, and it is related to their mating attitude.

Species of Carpenter Bees In California

The specie of bees called carpenter bees are given such name because their primary occupation is constructing their home in woods. They build their houses by creating tunnels inside any soft wooden material they find suitable and homely.

They are metallic and black or sometimes, greenish-black. They are not more than 2-3mm long, which is the same as 0.1-0.2 inches long.

There are three species of carpenter bees in California. All the species in this genus look so much alike, to the point that they are challenging to differentiate. Almost all of them are black or have a black background with some yellow pubescence.

Another way to tell their difference is in their morphological features; for instance, the details of their genitalia is quite different.

The species of California Carpenter Bee are;

  1. Valley Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa varipuncta
  2. Western Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa californica
  3. Mountain Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa tabaniformis orpifex

Valley Carpenter Bee

The valley Carpenter bee is quite gigantic for an insect. There’s no way you will see a valley carpenter bee that you will not be frightened. The bee is one-third of a hummingbird, and it is the largest of the California Carpenter Bee.

The female of this specie of carpenter bee are bulky and they kind of buzz from one flower to another which according to a conspiracy theory are like black helicopters. At the same time, the male who is rarely seen is golden having gold-green eyes.

In California, the largest population of bees is the valley carpenter bees, and they are usually called the black bumblebees.

The male Valley Carpenter bee lives like a loner and does not take part in raising the young bees. The only thing they know is to defend their territory only for the sake of mating, and they do this once in a while.

Whenever they want to defend their territorial rights, they usually engage in an air fight where the males will wrestle against each other in the air- they usually look like two golden snitches fighting.

Whereas, the females who have the responsibility of taking care of her family is seen at gardens, moving from one flower to another to collect nectar.

She is stealing the nectar because she bypasses the regular route, moves to the side of the flower, cut it open, and sucks out nectar from there. This is a criminal act because it deprives the flower of pollination if it does not transfer pollen and it can’t transfer the pollen going from the back door.

But then, they don’t always steal nectar from every flower they see. A lot of flowers are accessible, so they don’t need to steal when they can go through the normal channel.

The bottom line is, valley carpenter bees are essential to agriculture and the ecosystem at large. They are more important pollinators than honey bees. This is because their big size can allow them to collect a lot of pollen from flowers. They are more productive in pollinating flowers than most other pollinators.

Western Carpenter Bee

The Western Carpenter bee is the second-largest bee in California. It is the real California Carpenter Bee – Xylocopa californica.  They are not as big as valley Carpenter Bee, but they are also metallic.

The male Western Carpenter Bee has bluish metallic reflections on its body, while the females have smoky dark-brown wings.

Like the valley bee, they also do not take part in raising their young ones, and they live like loners.

This species is usually found at the base of mountains or foothills areas of Southern and Northern California. They are equally essential to agriculture as they are very active pollinators.

Sometimes they steal nectar, but most of the time, they pollinate the plants. And they are very active during hot seasons.

Western Carpenter bee can be found in Nevada, Washington, Arizona, Northwestern Mexico, New Mexico, Texas, Oregon, and of course, California.

There is a large population of Western Carpenter Bee in Southern California, in the Central Valley, and even in the Mojave Desert. They love the woods and deserts and all the plants that are found there.

Mountain Carpenter Bee

This specie of carpenter bee is a bit different from other bees. Most bees are active during the day, but Mountain Carpenter bees are active at dawn or dusk- the time when a lot of the other bees are inactive.

Mountain Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa tabaniformis orpifex is the smallest of all the Carpenter Bee specie. The females are black but have a smoky light-colored wing. While on the lower part of the males’ faces are yellow marks that appear lighted. It also has some hairs on its thorax; the hairs are in yellow as well.

Even though they are the smallest of the Carpenter bee specie, they are bigger than the bumblebee, and they have unique characteristics. For instance, you can only catch them at dawn or dusk during the summer on the honeysuckle flower, sucking out nectar while pollinating the plants.

You can also catch this specie of bee on a douglas fir o on red Timberwood, but you will never catch it sucking nectar in broad daylight.

The males of this specie are also as irresponsible as the other two species of carpenter bee; they only know how to chase each other and fight with one another.

The mountain Carpenter Bee can construct tunnels that as long as 13- 30 centimeter long. Some of these tunnels may outlive the constructors.

Summary

Of all the 1600 species of native bees in California, the carpenter bees are the most controversial because it is challenging to group them as a beneficial insect as they pose more as a pest even though they are indeed beneficial.

They tunnel into woods, steal nectars from flowers, especially the long-tubed flowers, make noise wit their buzzing wings and their females can sting if they feel threatened. The worse part is, they decide or determine what makes them feel threatened.

Yet, the carpenter bee is also an essential pollinator of some crop plants like blueberries, hybrid cotton, passion fruit, tomatoes, and even eggplant. The effect of their nectar theft is not altogether negative as it may appear. When they steal nectar, they may be causing some out-crossing by literarily forcing the rightful pollinators to visit more flowers.

In some cases, they end up pollinating the flowers eventually.

More so, the wood they usually tunnel are softwoods, most of which are dead, so their tunneling these kinds of wood is the first step into breaking down the limbs or logs which is the initial recycling process of logs or limbs. But they can be seen as pests when they make tunnels into our untreated woods that are useful that we regard them as pests.

Whenever we think of carpenter bee as a pest, there is a need also to consider their usefulness to the environment before we engage the use of products or methods in exterminating them.