I mentioned in one of my earlier posts that while I have lived in NC I don’t remember seeing any bumblebees, but that I do see Eastern Carpenter Bees (Xylocopa virginica). Starting a few days ago, I started seeing them a good bit around our house. For three days in a row I came home to find one by our front door. It would be methodically flying along the bottom of an overhang, following the line of the house. I assumed it was looking for a place to build a nest. Since the siding of our home is painted, it didn’t seem to find what it was looking for and would move on after a bit. I showed them to my 4 year old daughter, who found them interesting. None of this seemed out of the ordinary.
On Sat. I was outside behind out home working on the hives I am building. During the afternoon, I would see a carpenter bee about every 10-15 minutes. Usually they were doing the same thing I had seen before, cruising along the bottom of an overhang checking it out. Every once in a while, I would see a second carpenter bee fly up and the two would chase each other and wrestle a bit in the air. I figured they were either fighting or doing what birds and bees are famous for in spring. 🙂 I was busy though, and didn’t stop to investigate. Besides, it was over quickly and then they were gone. They are bigger that honey bees by a lot, but they still move out of view pretty fast.
Later in the afternoon, my 4 year old wanted to take a walk around the BlueCross BlueShield Building that is near our home. It sits on a large, partially wooded lot and has a nice one mile trail around its property that my daughter likes to “explore”. The path leads behind the building where there are a couple of rows of wooden planters. When we got to this area, we were in for a sight. There were literally hundreds of carpenter bees buzzing around. They were not collecting nectar, but were mostly hovering and chasing each other. My brave little girl stood in the middle of all these big buzzing bugs with me for a few minutes, but then said that “They were getting to close” and she would rather leave. We went on, but I figured I would come back and observe a bit more and bring a camera. I don’t know too much about carpenter bees but it seemed like the equivalent of a honey bees drone congregation area, and I was intrigued.
When I came back with a camera they were still at it. They tended to group around the wooden planters, mostly at the corners. Each of the planters had ~15 or so carpenter bees buzzing around it. They mostly just hovered about 6-12″ of the ground, staying as motionless as possible. From the yellow patch on their forehead, you can tell that they are mostly drones (a comforting fact since I was surrounded by lots of them and drones can’t sting). If another drone came too close they would chase it away, sometimes attacking each other. Once they had chased the rival off, they would come back to roughly the same spot and hover again. When they chased each other around, they usually stayed face to face, with one of the drones flying backwards until one caved and left. Reasonably often they would come to blows and you could hear them bounce off each other. It was a bit strange to be watching some in front of you, only to hear some right behind you duking it out.
After watching for a bit, I realized that they were not all drones. Most were, and all the fighters staking out their little area were. Every once in a while a female would come by. After a careful and cautious inspection that involved laying on my back with the drone buzzing over me, I realized that there were nests under the edge of the planters. You could see a small pile of sawdust on the ground from their drilling into the wood. When I got close enough, I think you can even hear them drilling. They make a grinding/scratching noise inside the holes. The females seemed mostly to be trying to simply get into their home (or out). I even saw some of them carrying pollen. They had to run a gauntlet of drone who pestered them as they came and went however. Once they got to their nest though, the drones left them alone. The guys seemed afraid to follow them in. I did find a female outside her nest though and was able to snap a few picture while she groomed herself. She flew off shortly after I took the pictures. After watching for a good while, I actually came across a drone that found a receptive female.
My digital camera also takes videos so I tried to take some. It was hard to get something interesting. I could get video of drones hovering, but whenever they started to run a competitor off, I couldn’t follow fast enough. After a bunch of uninteresting (rather poor shaky) videos, I got one that was at interesting. I found a drone that was fulfilling his only purpose in life (assuming carpenter bees drones do as little as honey bee drones). The video got a bit compressed and grainier when I uploaded it to photobucket, but if you are not offended by such things you can watch it (I hope you don’t get motion sickness though).