a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France

Laid back carpenter bee


Violet Carpenter Bee

I took this photograph of a carpenter bee (Xylocopa violacea) in early April this year in the garden.  I was delighted to see the return of these huge black bees who took delight in piercing the wisteria flowers to “steal” the nectar.

I am surprised that they are not universally liked as they are not aggressive, the male does not even have a sting, but I agree they are very clumsy and you could get buzzed if you happen to get in the way of their noisy flight path.  So aside from accidental encounters of a close kind, it is extremely difficult to get near them.  I felt it was somewhat easier to get close to them in the early spring as they must have been just emerging from hibernation and have been famished.  During the summer time I felt that they were extremely frisky and I failed to sneak up to them without being spotted.

This is why I was very surprised to find some very laid-back carpenters feeding on Hemp Agrimony (Eupatorium Cannabinum).  I have seen them over the past couple of days.

Sun catching violet wings

I must admit their different behaviour made me suspect a different species but the red tip on the antenna is supposed to be indicative of the Xylocopa violacea.

Sipping the nectar

I find the carpenters as appealing as the bumble bees probably because of their fluffy appearance.

Serious nectar gathering

They did not seem in the slightest concerned with being photographed by humans at such a short distance, so I decided to make the most of the opportunity and take a short video.  It is only a few seconds long, the battery in the camera was running out for one thing and it is enough to give an idea of its nonchalant nectar gathering.


I wonder if the change in behaviour is due to the approach of autumn and the hibernating season?  Perhaps the greatest driver now is to build up sufficient food stores to be able to survive over winter?

Has anyone any other ideas or has anyone else noticed this change in behaviour?

Author: afrenchgarden

Born in Scotland I have lived in England, Iran, USA and Greece. The house and land was bought twelve years ago in fulfilment of the dream of living in France that my Francophile husband nurtured. We had spent frequent holidays in France touring the more northerly parts and enjoying the food, scenery, architecture and of course gardens. However, we felt that to retire in France and enjoy a more clement climate than we currently had in Aberdeen we would need to find somewhere south of the river Loire but not too south to make returning to visit the UK onerous. The year 2000 saw us buying our house and setting it up to receive us and the family on holidays. The garden was more a field and we were helped by my son to remove the fencing that had separated the previous owners’ goats, sheep and chickens. We did inherit some lovely old trees and decided to plant more fruit trees that would survive and mature with the minimum of care until we took up permanent residence. The move took place in 2006 and the love hate relation with the “garden” started. There was so much to do in the house that there was little energy left for the hard tasks in the garden. It was very much a slow process and a steep learning curve. Expenditures have been kept to a minimum. The majority of the plants have been cuttings and I try to gather seeds wherever I can. The fruit trees have all been bought but we have tender hearts and cannot resist the little unloved shrub at a discount price and take it as a matter of honour to nurse it back to health. This year I have launched my Blog hoping to reach out to other gardeners in other countries. My aim is to make a garden for people to enjoy, providing shady and sunny spots with plants that enjoy living in this area with its limestone based subsoil and low rainfall in a warm summer. Exchanging ideas and exploring mutual problems will enrich my experience trying to form my French garden.

15 thoughts on “Laid back carpenter bee

  1. Great images Amelia, my carpenter bees don’t seem to be showing any different behaviour; I’ll try to observe them more carefully and let you know. Christina


  2. Hmmm. Both your April and your September photos are of males, so the explanation isn’t to do with different foraging behaviour between the sexes. I must admit I haven’t noticed a change in behaviour, and haven’t found them unusually difficult to photograph if they are concentrating on feeding. My guess would be that it has to do with the quantity of nectar or pollen they are getting. If the flower isn’t yielding much they may be more skittish, if they are getting a lot they may be more reluctant to give it up and therefore tolerate a closer presence by the photographer. I hadn’t realised they broke into wisteria – the flowers must be too small for them to crawl into.


    • I get large holes in my Wisteria and it lets the smaller bees have easier access to the nectar.
      These bees are so laid back that I was able to move the flower that they were on and they did not budge.


  3. Beautiful shots! Love the colors!


  4. I have never see a bee like that before! Great Blog!


  5. They are very cute, when it was sunny I could only see the reflection of their shiny wings but in the photos I can see how fluffy they are . They are large so I can see how they might intimidate, although a week in your garden and they never bothered me( they were much more interested in feeding)


  6. Gorgeous, I love the blue sheen to their wings. I like Susan’s suggestion about the quantity of nectar or pollen available perhaps having an effect on behaviour; weather conditions can also make a difference. When rain is coming I can see my bees returning home more frantically than usual.


  7. We don’t have these bees here. I know I would like them if we did. I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t be liked by all. Perhaps people don’t like the black?


    • I think the black does put people off and combined with the size and the fact that they can be noisier than a bumble scares people. Despite the fact that they seem to have amazing eyesight (bad news for taking close-up photographs) they can accidently fly towards you, like the bumbles do sometimes. Usually they are off in the opposite direction like a shot.


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