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What type of insect or bee is this?


First time with Mason Bees here in Tacoma WA. We had three come out of their cocoons today. One female is working in a tube. But we had one insect who flew up to near the bee house, shook off their wings and is now wandering all over the bee house.

Is this a mason bee or something else? Should I be concerned?


Black garden ant and associated image from its Wikipedia page.

Ants and bees don't get along so if you want the bees you should get rid of the ants.


Carpenter Bees

During the spring, people often notice large, black bees hovering around the outside of their homes. These are likely to be carpenter bees, named for their habit of excavating holes in wood, in order to rear their young. Carpenter bees prefer unpainted, weathered wood, especially softer varieties such as redwood, cedar, cypress and pine. Painted or pressure-treated wood is much less susceptible to attack. Common carpenter bee nesting sites include eaves, rafters, fascia boards, siding, wooden shake roofs, decks and outdoor furniture.

Carpenter Bees vs. Bumblebees

Carpenter bees resemble bumblebees, but typically have a shiny, hairless abdomen. (Bumblebees usually have a hairy abdomen with black and yellow stripes.) The bees also have different nesting habits—bumblebees nest in an existing cavity often underground (e.g., in abandoned rodent burrows), whereas carpenter bees tunnel into wood to lay their eggs.

Fig. 1: Carpenter bee with shiny abdomen (left), bumblebee (right).

Biology and Habits

Carpenter bees do not live in colonies like honeybees or bumblebees. The adults overwinter individually, often in previously constructed brood tunnels. Those that survive the winter emerge and mate the following spring. Fertilized female carpenter bees then bore into wood, excavating a tunnel to lay their eggs. The entrance hole in the wood surface is perfectly round and about the diameter of your little finger. Coarse sawdust may be present below the opening, and tunneling sounds are sometimes heard within the wood. After boring in a short distance, the bee makes a right angle turn and continues to tunnel parallel to the wood surface. Inside the tunnel, about five or six cells are constructed for housing individual eggs. Working back to front, the bee provisions each cell with pollen (collected from spring-flowering plants) and a single egg, sealing each successive chamber with regurgitated wood pulp. Hatching and maturation occurs over several weeks, with the pollen serving as a food source for the developing larvae. Later in the summer, the new generation of adult bees emerge and forage on flowers, returning to wood in the fall for hibernation.

Fig. 2: Entrance hole with sawdust

Fig. 3: Cross-section of wood showing carpenter bee tunnels and brood chambers.

Nuisance and Damage

Though seldom as destructive as termites, carpenter bees can cause cosmetic and structural damage. Female carpenter bees excavate new tunnels in wood for egg laying, or enlarge and reuse old ones. Significant damage can occur when the same pieces of wood are infested year after year. Holes in the wood surface also facilitate moisture intrusion, rot and decay.

Fig. 4: Carpenter bees often repeatedly infest the same areas.

Carpenter bees are less inclined to sting than wasps and bees living in communal colonies. Still, their presence can be daunting, especially during spring mating and nest construction. Male carpenter bees can be especially intimidating, hovering in front of people who are around nesting sites. The males are harmless, however, since they lack the ability to sting. Female carpenter bees can inflict a painful sting but will seldom do so -- unless they are handled or bothered by people.

Other types of small solitary bees and wasps are sometimes seen visiting abandoned carpenter bee nests. These insects seldom cause problems and are usually scavenging on remaining pollen or using the tunnels for shelter.

Control and Prevention

The best time to control carpenter bees is before tunnels are fully constructed. Liquid, aerosol or dust insecticides containing ingredients such as bifenthrin, cyfluthrin, deltamethrin or lambda cyhalothrin can be applied directly into tunnel openings. Leave the holes open for a few days after treatment to allow the bees to contact and distribute the insecticide throughout the nest tunnel. Then plug the entrance hole with a piece of wooden dowel coated with carpenter's glue, putty, or other suitable sealant. This will deter future bees from using the old tunnels, as well as moisture intrusion and wood decay.

Fig. 5: Applying insecticide into a tunnel under construction.

A more extensive treatment of wood surfaces may be helpful when large numbers of carpenter bees are attacking siding, shake roofs, decks, etc. Spraying vulnerable wood with one of the aforementioned insecticides will cause some bees to avoid drilling into treated surfaces. For application use a pump up or hose end sprayer to target areas most favored by carpenter bees (eaves, fascia boards, joist ends of decks, etc.). Longevity of such treatments is only about 3-4 weeks, so reapplication may be needed. Although carpenter bees are less aggressive than wasps, females provisioning their nests may sting. Consider treating at dusk or while wearing protective clothing.

