Over the course of the last few weeks, I have been dismayed to find more than a half dozen dead female Valley Carpenter Bees, Xylocopa varipuncta, in both the backyard and the front yard. I don’t think the dog is responsible for their deaths because I also found one on the ground at K’s house across the street last week. Plus, the dog doesn’t hunt bees out front, nor have I ever seen him go after these, just honey bees.
I like having Valley Carpenter bees around the yard. We have a male that guards his territory between the veggie garden and the micro orchard of fruit trees when there are flowers around, ready and waiting for a lady bee or two to show up. He kind of paces, well buzzes, back and forth, scanning the flowers for the lovely black female bees. They are great native pollinators, don’t make hives, and are very docile, rarely ever reported as stinging. The honey orange colored males can’t sting and with the shiny black females, “You would pretty much have to grab one in your hand to get them to sting you or try damaging their nest to provoke them into stinging,” according to one entomologist at BugGuide.net. According to U. C. Davis, Department of Entomology, they are the teddy bears of the bee world.
In all the years I have lived here, I have never found any of these bees dead before mid May, 2012, let alone a bunch of them. Initially, when I found the first one, I wasn’t too concerned and figured she died of natural causes. By the time I found the the third in a week, I was guessing it was maybe mites that got to them in their nest. A couple days ago, I found one on the ground that wasn’t dead, but it was clear she was ill, barely crawling around. I picked her up and put her on some of the Lantana flowers. She died within the hour. Now the count is up to 7, and that is just to ones I found, so there is probably many more dead bees. I think my daughter, B, was the first to realize what might actually be going on…”Maybe someone is killing them, mom.” As an organic gardener, it didn’t even dawn on me that someone would want them dead! But I bet B is right.
Carpenter bees like to drill holes into wood to make their nests, including man made structures like fence posts, eves, decks, or siding. Their drilling is not normally enough to cause structural damage, but it can be look unsightly. My friend, C, at the end of the block has a cute old fashion mail box on a wooden post with a few of their nests chewed into it, but she doesn’t mind the bees or the holes, instead pointing them out to the kids on the block as the female bee comes and goes.
Not everyone is like me, nor my friend, enjoying having these bees around. I guess they do look kind of scary, being so large, and loudly buzzing as they fly by. I have one neighbor that has pretty much ripped out every plant on his property, cemented in the majority of the backyard and at least half the front yard is his effort, according to him, “to get rid of the bees in his yard.” I was shocked when he first told me this years ago. Although I don’t know if the dead bees are coming from his property, someone locally, upset about the bees drilling holes in wood on their property, might be spraying the bees or their nests with wasp killer or other insecticide. It makes me sad. If you have any other ideas what else could be killing these docile teddy bear bees, I would like to know.