A plump hairy body with alternating yellow and black bands moves around your garden with its buzzing translucent wings. Yes, it’s a friendly little bee. But have you ever seen a bright blue bee? Well, there’s one specie of carpenter bee that is!
The blue carpenter bee, Xylocopa caerulea, is a brightly colored pollinator normally seen across Asia. It is one of the larger bee species, measuring about 1 inch or 23 mm. As such, it generally pollinates larger flowering plants like the blue trumpet vine.
When we think of insects, most people mainly bring up two colors: brown and black.
From cockroaches to ants, and even butterflies, a great majority of critters we may find in our homes and gardens typically sport rather drab colors.
But from all the colors that exist in the world, it does seem that blue is one of the rarest colors in insects. I think this might be for their survival as they will be less noticeable o potential predators like birds.
Among the few vividly blue insects in the world is the blue carpenter bee. What not many people know though, is that not all of these busy bees are a brilliant blue!
Continue scrolling on to learn more about these fascinating little blue ladies and lads!
For the most part, bees come in different shades of white, brown, yellow, and black. Some also have shades of orange, green, and purple.
The blue carpenter bee, however, definitely stands out with its rare cerulean body.
Interestingly, its integument—which is equivalent to our skin is black in color. What gives it its bright coat is the fine cerulean blue hairs they have covering its body called pubescence.
As you can see though, blue carpenters bees are not entirely blue. They also have black and dark brown hairs on their body, mainly on their limbs and bottoms.
Depending on how the light hits its brown-black wings, they may give off a brilliant blue-violet sheen as well.
Unlike most other colorful animals and insects, female blue carpenter bees actually sport more vibrant coats than their male counterparts!
So if you see a similar-looking carpenter bee during a trip to Asia, but one with paler and more subdued coloration, you’re likely looking at a male carpenter bee.
These gents take on a more pale teal tint, but they predominantly have dark brown and black hairs all over their bodies.
Male and female blue carpenter bees also have relatively broad bodies compared to other bee species with some blue coloration.
But females are relatively wider at 0.4–0.7 inches (11–17 mm), while males average around inches 0.3–0.5 inches (9–12 mm).
Females develop longer bodies and forewings as well—reaching up to 1.1 inches (28 mm) and 0.9 inches (24 mm), respectively. Meanwhile, males grow up to 0.9 inches (24 mm) with forewings as long as 0.8 inches (22 mm).
Blue carpenter bees are native to Asia, from China to Singapore and India to Indonesia. Compared to other Asian carpenter bee species, blue carpenter bees are less common.
So if you try to look at preserved and framed specimens of this magnificent bee, they can easily cost a hundred bucks.
They are generally found in forests, serving as valuable pollinators for large blooms.
Unlike the honeybees we’re more familiar with, blue carpenter bees hollow out dead trees and wood structures to build cells for nesting. You’ll know there are blue carpenter bees in such materials if you hear buzzing after tapping on them.
Don’t worry! They aren’t really aggressive. Though some may come out to assess the potential threat, they won’t readily attack you.
Blue carpenter bees, along with most other Xylocopa species, mostly forage on big blooms during the day, making them diurnal insects.
You may see them buzzing around in Asian gardens between 8 and 11 AM as flowers generally refill their nectar once night has passed.
Below are flowers that can attract blue carpenter bees:
- Alligator flag (Thalia geniculata)
- Australian Gold Vine (Tristellateia australasiae)
- Beach cabbage (Scaevola taccada)
- Blue trumpet vine (Thunbergia laurifolia)
- Crepe ginger (Cheilocostus speciosus)
- Golden senna (Senna surattensis)
- Indian rhododendron (Melastoma malabathricum)
- Simpoh air (Dillenia suffruticosa)
- Tiup-tiup (Adinandra dumosa)
- Yellow Poinciana (Peltophorum pterocarpum)
Blue carpenter bees produce honey with a consistency similar to cookie dough or peanut butter. They’ll mix it with pollen to create bee bread which allows them to construct cells.
Other bees that are sometimes mistaken for blue carpenter bees from afar because of their iridescent blue-tinged wings are the violet carpenter bee (Xylocopa violacea) and the tropical carpenter bee (Xylocopa latipes).
Both violet carpenter bees and tropical carpenter bees are darkly pigmented. But their wings are another story.
Violet carpenter bees have varying shades of blues and violets on their wings. These are commonly found across Asia and Europe—from Central China to the United Kingdom.
In comparison, tropical carpenter bees which are widespread in Southeast Asia have robust bodies with dark brown—sometimes black—wings that have an iridescent sheen to them.
Thus, the wings of tropical carpenter bees can be as colorful as a rainbow based on what angle light hits them.
- “The blue carpenter bees: a synopsis of the “Cyaneoderes group” of genus Xylocopa Latreille, 1802 (Hymenoptera: Apidae)” by Jonathan R. Mawdsley in Taylor & Francis Online
- “Xylocopa caerulea” by John X. Q. Lee in Aculeates of Asia
- “Xylocopa aestuans – Carpenter Bee” by Lim Yi Lin in the National University of Singapore Wiki