Another tip that may help reduce carpenter bee drilling is to install traps. Carpenter bee traps can be constructed from simple materials or purchased online. Most consist of a small wooden box with ½-inch diameter holes drilled in each side and a plastic water bottle suspended below. In early spring, suspend the traps from eaves and overhangs at the corners of the house, porch, deck, shed, barn, etc. Carpenter bees searching for nesting sites enter the holes in the wooden box, fall into the plastic bottle, and are not able to find their way out, eventually dying. Accumulations of dead bees are disposed of by unscrewing and rinsing out the bottle.

Fig. 6: Carpenter bee traps may help reduce attacks on wood.

Carpenter bees usually will not tunnel into painted wood. Therefore, a more permanent solution is to paint unfinished wood surfaces, especially those with a history of infestation. Stains and preservatives are less reliable than painting, but may afford some repellence versus bare wood. It also helps to keep garages and outbuildings closed when bees are actively searching for nesting sites, which usually subsides by late spring.

CAUTION: Some pesticides mentioned in this publication may not be legal in your area of the country. If in doubt, please consult your local cooperative extension service or regulatory agency. Furthermore, ALWAYS READ AND FOLLOW LABEL DIRECTIONS FOR THE PRODUCT YOU ARE USING.

Please note that content and photos in this publication are copyrighted material and may not be copied or downloaded without permission of the Department of Entomology, University of Kentucky.


An Introduction to Honey Bee Biology

Honey bee colonies contain three distinct types, or castes, of individuals. Each hive contains a single female queen, tens of thousands of female workers, and anywhere from several hundred to several thousand male drones during the spring and summer months.

Honey Bee Castes: Queen Bees

Queen bees are the largest individuals in most colonies and carry out many important functions in the hive. The queen is responsible for laying a constant supply of eggs to build up and maintain the hive’s population at adequate numbers. In a good year, a queen may lay as many as 200,000 eggs!

The queen also produces chemicals called pheromones that control and organize many of the behaviors of her colony. Each queen has her own distinct pheromone profile, which allows her colony to recognize her, defend her and meet her needs to keep the hive safe and strong.

Honey Bee Castes: Worker Bees

Worker bees are by far the most numerous caste in hives and, as their name implies, carry out all of the work needed to keep the colony fed and healthy. During their first days as mature adults, workers tend to perform tasks inside the hive, such as cleaning and capping cells.

As they mature, worker bees begin to perform more tasks inside the hive, including feeding the queen and developing brood, drawing out new comb, and managing food stores. The oldest and most experienced workers tend to perform the most dangerous chores: guarding the hive against intruders and foraging outside the hive for pollen and nectar.

Honey Bee Castes: Drone Bees

The only males found in the hive, drones perform only one task during their lifetime: mating with new queens. When a drone reaches sexual maturity at about two weeks of age, he begins taking mating flights. These flights usually take place in spring and summer afternoons and last about 30 minutes.

Newly matured queens and drones from several hives typically join in these flights. In most instances, the queens mate with multiple drones and store the drones’ sperm in an organ called the spermatheca. The queen will then use this stored genetic material to fertilize her eggs for the rest of her life.


Beetles

The world of beetles attracts a good deal of attention. First and foremost, they are the largest order of insects.

The vast number of beetle species translates into their ability to cause extensive agricultural and forest damage. Even in the home, the Asian Lady Beetle has a reputation for causing problems.

Beetle population estimates vary, however, experts suggest that they represent anywhere from twenty to twenty five percent of all earth’s living creatures.

Beetle interest also extends beyond the realm of agriculture research. Arguably, beetles as a group lack the aesthetic appeal of butterflies and dragonflies, although some beetle families, such as the scarab beetles (Scarabaeidae), enjoy a prominent place in some cultures.

With names such as Dung Beetles, June Beetles, May Beetles and Rhinocerous Beetles, native Scarab Beetles are often colorful and easy to identify like the Seven-spotted Lady Beetle pictured.


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NC State University Entomology extension faculty and staff work with county field faculty, growers, consultants, and the public across the state in solving insect problems through research based and environmentally sound practices.


Final Thoughts on-Is a Bee an Insect?

Bees are classified as insects because they fit the criteria required for that classification. And some of the insects that we think of as bees, are in fact members of another group.

