Saturday, March 31, 2012

FAQ: What is this?

I'm often asked, "What is this?" This time, it's about a bee. 

Q. What is this? I noticed sawdust under my porch swing, and I felt buzzing in the seat. My husband found a hole in it. Something was moving inside, so he sprayed some bug-killer. While I was taking a picture a few days later, this came out!

A. I'm not a bee expert, but I have some experience. I've been stung by many. This looks like a carpenter bee. Carpenter bees look like bumblebees; both dig holes. Maybe they're the same species; I'm not sure. But, so far as I know, bumblebees nest in holes in the ground; carpenter bees dig holes in wood. Both would rather fly away, but will sting if threatened.

Several years ago, one son was mowing a field when he pulled the machine over a bumblebee nest. It was an unforgettable experience.

On another occasion, while visiting my uncle in the mountains of North Carolina, I tagged along to visit one of his auto mechanic friends. The friend's old, weathered barn was swarming with carpenter bees. There were holes and buzzings everywhere. The whole barn seemed to be vibrating. I wondered how long it could remain standing. I got close enough to watch them, but didn't make any sudden moves. I wasn't stung.

I don't know why bumblebees are so-named; maybe because of the sounds they make, or because they don't seem nimble. I expect that carpenter bees are called that because they work in wood and leave lots of sawdust. It doesn't seem to me that, other than making their own nests, carpenter bees build much else. They seem destructive to me. I've known carpenters like that.

I often see bumblebees or carpenter bees visiting orchards where I used to see honeybees. Fruits are set. They must serve useful purposes.

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