If you picture yellow and black furry little flying creatures when you think of the word “bee”, that’s because you’re probably thinking of honey bees and bumblebees which are some of the most popular types of bees in the United States.
What’s called the Black Bee actually refers to a number of bee species that are black or mostly black in color. Common types of black bees found in the US are types of carpenter bees, of the genus Xylocopa, which includes around 500 types of other bees.
Many species of Xylocopa are difficult to tell apart, but most of them are all black or primarily black in color with some yellow or white hairs.
Some people even confuse carpenter bees (ones with less black coloring) to bumblebees, but a key difference is that carpenter bees have a shinier abdomen, whereas bumblebees have a much hairier abdomen.
Unlike the honey and bumble bee, the carpenter bee only has a small portion of hair on its middle abdomen, while their lower abdomen has little to no hair and appears to be black and shiny. As mentioned earlier, most carpenter bees are all black or primarily black with some yellow (or white) coloring, typically only on their head.
They have mandibles or chewing parts on the front of their head used for drilling through wood where they make their nests.
They have 4 hairy black legs, antennae, and are typically about an inch long.
The female Valley Carpenter Bee is slightly smaller at about a quarter of an inch long. They are black with a metallic sheen (male valley carpenter bees are a more golden brown in color).
Both male and female Mountain Carpenter bees are black (though males may have yellow or white hairs on their heads) and are about half an inch long.
Other notable black bees that are not carpenter bees are the Leafcutting Bees and the Mining Bees.
Black bees such as carpenter bees are solitary, so that means they don’t gather and form a colony. The female will tunnel into wood – usually a dead tree, or firewood, or the side or wooden part of a house – and lay her eggs there. She’ll create small circle “apartments”, about 6 to 10 in total, laying eggs in each one and closing off each excavated cell with regurgitated wood pulp. These cells house individual eggs, and in each one she leaves behind a ball of pollen which serves as a food source for the larvae that hatch and mature over several weeks. Eventually, they’ll chew their way out of the place.
While the female bee is setting her kids up for eventual success, the male bee will be out and about patrolling and guarding the area even though, interestingly, the male carpenter bee doesn’t have a stinger and is harmless to humans.
Once this is all done, the pair move on and will die within a few weeks.
You may spot an entrance to a carpenter bee nest by its opening, which is an almost perfect circle about the size of the diameter of your little finger.
BEHAVIOR AND DIET:
While they chew a lot of wood, they don’t actually eat it for nutrition. They eat pollen and nectar from flowering plants.
HOW DANGEROUS ARE THEY?
Male carpenter bees don’t have stingers, and as such, can’t sting humans. Females do, but they’re very docile creatures and will rarely sting – only if they feel extremely threatened.
HOW DO YOU GET RID OF THEM?
Carpenter bees may reuse old tunnels and sometimes expand them in the process, so if they’ve chosen to nest in your home, this could be significant wood damage over the years.
It’s a good idea to close off any old nests they have – plug the holes with carpenter’s glue or any suitable sealant so future carpenter bees won’t be able to reuse them. This also eliminates moisture intrusion and helps against wood decay.
Another thing to keep in mind is that carpenter bees prefer to tunnel through bare wood – they typically stay away from painted wood. While less reliable, wood that’s been treated with chemicals like stains and preservatives also fare better than bare wood.
If you have a bee problem on your property, don’t hesitate to reach out to your local pest control for help.