There you have it. A bee is an insect but a bee is not a bug. With over 900,000 different types of insects in the world, we only have 899,999 more to learn about.

Every bug is an insect but not every insect is a bug.

Master Beekeeper, Charlotte Anderson shares her love of all things honeybee. She helps others become better beekeepers and teaches new beekeepers how to get started. Her mission is spreading awareness of the importance of honey bees. She is a former Beekeeper of the Year in South Carolina.


Orchid Bee

Orchid bees are among the most brilliantly colored insects. Many species are green, blue, purple, gold, or red. Some are black with yellow or white hairs and resemble bumble bees, to which they are closely related. Orchid bees range from 8 to 30 mm (0.3 to 1.2 in) long. They have tongues that, in some species, may be twice as long as the body. The long tongue allows them to reach nectar in deep-throated tropical flowers.

Orchid bees are fast, strong fliers and can travel great distances. Some are known to fly as far as 45 to 50 km (28 to 31 mi) in search of flowers. Orchid bees drink nectar for energy.

Male orchid bees are especially attracted to orchids, from which they collect fragrant oils that are stored in specialized receptacles on the hind legs. The orchids often produce no nectar or pollen, but they have special mechanisms that attach the pollinium, or pollen bundle, to a specific location on the bee as it gathers oils or searches for nectar. The pollinium releases its pollen on the next flower of the same species that the bee visits.

Males of some species are easy to observe because they can be attracted to artificial fragrances. Females are less attracted and thus less frequently seen. Orchid bees display very interesting foraging behaviors and are believed to be important pollinators of many tropical plants. Plants in the tropics do not grow in groups, and individual plants of the same species are often miles apart. Orchid bees are believed to forage on specific plants along set routes, a behavior known as traplining.

The nests of only a few orchid bee species have been found. Nests are constructed in cavities in wood, in fern roots, in the ground, in bamboo stems, in termite nests, under palm leaves, in crevices, under bridges on rocks, and on roofs of houses. Nests are lined with resin collected by the female. Some species seal up the nest entrance with resin at night. Some nests are constructed of wood chips or bark mixed with resin. Many species nest in groups. Some nests are shared by a number of individuals, but each female constructs her own brood cells (compartments for the young) independently. Nests may be used continuously by different generations of orchid bees.

Orchid bees in one genus have lost the ability to make their own nests. Instead, they parasitize the nests of other orchid bees. Other types of insects also parasitize the nests of orchid bees. These insects include velvet ants, blister beetles, and other types of parasitic bees.

Scientific classification: The orchid bees comprise the tribe Euglossini in the family Apidae, which includes honey bees and bumble bees. The largest orchid bee genus is Euglossa. Bumble bee-like species belong to the genus Eulaema. Parasitic orchid bees are in the genus Exaraete.


Bee larvae drum with their butts, which may confuse predatory wasps

A female mason bee (Hoplitis tridentata) enters her nest through the broken top of a dead mullein plant stem. These nests can sometimes contain over 30 larvae arranged in brood cells.

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A light crackling sound floats above a field in northern Switzerland in late summer. Its source is invisible, tucked inside a dead, dried plant stem: a dozen larval mason bees striking the inner walls of their herbaceous nest.

While adult bees and wasps make plenty of buzzy noises, their young have generally been considered silent. But the babies of at least one bee species make themselves heard, playing percussion instruments growing out of their faces and rear ends, researchers report February 25 in the Journal of Hymenoptera Research. The larvae’s chorus of tapping and rasping may be a clever strategy to befuddle predatory wasps.

Unlike honeybees, the mason bee (Hoplitis tridentata) lives a solitary life. Females chew into dead plant stems and lay their eggs inside, often in a single row of chambers lined up along its length. After hatching, the larvae feed on a provision of pollen left by the mom, spin a cocoon and overwinter as a pupa inside the stem.

Andreas Müller, an entomologist at the nature conservation research agency Natur Umwelt Wissen GmbH in Zurich, has been studying bees in the Osmiini tribe, which includes mason bees and their close relatives, for about 20 years. Noticing that H. tridentata populations have been declining in northern Switzerland, he and colleague Martin Obrist tried to help the bees.

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“We offered the bees bundles of dry plant stems as nesting sites, and when we checked the bundles we heard the larval sounds for the first time,” says Müller. “This is a new phenomenon not only in the osmiine bees, but in bees in general.”

