Bee No7: The Beautiful Violet Carpenter Bee. Xylocopa violacea

This is the companion to Bee 6: the Southern Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa micans.

The Violet Carpenter Bee is one of the biggest bees in Europe and has beautiful blue/violet coloured wings and a big shiny black body. It just had to be included in the set.

The facts: CLASS: Insecta
ORDER: Hymenoptera, Bees, wasps, ants and sawflies.
SUPERFAMILY: Apoidea. Bees and some wasps.
FAMILY: Apidae. Bees.
GENUS: Xylocopa. Large Carpenter Bees
SPECIES: Xylocopa violacea

This bee is common to the Mediterranean and Central Europe and now has been spotted occasionally overwintering in the UK. It has the same bad wood chewing habits as the other Carpenter Bees.
There is another species of furry tan Carpenter Bee the Xylocopa varipucta which is on my list to paint and has been described as like a small flying teddy bear and I may get round to it later. .. so many bees so little time!

Bad news for Bees of Baldwin Park
Yesterday, the tidiness police came round to Lake Baldwin and decreed the chopping down of untidy weeds.
We are allowed an environmentally protected zone as long as it is neat.
A mowing man arrived and the whole of the lovely messy tangle of flowers, grasses and reeds has been razed to stalks and stubble. We had this….


Now this, even this last clump of horsemint in the foreground was gone by lunchtime.


Gone are the Spotted Horsements, the Indian Blanket, the wild Blue and Golden Asters, the Yellow Tickseed, the grassy Bottle Brush, the Morning Glories, the Dog Fennel, the brilliant Scarlet Tassel Flower, the delicate purple headed Hairawn Muhly, the silvery Bushy Bluestem, the small Rattle Box shrubs, the Lopsided Indiangrass whose beautiful feathery tops glistened in the morning sun, the odd black dots of the Rayless Flowers, and various pretty Red Pea flowers, and that is to name just the few that I can identify … but we are tidy now.

Gone too are the singing frogs, the chirruping crickets, the sand wasps, the paper wasps, the clicking dragonflies, the beetles, the snakes, the lizards and a million bugs and flies and worst of all, my bees.

All is silent, still and a bit sad.

Of course it will all be back in due course but it seems a shame.

But back to the Carpenter Bee and a simple sketch to just get the proportions right.

. sketch 1

and a colour sketch

col sketch viol sm


Bee No 7: The Violet Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa violacea

xylocopa crop

Who’s got Beautiful Big Green Eyes then? Bee no 6.

I was going to paint the regular Carpenter Bee the one I see most of here but yesterday on the way home, on a straggly patch of horsemint, I noticed one that seemed to have slightly more gingery hair and a brighter blue sheen to its body, then I saw its eyes, its beautiful pale green/blue eyes.
Wow…this is the male of Xylocopa micans,  the Southern Carpenter Bee.

carpenter bee s     green eyessm

My only two half decent photos.. there is always something in the way !!

I read these are common in Florida so I probably just hadn’t noticed the subtle colour differences before.

The facts:

CLASS: Insecta
ORDER: Hymenoptera, Bees, wasps, ants and sawflies.
SUPERFAMILY: Apoidea. Bees and some wasps.
FAMILY: Apidae. Bees.
GENUS: Xylocopa. Large Carpenter Bees
SPECIES: Xylocopa micans

The point of male carpenters having such huge eyes seems to be to help them spot females and also to fly in low light conditions.

PS. I really do sympathise with those whose houses have been drilled and perforated by these nice bees. It must be very frustrating. T
rying to find an humane suggestion, it seems they don’t care for pressure-treated or painted wood.
You can stuff the holes with wire wool which even they find a challenge and if you are a very noisy family they will move out.
They don’t like noise.
That’s probably why we didn’t see any in Spain. ..and just in case you thought I was joking yesterday about them being docile….

bee help

I had planned a quite different pose for the Carpenter Bee but the eyes have it, so a quick drawing to sort the pose out.  micans sketch sm


Bee No 6:The Southern Carpenter Bee Xylocpa micans

carpenter bee xylocopa micans sm

The Gentle Giant of the Bee World, The Carpenter Bee

So I have a new love, he is big, black and hairy.
Yes, today I had a real  “Ahhh” moment with a Carpenter Bee. On a beautiful sunny morning at Leu the Carpenter Bees were busy,very busy, all over this red flower (which I think is Egyptian Star Cluster, Pentas lanceolata).

