Anyone who is even slightly interested in the origin of the animal world on earth knows that the carpenter bee is one of the most ancient insects on our planet. Scientists date their appearance long before the appearance of man – 60-80 million years ago. And at the end of the 20th century, in one of the mines in the north of Burma (Myanmar), a prehistoric insect of this species was found, frozen in a drop of amber. And this find – just think! – about 100 million years.
Origin of the species and description
The taste of honey was familiar to primitive man. Along with hunting, ancient people were also engaged in the extraction of honey from wild bees. Of course, honey was a small part of the diet of our distant ancestors, but it was the only source of natural sugar known at that time.
The appearance of honey bees is inextricably linked with the appearance of flowering plants on Earth. It is assumed that the first pollinators were beetles – insects even older than bees. Since the first plants did not yet produce nectar, the beetles ate their pollen. With the advent of nectar, the evolutionary process of insects came to the stage of the appearance of a proboscis, then to its elongation and the appearance of a honey goiter – a container for sucking nectar.
Video: Carpenter bee
It was then that the higher hymenoptera appeared – the most ancient ancestors of modern honey bees. They swarmed, gradually mastered more and more new territories. They developed an instinct to return to flowers of the same species for pollination, and this was very important for the evolution of flowering plants. Over such a long period of existence, many varieties of bees have arisen, and at present, scientists have already systematized more than 20 thousand species of these insects.
One of the largest members of the honey bee family is the carpenter bee. The scientific name is Xylocopa valga. The insect owes its name “carpenter” to its own way of life, and in particular to the method of building nests. With the help of powerful jaws, the bee gnaws tunnels in the wood, arranging nests there.
The carpenter bee is twice the size of its closest counterparts and does not have the characteristic yellow and black striped color. In addition, these insects do not swarm and are classified as solitary bees.
Appearance and Features
Appearance – this is what immediately distinguishes the carpenter bee from all other members of the species. Firstly, the insects are very large, females can reach 3-3.5 cm in length. Males are slightly smaller – 2-2.5 cm.
Secondly, the head, breast and abdomen of carpenters are completely black, shiny, no yellow-black stripes, like in ordinary bees. Almost the entire body is covered with fine purple hairs. They are absent only on the abdomen. The wings are rather small compared to the body, transparent and as if dissected along the edges. Due to this structure, their blue-violet tint is very pronounced.
An interesting fact: it is because of the color of the wings that people divide carpenter bees into blue and purple. However, no other differences, with the exception of color, were found in these two categories, so this division is considered not scientific, but philistine.
Females differ from males not only in size, but also some parameters. For example, females have a stinger, longer antennae with red patches, protruding teeth are visible on their hind legs, and the color of the villi covering the body is exceptionally dark purple, while in males it can be with a brown tint.
The eyes of carpenter bees have the same faceted structure as those of most insects. They are located on both sides of the head. In addition, there are three additional dotted eyes on the crown of the bee.
In order for the carpenter bee to cope well with its activity – gnawing through wood – nature has carefully endowed it with a strong skull with chitinous partitions and powerful jaws. And these, of course, are the main features that distinguish this species of insect from its closest relatives – ordinary honey bees.
Where does the carpenter bee live?
Since their appearance on our planet, bees have mastered a fairly extensive geography. They left their parental nests and rushed to new territories. It is believed that limited to the north and east by the Himalayas, and to the south by the ocean, the ancient bees rushed west.
First they reached the Middle East, and then began to occupy the territory of Egypt. The next stage of development turned out to be the northern coast of Africa, then the swarms reached the Atlantic and further to the Iberian Peninsula.
And they came to the territory of our country from Central Europe, spreading to the Urals. The Ural Mountains turned out to be an insurmountable obstacle for honey bees. The climate of those places is very severe, and the dark coniferous taiga did not allow the bees to count on an abundance of food. Honeybees failed to penetrate Siberia and the Far East.
But this is all history and the natural distribution of the species. Of course, now the habitat of honey bees is much more extensive, and man has taken care of this. By trade routes, sea and land, bees were brought to America and Mexico, and then to Australia and New Zealand.