He and Obrist, a biologist at the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research in Birmensdorf, gathered stem nests from the field and subjected them to various types of physical disturbance, trying to determine what kinds of pestering triggers the bee larvae to drum. In some nests, the duo cut windows into the stems to observe larvae through the translucent cocoon walls, unveiling the secret of how the insects were creating the noises.

The larvae have a callus in the middle of their face, and another horseshoe-shaped one around their anus. When jostled, some of the larvae quickly rasp their anal callus against the cocoon wall, creating a loud squeaking sound, the team found. This induces the rest of the siblings to join in, following this opening act with many minutes of tapping their castanet-like face instruments against their cocoons, making a soft crackling noise.

This larva of Hoplitis tridentata has two sound-producing calluses, observable as a milky, diamond-shaped patch on the face (left) and a raised, thickened ring encircling the anus (right). Andreas Müller

The sounds appear to be the first known among the larvae of hymenopterans, the insect order that includes bees, wasps and ants. The presence of two different instruments on the same animal may also be a first. “I am not aware of the larvae of other insect taxa that have two different organs to produce sounds,” says Müller.

Most of the behavior known about bees is from their adult stage, but many bees spend most of their lives as larvae or pupae, notes Robert Minckley, an entomologist at the University of Rochester in New York not involved with this research. “There is a lot to discover about this part of the life cycle. Plus, so few solitary bees have been studied at all” (SN: 12/31/06).

Minckley wonders how much energy this music making demands of the larvae, considering there’s a finite amount of food for them inside their brood cells. “Expending this energy is extracting a cost towards making it to the adult stage,” he says.

Listen to a baby bee’s drumming

The larvae of mason bees (Hoplitis tridentata) strike their cocoon walls with two different instruments, making two distinct sounds. This recording captures one of those sounds: four loud rasps of a larva’s anal callus.

Rear rasps

The bees also have a callus on their head, which the same larva is lightly tapping in this recording.

Bee beats

Such percussion may pay off by providing protection. It’s possible the bees’ rasping and drumming is an adaptation for growing up in such thin-walled surroundings, vulnerable to exploitation by “parasitoid” wasps. These wasps lightly tap a plant with their antennae, feeling for an echoing vibration that betrays the larvae’s location. The wasps then inject their own eggs through the stem wall into the brood cells. When those eggs then hatch, the wasp’s larvae consume the host alive.

The bee larvae’s loud rear end rasp may be an alarm signal to the nest once a wasp is detected, and the minutes of tapping afterwards may muddle the wasp’s senses. The wasps can take quite a while to locate their hosts, so this might explain why the larval tapping continues for half an hour or longer after the initial agitation. Müller next wants to see if the sonic probing of wasps induces the bees to start drumming.

A remarkably similar chorus is known in the larvae of a single species of wood-boring beetle (Icosium tomentosum). The beetle larvae mature inside dry tree branches, and spend minutes scraping their mouthparts against the inside of the bark when disturbed. This too has been suggested as a defense against parasitoid wasps.

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Citations

About Jake Buehler

Jake Buehler is a freelance science writer, covering natural history, wildlife conservation and Earth's splendid biodiversity, from salamanders to sequoias. He has a master's degree in zoology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.


Wasps

Like ants, different types of wasps build different types of nests. One of the most notable is the paper wasp. Paper wasps are known for constructing nests that almost resemble upside-down umbrellas. They create these nests using a papery kind of pulp. Paper wasp nests are made of a comb of cells to host the young, and supported by a single stalk&mdashhence why some think the nests look like upside down umbrellas. Paper wasps prefer to nest in areas with overhangs, like eaves and tree limbs. Also like with ants, there are certain types of wasps that build extremely distinct nests. One example is the mud-dauber wasp. Instead of using a papery pulp to build their nests, mud-dauber wasps use mud to create their nests. They often stick these nests to the side of buildings. Nest shape can vary, and may appear as clay pots, mud patches, or mud tubes. Like some ants, some species of wasps also build their nests underground.

While some bees, like honey bees, build hives aboveground, other bees build nests underground. In fact, approximately 70% of bees are ground nesting. One such bee is the bumble bee. Most bumble bees will build their nests underground. Bumble bee nests are smaller than honey bee nests, with only a few hundred bees at most. Bumble bee nests are only used once before they&rsquore abandoned. Ground nesting bees usually have nests that are conical in shape, with an opening near the center. They&rsquoll often appear around springtime as the bees are getting ready to mate.


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