Large sunflower

A female Valley Carpenter Bee on a large sunflower.

Vivian Young took this photo of a female Valley Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa varipuncta) on a large sunflower that she has growing in her yard.

Female Valley Carpenter Bees look like big bumblebees without the yellow markings, since they are clad all in shiny, almost bluish black. Their size can alarming, but these are easy-going, non-aggressive bees and you'd almost have to catch one and squeeze it in your hand to be stung. Valley Carpenter Bees stings are exceedingly rare.

These large bees are solitary, and don't form colonies of any kind. Nor do they manufacture honey, since they don't overwinter as active adults like honeybees do. The adults feed on nectar, and the females also gather lots of pollen to mix with a little nectar and bee saliva to form "bee bread," which they feed to their young.

These insects get their name Carpenter Bee because they excavate tunnels in wood, using their mandibles to chew through (but not eat) the wood. Happily for those living in wooden houses, Valley Carpenter Bees seem more interested in making their short nest tunnels in dead oak limbs rather than structural timber.

Valley Carpenter Bees are excellent pollinators — because of their large size, they can carry much more pollen than honeybees. When they can't fit their big bodies into a narrow tubular flower, however, they sometimes drill in from the side, a practice known as "nectar robbing" because the bee isn't doing its full part in the nectar/pollination service exchange.

NATURAL SIGHTINGS is a regular feature of the Tehachapi News edited by Jon Hammond which showcases photos of the natural beauty that enhances the quality of life in Tehachapi. If you have a good quality image of plants, animals, insects, trees, birds, weather phenomena, etc., taken in the Tehachapi area, you may submit it to the Tehachapi News for possible publication. Submissions can be dropped by the News office in the form of a print or CD, or sent by email to: editorial@tehachapinews.com.