For the carpenter bee, the main habitats are still Central and Western Europe and the Caucasus. As for Russia, here the species is distributed in the most comfortable living conditions. These are the Krasnodar Territory and Stavropol Territory, the Middle and Lower Volga, the Central Black Earth Region and other territories with a similar climate.
What does a carpenter bee eat?
Ration carpenter bees are practically no different from what ordinary bees eat:
First of all, this, of course, is the nectar and pollen of flower plants – the main food from spring to autumn. In addition, bees eat bee bread (it is also called bee bread) and their own honey. The carpenter bee's favorite treat is acacia and red clover pollen. But in general, they pollinate more than 60 species of honey plants.
If you take a closer look at the carpenter bee menu, you can highlight several of its important components. So, for example, in order for the bee organism as a whole to be strong and efficient, insects eat nectar and honey – generous natural sources of carbohydrates.
A pollen is a source of protein for bees. It helps keep their endocrine and muscular systems healthy. During the collection of pollen, bees moisten it with saliva and nectar so that it gets wet, sticks together a little and does not crumble during long flights. At this moment, thanks to the secret of the bee and the properties of the pollen itself, the process of pollen fermentation occurs, as a result of which bee bread is formed.
Adult and young bees feed on perga. They also use it to turn it into gruel and/or royal jelly with the help of the secretion of the jaw glands, which are necessary for feeding the larvae.
Peculiarities of character and lifestyle
Despite its impressive size compared to its closest relatives, the carpenter bee poses no threat to anyone for a single creature in nature. These insects are absolutely not aggressive. Of course, the female carpenter can use her only weapon – the sting, but she does it only for self-defense or in case of real danger to her life.
However, the dose of venom injected with a carpenter bee sting is quite large, causing extensive painful swelling. But if you do not try to attack the bee's home and do not tease her herself, then she, most likely, will not even pay attention to anyone's presence. She has enough worries without it.
All bees are naturally industrious, but the carpenter bee is a real workaholic. Justifying her nickname, she makes deep tunnels in old and rotten wood. It can be anything – outbuildings, all kinds of rotten boards and logs, deadwood, stumps, old trees. Soft wood easily yields to the pressure of powerful bee jaws, and multi-level dwellings appear inside it, in which the larvae will then live and develop.
Interesting fact: the carpenter bee prefers only natural wood. If the surface is painted or treated with protective and decorative compounds, these gourmets will not be interested in it.
The process of gnawing out the tunnel is quite noisy, the bee makes a sound similar to the buzzing of a miniature circular saw. This sound can be heard at a distance of several meters. As a result of the efforts made by the carpenter bee, a perfectly round entrance to the nest and internal multi-level passages up to 30 cm deep are formed.
The carpenter bee does not belong to swarming bees. These are solitary insects. Each female organizes her own colony. Bee activity lasts from May to September, and under favorable weather conditions – until October.
Social structure and reproduction
Unlike ordinary honey bees, the family of carpenter bees is not divided into queens, workers, and drones. There are only females and males here. But, like all insects of this species, absolute matriarchy reigns among carpenters. This hierarchy is due to the fact that the main work on creating a colony, feeding and growing larvae falls on the female.
Males are not so hardworking, and their function is mainly to fertilize females. During the breeding season, males are very actively attracted to them. Seeing a suitable bee, the male takes a position on some hill and buzzes loudly, trying to attract her attention.
If the female does not show proper activity and does not leave the nest, then the gentleman himself descends into her shelter and continues “courting” until the chosen one reciprocates. Males are polygamous, each of them guards his own small “harem”, in which 5-6 females live.
Arranging nesting, the female lays pollen on the bottom of the tunnel and moistens it with nectar and her own saliva. In the resulting nutrient mixture, she lays an egg. From the sawdust left after gnawing the tunnel and glued together with saliva, the bee arranges a partition, thereby sealing the cell with the future larva in it.
The resulting partition again spreads the nutritious nectar mixture, lays the next egg and seals the next cell. Thus, the bee fills the entire tunnel and moves on to a new one. As a result, the nest of the carpenter bee acquires a multi-storey and branched structure.
