Carpenter bees are fascinating creatures. They are part of the Xylocopa genus, a genus that contains over five hundred species. Their nature as wood boring insects often causes people to misunderstand their eating habits. Make no mistake about it, though. Carpenter bees eat the same food nearly all other bee species eat.
Do carpenter bees eat wood?
Carpenter bees are known to make their nests in dead wood and bamboo. They also aren’t afraid to dig into the side of a wooden structure, like a house or garage, to build a nest. But all the wood bored out doesn’t get consumed. Some of it is used to construct structures inside the nest into which eggs can be deposited. The rest is discarded.
So, what do carpenter bees eat? They eat nectar. Nectar is that sweet, sticky substance produced by flowering plants. It attracts bees and other pollinators that inadvertently collect pollen when they come to gather nectar. The pollen is transferred to other plants as the bees go about their business.
Regardless of the carpenter bees’ tendency to build their nests in woody structures, those nests still have to be within a reasonable distance of flowering plants. Otherwise, they have no food source.
Why do carpenter bees have mandibles?
Carpenter bees are often mistaken as wood eaters because of their rather impressive mandibles. But stop and think about it. The mandibles are not for consuming food. They are for carpentry. Mandibles are the tools that carpenter bees use to drill into wood or bamboo. They are to carpenter bees what strong beaks are to woodpeckers.
A carpenter bee uses its mandibles like boring instruments. The sharp tips dig into wood quite easily. With one fluid motion, a carpenter bee can dig into and scoop out wood efficiently. Without the mandibles, boring into wood would be impossible.
Going one step further, carpenter bees could not use their mandibles to eat wood even if they wanted to. Their stomachs do not have the capacity to deal with wood chips and sawdust. Trying to ingest it would be unpleasant, if not dangerous.
Do carpenter bees drink water?
Bees are like any other creature in the sense that they need water in addition to their food. So yes, carpenter bees do drink water. Gathering water is one of the most important functions in support of the hive. Each individual bee needs water to survive. Likewise, water is necessary to nurture larvae to maturity. So carpenter bees gather water and take it back to the hive.
Water also acts as a coolant inside the hive. Like every other species of bee, carpenter bees work hard to maintain the right ambient temperature inside the hive. If things get too hot, larvae can die. Water transported to the hive is often used to cool things down. Carpenter bees are known to spread water across sealed brood cells in order to help heat evaporate.
Carpenter bees even use water to ‘cook’, so to speak. The food that sustains larvae is actually created by worker bee glands. Nectar and water are needed to create that secretion. Above and beyond that, worker bees mix the food with water so as to dilute it for the larvae.
Can I give a carpenter bee sugar water?
Because water is so important to thriving carpenter beehives, things can get dicey in the heat of the summer under drought conditions. Things can also get precarious in the winter. If it is too cold outside, carpenter bees will not leave the nest. And even when they do, they do not tend to fly very far in search of water. That leaves them with trying to extract water from hive walls.
The internet is rife with suggestions about how to supply carpenter bees with water. In short, you can do it. And yes, you can give carpenter bees sugar water. Though sugar water isn’t a complete substitute for honey or nectar, it can be enough to help a struggling bee get by.
Just bear in mind that bees can drown. Before you attempt to provide water, do some online research that will show you how to properly set up a water receptacle. And remember, carpenter bees do not eat wood. They eat nectar and pollen, just like any other bee.
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- Featured Image [Xylocopa pubescens (species of carpenter bee)]: Gideon Pisanty – CC BY 3.0
- Yellow-Banded Carpenter Bee: Enairam92 – CC BY-SA 4.0