photo by Ginny Stibolt
Xylocopa - large carpenter bees (family Apidae)
By Lisa Schonberg and Mace Vaughan (Xerces Society) and Gretchen LeBuhn (SFSU)
Genus summary: Xylocopa is a genus with over 700 species worldwide and about 96 in the New World, with many species restricted to the tropics (Michener 2000). Male Xylocopa are relatively territorial and may buzz around humans, but rarely sting (O’Toole & Raw 1999).
Floral relationships: Xylocopa are limited to visiting large or open-faced flowers because of their large body size; some steal nectar by piercing through the petals (Stephens et al). Xylocopa pollinate many crops, including passion fruit, blackberry, canola, and pepper.
Nesting habits: Xylocopa are solitary nesters, but in some species, daughters live alongside their mother for a short period of time. Xylocopa nest in live or dead wood or stems (Michener 1994). They are famous for excavating their nests in soft wood using their strong jaws – often in the walls of buildings . Xylocopa spp. that live in desert habitats line their nests with a waxlike waterproofing material that helps protect against dessication (O’Toole & Raw 1999)..
Diagnostic characteristics: Xylocopa are robust, large bees between 0.5 to 1.2 inches long (Michener 2000). Both sexes are usually black to metallic blue or green with blackish wings (O’Toole & Raw 1999); some males are yellow or brick-colored (Michener 1994). Females carry dry pollen on scopa (brushes of hair) on their legs .
Similar taxa: Xylocopa are often confused with Bombus (bumble bees) because they are both very large, but Xylocopa are much less hairy and more shiny than Bombus .
Known conservation concerns:
Interesting fact: Xylocopa eggs are the largest of all insect eggs; a bee 1.2 inches long can lay an egg half its size (0.6 inches) (O’Toole & Raw 1999). Each Xylocopa female lays a very low number of eggs in her lifetime relative to other genera; on the other hand, they invest more maternal care in their young and are longer lived (Michener 2000).
Additional resources: Gerling et al.(1989)