Carpenter Bee

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Carpenter bees are the jumbo jets of the bee world. Several encounters with carpenter bees come to mind.

Between 1981 and 1984 we lived in an unusual house in Morristown, New Jersey. Our bedroom was on the third floor, in the rear, and it had a large triangular window that comprised most of one wall. The framing for the window was wood and the exterior trim was wood. The first year we were there carpenter bees made nests in the underside of the wood trim that formed the top two sides of the triangle. In the quiet of the late night we could hear the bees chewing their way through the wood. Since I worked for the owner of the house, an architect, I was sent up on a ladder to plug the holes with putty.

I also associate carpenter bees with Applegate Farms in Montclair, New Jersey. The building where Applegate Farms sells its ice cream is a wooden lean-to structure with a large wooden canopy in front. Carpenter bees hovered near and beneath the wooden canopy, even though the space beneath the canopy was crowded with customers. That’s when I first became aware of the hovering behavior of carpenter bees.

Finally, in 1985, soon after we moved into our current home in Passaic, I rebuilt the back porch and stairs. The stairs have open treads with no risers. I built them out of pressure-treated lumber. At that time lumber was sold for exterior use that was impregnated with insecticide chemicals, including the arsenic compound chromate copper arsenate (CCA). Lumber treated with CCA is no longer sold for use in residential structures because CCA is so toxic. That’s the lumber that I used. Carpenter bees attempted to bore into the stair treads from below, but they stopped. I never knew if they died from ingesting the CCA-treated wood, but I suspect they did.

This carpenter bee was one of two that visited our butterfly bush this past Sunday. When it landed on a flower its weight pulled the flower down and it struggled to hold on.  It moved from flower to flower over several minutes and I was able to get several photographs. Although bumblebees are the usual object of the lesson about being unfit for flight but flying nonetheless, it’s easy to see that the same condition applies to carpenter bees. Their bodies are enormous in relation to the size of their wings.

In reading a bit about carpenter bees this evening I learned that people who want to encourage them to pollenate their fruit trees will leave some bare wood exposed in places and orientations where the bees can make their nests without fear of being disturbed. I’m not sure if I would do that, but it sounds like an interesting idea. It might make for some interesting photographs.

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