The flowers are slight, the bees are heavy, so seeing one struggling to keep its feet, holding out a steadying finger seemed only natural. I thought it would fly away at such an intrusion but this lovely bee was happy to clamber aboard this firmer platform and continue collecting nectar, 4 feet resting on me and 2 on the flower.

They are so busy nectar gathering that they scarcely notice you.  I should also add that they do not sting. You see the problem, big bee, small flower.

and three more of these big chaps, trundling across the flower heads.

My bee photos are more luck than anything else. I take a lot, then it’s rather like those “find the hidden animals in the tree” outline drawings in kids puzzle books.. sometimes there is a bee in them and sometimes there is nothing.

This gorgeous handsome bee is Xylocopa virginica, the Common Eastern Carpenter Bee.
It’s the biggest bee in the USA and can be up to a sizeable one inch long.
This one is the all black female taken again at Leu but last week.

carpenter female

Professor Stephen Buchmann writes about bees.
Chris bought me his “Letters from the Hive” and I have found it hard to drag myself away.
Here is a snippet from his very nice article about Carpenter Bees, for the US Forestry Commission’s “Pollinator of the Month” series here.

 “These gentle giants get their name from their life history habits of excavating precisely rounded galleries inside wood. Using their broad, strong mandibles (jaws), they chew into dead but non-decayed limbs or trunks of standing dead trees.
Some species, like the eastern Xylocopa virginica, occasionally take up residence in fence posts or structural timbers, especially redwood, and become a minor nuisance.
Inside their rounded branched galleries, they form pollen/nectar loaves upon which they lay their giant eggs (up to 15 mm long). The female forms partitions between each egg cell by mixing sawdust and her saliva together.
These partition walls are very similar to particle board!”


Diagram from”animals how stuff works . here and a photo of their extraordinarily accomplished woodwork

abeille-apidae-xylocopinae-carpenter bee busy

Photo Stephen Buchmann Also  accompanying the article is Prof Buchmann’s wonderful photo, demonstrating the huge difference in sizes between the bee species


The smallest and the largest: a Perdita minima on a female carpenter bee’s head. Photo by Stephen Buchmann.

Anna, from Anna’s Bee World, who also very kindly helped me identify my Blue Wasp has this photo on her blog and explains how it was achieved.

This photo was taken by one of my graduate advisors, Stephen Buchmann, who is a renowned bee expert. He has this amazing amazing microscope, and an artful eye.
These two bees are real, but obviously dead. He took a Carpenter bee, which are known as some of the largest bees (gentle giants) and he took the smallest bee in the world (Perdita minima) and glued the small bee onto the antennae of the carpenter bee. He thought it would bee (sorry, had to throw that in) cool to show people the size difference between the largest bee and smallest bee.

It’s the photo you would see in the bee version of the Guinness World Records.
There is a scale bar at the bottom of the photo, but I am not sure what the scale is (1mm?). I couldn’t find that. I assume it is 1mm since Perdita minima usually measures about 2mm in size  (0.078 inches).

See Anna’s Bee World here. Two millimeters for the tiny Perdita minima!!!.

I will not be attempting to paint that one. Its rather a shame to see how many sites are dedicated to the eradication of this “nuisance” bee. It seems they don’t actually do too much harm and are so very beautiful and although quite territorial they are not really aggressive (the male bees cannot sting).

I did read that if you want to “move” a Carpenter Bee, you throw a small pebble just past him. He will think it is another bee and go chasing after it. He may not be the sharpest bee in the box then, but his looks are enough to fall in love with.

There are certainly quite a few round here and, having a subversive streak myself, I rather like the idea of them infiltrating the neat timber porches and verandahs of Baldwin Park and setting up some little families there.  Their chewing can apparently be heard several feet away. 🙂


A preliminary sketch: What distinguishes them from Bumble Bees is their glossy hairless abdomen .. and their size!

3 carpenters sm jpg