An interesting fact: the dwellings of carpenter bees can rightly be called “family nests”, since they can be used by many generations of individuals.
After laying eggs, the female watches the nesting place for some time and guards it. Most often, adult females die during the winter cold, but if they manage to survive the winter, then next spring they begin a new breeding cycle.
The larvae grow and develop independently. By the end of summer, they pupate, and by the beginning of winter, the cells are already inhabited by young bees, who are forced to remain locked up until they gain enough strength.
In the spring, already fully grown, strengthened individuals gnaw their way to freedom and rush in search of nectar. Their independent life begins, they start building their own nests and breeding new colonies.
Natural enemies of carpenter bees
Thanks to its imposing With their size and sturdy wooden dwellings, carpenter bees have far fewer enemies in the wild than regular honey bees. First of all, these are, of course, insectivorous birds – bee-eater, shrike, golden bee-eater and many others.
Danger lies in wait for carpenter bees in the habitats of frogs. They feed on various types of insects, but they do not mind eating bees, grabbing them on the fly with their long sticky tongue. Another predatory representative of lovers of these insects is a spider. He weaves his web in the immediate vicinity of bee nests and catches careless individuals with it.
No less dangerous for carpenter bees are their distant relatives, such as hornets. They are twice as large, very gluttonous and can destroy bees in large numbers for their own food.
Another natural, although not the most dangerous enemy of the carpenter bee is dragonflies. They do not always attack, especially on such large representatives of bees. They prefer lighter prey. However, in those years when dragonflies breed too actively, food becomes scarce, and carpenter bees enter their diet along with other insects.
And in the immediate vicinity of the surface of the earth, carpenter bees lie in wait for mice and other insectivorous rodents. Most of them are not able to reach the nests of carpenters and ruin them, as they do with the hives of ordinary honey bees, but adults quite often get to lunch with these small predators. Since carpenter bees are not tamed by humans and are not domesticated, they do not have to wait for help in the fight against natural enemies.
Population and species status
Despite the fact It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the presence of bees in the wild, their populations are constantly and steadily decreasing.
There are several reasons for this:
- an increase in the amount of farmland;
- treatment of flowering plants with insecticides;
- harmful mutations resulting from crossbreeding.
Such a factor as the increase in farmland and the cultivation of monocultures on it can be considered the main factor in the decline in carpenter bee populations. Under natural conditions – in meadows, in forests – plants with different flowering periods live. Some bloom in early spring, others in summer, and others in autumn. In the fields, a crop is planted, the flowering of which lasts no longer than a month. The rest of the time, the bees simply have nothing to eat, and they die.
In addition, cultivated plants attract a large number of rodents. In the fight against them, a person uses many chemicals to help preserve the crop. Bees, pollinating chemically treated plants, receive a significant, and sometimes fatal dose of poison.
Carpenter bees are not immune from disease. Larvae, pupae and adults are attacked by parasites (mites) and acquire a severe disease – varratosis. One tick can kill dozens of individuals.
Speaking of the decline in the population of carpenter bees, one cannot fail to mention human activity in the process of crossing species. The results of such actions are extended in time, but scientists have already established the facts of the accumulation of harmful mutations among breeding breeds. Such bees become susceptible to various diseases, the seemingly familiar climate does not suit them, and the colonies simply die out.
Carpenter bee protection
Populations of carpenter bees are declining. A significant decrease has been noted in recent decades. In addition to the reasons described in the previous section, this process is affected by the fact that tree bees have nowhere to live. Forests are being actively cut down, wooden buildings are being replaced with more modern and practical ones – stone, concrete, brick.
In an effort to stop this trend, the carpenter bee is recognized as a protected species and listed in the Red Book of Russia. Many habitats of this unique insect become reserves.
It's no secret that the importance of finding wild bees in nature is associated not only with the ability to use their melliferous properties, but is of great importance for the ecology of the planet generally. Almost a third of the food that humans eat depends on pollination. Not to mention the significant role that bees play in the food chain and natural processes in wildlife.
The carpenter bee is an amazing representative of the living world, strong and independent. People still have not managed to domesticate it, it remains only to coexist in a single ecological system with it, without causing harm, but protecting it in every possible way.