Near where I recently saw these bees, I came across a Honey Bee and a Carpenter Bee near each other in a Silky Grevillea (Grevillea sericea). The weather was a fair bit cooler than the last time, but while the Honey Bee could move around comfortably in the 15.5°C temperature, the Carpenter Bee was clearly struggling.
The Carpenter Bee was a female, either Xylocopa bombylans or Xylocopa aeratus. The cool temperature meant she could barely crawl, let alone fly.
I guessed her to be a recently hatched bee that had emerged from her nest burrow the day before—when it was much warmer—and had then become caught out overnight. She had barely moved by the time I had walked around to her left side:
I was able to get this portrait showing her three simple eyes (ocelli) between the two big compound ones, and many of the dimples in her cuticle:
She gradually crawled around the flower, giving this view of her proboscis and the tip of her maxilla or tongue protruding beyond:
As she completed her painfully slow lap around the flowers, their stamens seemed to enfold her, as if trying to keep her warm:
I think this very chilled bee was a Green Carpenter bee (Xylocopus aeratus), from the green colouring in the last photo. However my earlier photos show bluer highlights and according to the Brisbane Insects website, blue shading is what distinguishes the very similar Metallic or Peacock Carpenter Bee (Xylocopus bombylans). The two species’ ranges overlap in the Sydney region.
The Xylocopus Carpenter bees are big, up to 20 mm long and stockily built. Like other bees in the Apid (honeybee) family, they feed on nectar and pollen. The name “Carpenter” derives from their nest-building habits – the females use their powerful jaws to tunnel into soft woods, dumping the shavings outside. The males are a paler metallic green, shading to gold on the front of their thorax, but alas, I’ve never seen a male of either species.
There are over 500 species of Carpenter bees around the globe, eight of them being Australian Xylocopini. The other six Australian species belong to a separate sub-genus, and are even larger (up to 26mm) black bees with yellowish hair.
II thought that would be the end of my exposure to Carpenter bees for a while, but on a warmer day not long after, I saw this pair on a Hibbertia flower:
They were Reed Bees (Exoneura sp), which belong to another tribe of smaller-sized Carpenter bees. They’re called Reed bees because, like their bigger cousins, they nest in hollowed-out branches—although in this case the ‘branches’ are the pithy stems of reeds.
These two Reed bees flew off before I could get more photos. However I found an old picture which gives a better idea of their shape.
For comparison, here’s one of the bigger green Carpenter bees on a similar Hibbertia. This one was enjoying a much warmer day, and was liberally dusted with pollen:
And a final photo with the two types of Carpenter bee, this time around Dianella flowers.
Also, my first ever entry in this blog was on Reed bees.