Carpentry is an honorable and ancient profession. It requires the builder to have awareness of the environmental requirements and recognition of the construction materials at hand.
It was early carpenters who built the first shelters in which humans lived. These shelters allowed for the occupants to stay relatively comfortable and protected from the outside elements.
With these comfortable surroundings, sometime marginally better than the overall environs, the residents were better able to prepare for upcoming challenges. Carpentry literally became the basis for human advancement and occupation of the globe
In the insect world in Wakulla County and the southeast, being a carpenter has much different implications. Eastern Carpenter Bees (Xylocopa virginica) are the most common of several carpenter bee species.
They are widely known for their behavior of boring into and destroying wood products. Other large and small carpenter bees bore into wood or pithy stems, but are not of as much economic importance.
While there is a strong similarity, there is a difference between this carpenter bees and bumble bees. The easiest way to recognize a carpenter bee is they have a shiny abdomen, while the bumblebee’s is covered with fine hairs.
Both carpenter bees and bumblebees are effective native pollinators, but it is the nesting habits of the carpenter bees which become a problem for anyone who owns or manages a structure with untreated wood. Carpenter bees nest by boring tunnels into wood, while bumblebees will use pre-existing cavities or other protected sites for nest.
The entrance to a carpenter bee’s nest is a 5/8’s inch (16 millimeter) circular hole. The dimensions of the opening are so impeccable as to have the appearance of being drilled by a precision tool.
Instead of boring straight through, the carpenter bee quickly takes a right turn and extends the nest half a foot or more. The holes are at or near the bottom of the nest and multiple tunnels will branch off the single opening.
To penetrate the wood, the carpenter bees use their hard and durable mandibles on the front of their head as rasp to wear away the wood. They vibrate their bodies to scrape wood into a near dust-like consistency.
The wood particles are discarded through the opening or used to build partitions between the cells where the next generation of carpenter bees are incubated. The bees do not eat the wood residue.
Eggs are laid in a specific tunnel and it is sealed with a wood particle, nectar and pollen paste then another egg is deposited and sealed for incubation. This pattern maybe repeated up to a dozen times.
The eggs are large relative to the females and are some of the largest domestic insect eggs. Other chambers in the tunnel system store pollen and nectar for future use.
The repeated boring takes a toll on the structural integrity of wood. The irregular pattern of holes and sawdust are unsightly to people, but it attracts the attention of woodpeckers who see an easy meal.
The hard beaks of woodpeckers make quick works of the shallow brood chamber. Unfortunately they have no appreciation for the property owner’s need for shelter when structures are involved, so a carpenter will be needed to repair the damage.
To learn more about eastern carpenter bees read the UF/IFAS publication at the following link: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in257. Contact the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Office at 850-926-3931 with any questions or comments.