* Japanese name: Kumabachi
* Scientific name: Xylocopa appendiculata
* Description: A large, stout, noisy insect, the carpenter bee spooks most people when they see one. It should not spook any reader of this column, though: the bees are mostly harmless. In fact, males are completely harmless, and females will only sting if severely and directly provoked. Do nothing, and they’ll do nothing to you. The bee is dark and has a baffle of orange fur over its thorax, like a miniature lionskin thrown over its shoulders. Unlike bumblebees, the abdomen is mainly hairless, or at least is covered with shiny bald spots. Males have larger eyes than females, which is because they rely on eyesight when courting and mating. Females, it seems, don’t care what males look like. The Japanese name means “bear bee.”
* Where to find them: Carpenter bees get their name because they live in dead wood — either dead trees or logs, in bamboo or in structural beams in houses and barns. In many parts of the world, this makes them pests to humans, though some people consider a carpenter bee in their house as a sort of pet, and in fact the tunnels they make are near the surface, so there is no structural damage caused by their nests. In Japan, they are found from Honshu to Kyushu.
* Food: Pollen and nectar from various flowers.
* Special features: If you think about it, all species of bee have a special system of care for their young. Carpenter bees do not have the advanced social nests and caste system of honey bees and other social species, but they are nevertheless rather caring as insects go. Females only lay about 10 eggs, compared to the hundreds that other insects lay. She chews out a little cell in the wood into which she lays an egg. Each egg is huge, so as to give the young bee the best possible start in life. The plump larvae are cared for by the mother, and daughters, once they have pupated into adult bees, usually remain in the nest with their mother. Many carpenter bees have a little pouch on their abdomen, in which live mites. The exact relationship between the two animals is not known, but it is thought that in return for a place to live, the mites eat fungi that might otherwise grow in the bee’s nest, and perhaps also kill other enemy mites that might wander in.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BIO-IMAGE NET