What Are Carpenter Bees?
The carpenter bee is often mistaken for the bumblebee because they look very similar. One can, however, differentiate them by a distinct characteristic — the markings. A bumblebee has a hairy abdomen with the familiar black and yellow stripes. Carpenter bees are hairless and possess a shiny black body.
Carpenter bees are not like honey bees who build and live in honeycombs or bumblebees who nest underground in holes. They have a unique ability — to bore into wood.
They apply this skill when nest making, creating a tunnel system within their chosen piece of wood. Old nests are often reused and remodeled by each visitor. This network can become so intricate and extensive, it could threaten the structural integrity of the wood itself.
Their “craftsmanship” is what causes some people to denounce them as harmful pests. Carpenter bees prefer softwood trees, like pine, cedar or spruce, which also includes timber — potentially causing structural damage to any building made of wood.
Carpenter Bees and the Environment
Although many seek to eradicate them as pests, the role carpenter bees play benefits the environment in ways that we cannot afford to ignore. They, like other bees, feed on nectar and pollen. Hence, they visit flowers in search of food. Since they possess large bodies, carpenter bees end up being very effective pollinators and provide a massive boost to the ecosystem.
They also have the ability to vibrate their flight muscles at specific frequencies. This is called buzz pollination — a skill that honey bees don’t possess. The vibrations cause pollen to dislodge from flowers.
As a result, carpenter bees have proven they’re not such a nuisance. In Australia, they noted a 10 percent increase in their yield of tomatoes because of their pollination prowess. Eggplants, blueberries, and cranberries also benefit from this type of pollination — producing larger fruits in more abundant quantities.
Carpenter Bees and Honey
Not all bees make honey. Their order, Hymenoptera is divided into seven families. Only one of such is known for honey making — the Apidae.
How Do Bees Make Honey?
Making honey is a tedious process that few species can perform. The procedure involves changing floral nectar to honey. It’s accomplished through regurgitation, enzymatic activity, and water evaporation.
A multitude of bees need to work together as a group to perform this task. Hence, only the species of bees that are eusocial (meaning “truly social”) are capable of making honey. The presence of a queen and a large group of laborers are also needed for the process — coordination and cooperation are required to perform this task.
Bees gather nectar from flowers and ingest it into their honey stomach. This is where salivary enzymes and proteins from the bee’s hypopharyngeal gland will act on them, breaking down the nectar sugars.
When the bees return to the hive, they will regurgitate the nectar and pass it to other bees that will ingest and regurgitate it again. They keep passing the nectar from one bee to another until the optimum quality is reached. Only then will the honey be placed within honeycomb cells.
To prevent fermentation, they will not seal these cells until the water content has been reduced. Together the bees in the hive will flutter their wings in synchrony to circulate air and evaporate the moisture. When the task is accomplished, the moisture content should drop to around 18 percent.
Do Carpenter Bees Make Honey?
While there are over 730 species of carpenter bees, none of them can produce honey. The reason being, they don’t belong to the honey-producing family — they’re classed as Xylocopinae.
Carpenter bees are solitary bees. A male and female will pair up to mate and rear the young — living in close proximity to one another in their burrow.
Solitary bees are known for their aggressive foraging habits which makes them excellent for pollination. Unfortunately, the sheer amount of effort required to make honey is out of their reach.
It’s believed that one honey bee can only make 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey during its lifetime. Social relationships are immensely crucial in the gathering of enough nectar and the production of honey. This characteristic is nonexistent amongst carpenter bees.
The division of labor is essential for the making of honey.
Due to a lack of knowledge, carpenter bees are misunderstood and considered annoying pests. Their inability to produce honey and unconventional nesting habits has led people to believe they are useless. This is not correct — they’re of great importance to the ecological system and more than pay their due.