a french garden


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Big, black, noisy bees in France

The Wisteria in this part of France is in flower now and I suspect that wherever there is Wisteria there will be Carpenter bees.  The first thought that passes through the mind of a person seeing a Carpenter for the first time is – “Does it sting?”

It is large – and measuring 25 to 30 mm long and with a possible wingspan of 45 to 50 mm – so it is a reasonable question to spring to mind.  However, despite its impressive size and loud drone when in flight, it is not an aggressive bee.  Now, I do not recommend trying to pick it up and give it a squeeze because it does have a sting.

Anyone wanting to “test” their aggressiveness has only to try and creep up on one to attempt a photograph.  They are much more difficult to capture with a camera than honey bees.  However, if you happen to be walking past some Wisteria in the spring you could inadvertently have a “near miss” with a male relentlessly patrolling for a receptive female.  The bee will be just as astonished as you are before he manages to steer his bulk around you.

One of the reasons I enjoy the Carpenters in the garden is that they are with us throughout the good weather.  The Carpenter above is on the Heptacodium at the end of September and will have been on all the early blossoms.  Not a fussy feeder and certainly a useful pollinator.

But not all pollinators pollinate all the time.  This sneaky bumble bee is enjoying the Wisteria’s nectar without touching the stamens and pollen.  In fact, if you look closely you can see a couple of black dots to the right of the bee’s proboscis which means that this this particular flower has been visited by other bees earlier.  In fact, the Wisteria flowers become quite ragged from the repeated piercings but this lets the smaller bees with short tongues, like honey bees, take advantage of the easy access route to the nectar.

I love watching the Carpenters in the garden but I do worry that they could be misunderstood so hopefully anyone who reads this blog and is new to Carpenters will come to love them too.

 

 

 

 

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They’re big, they’re black, they make a lot of noise but they’re shy

I have a fair number of carpenter bees visiting the garden.  In the spring they were in the Wisteria, then it was the Spanish Broom, now it is the Lavatera and Hollyhocks.

Carpenter in Lavatera

Because they are big, black and noisy, Carpenter bees are not considered as cute as the fluffy bumble bees.   They are big and clumsy and if you happen to find yourself in their flight path it can be startling.  More startling for the Carpenter than for you.  They are not aggressive and the male bee does not even have a sting.  The female does possess a stinger but it is rarely used.  It is hard to imagine that these insects are so shy.

Carpenter in Hollyhock

The Carpenter bee is not common in the UK, preferring warmer climates, so it is perhaps for that reason that it fascinates me but it can also frighten someone who is not accustomed to it.  I love the violet tinge the wings take in the sunshine and I chase it round the garden trying to take  photographs.  It is the most reticent of all the bees.  Despite the fact I could always find them in the Spanish Broom I could never get near enough to take a decent photograph.  It became a sort of game between the Carpenters and me.  I would approach from one side and they would go around the other.  I would be quiet so I am not sure whether they have got excellent eyesight or whether they could smell me.

Carpenter with pollen

They are good pollinators where the size of the flower allows them entry.  They are solitary bees, like bumble bees, and have nests where they will take back the pollen and nectar to feed the larvae so they need to collect the pollen for their young.

If the flower is too small for them to gain entry and the nectar too far away for their tongue to reach, they can “steal” the nectar by piercing a hole in the flower near the nectar source.  This is how they gather the nectar from the Wisteria, leaving the pollination to smaller insects.

Carpenter robbing nectar

This is exactly the way some bumble bees gather the nectar from Wisteria as short-tongued bumble bees cannot reach the nectar through the flower.  These holes are often re-used and the Carpenter bees might even help the bumble bees by making the Wisteria more accessible.

Bumble bee stealing nectar

The Wisteria in the spring becomes very ragged as the flower heads are perforated by the bees.

Pollinators have an important part to play in the environment and the carpenter bee is a welcome visitor to the garden.   I’m going to continue playing hide and seek with them trying to get close enough to get some more pictures.  Big and black they may be but I have been completely charmed by these gentle creatures.