Do you remember the TV show Cheers?  Remember Cliff Claven?  Remember his tag line..'uh, it's a little known fact'?  He'd use this tag line when he was about to pontificate on some obscure fact that no one really cared to hear.  Sometimes he was way out in left field with is ramblings, other times he seemed to interject something that was relevant to the story line. 

I'm going to borrow Cliff's tag line for this post.

It's a little known fact that all bumblebees are not really bumblebees.  How's that for obscure and rambling.

Lemme 'splain.

This looks like a bumblebee, right?  

I thought so too.  

I was wrong.  

Last weekend, as I was outside setting out my yearly ferns, I got to wondering about these bumblebees.  Where do they live?  Do they produce honey?  Do they sting?  Do they have a queen?  Endless questions.  I decided I'd do a little Internet research to quell my inquisitive mind.

I was surprised to discover that what I thought to be bumblebees are actually carpenter bees.  Yes, carpenter bees.  They look like bumblebees but the main difference is in their shiny abdomens. Bumblebees are fuzzy all over, carpenter bees have shiny abdomens.  Abdomens so shiny you can see your reflection in them.

Carpenter bees have queens and male bees.  The male bees can be aggressive but since they lack stingers, they are harmless.  The queen has a stinger, however, she won't use it unless you try to catch it. And why would you want to catch a bee, so they are harmless, sort of.

Discovering that these are carpenter bees and not bumblebees cleared up a question I'd had for many years.  What kind of insect creates holes this perfect?

Answer:  carpenter bees.

Why?  Because they are building their nests.  

Ya see, carpenter bees will tunnel into bare, weathered or unpainted softwoods, like pine, cedar, or redwood, these posts are cedar.  The queen bee will lay eggs in the tunnel, stick a ball of pollen for the larvae to eat, and then close it off.  She'll either create new tunnels or reuse the old ones.  After the queen lays the eggs, she dies.  Wow, all that work and you don't even get to see what Junior looks like.  Sad.

If I were a carpenter queen bee I'd create new tunnels, that way I'd know for sure that riff raff hadn't been living there previously.  I'm like that, not wanting to live someplace that had riff raff previously.

The bees are born in August or so but don't leave, other than to collect pollen, until the following spring.  The bees will hibernate in the holes over the winter.  See what I mean about riff raff.

Oh, one more thing, it's a little known fact that bumblebees are mostly found in the Northern Hemisphere with a few native species found in South America and someone, a long time ago, introduced bumblebees to New Zealand.


  1. This is interesting and last weekend I was in a similar situation. I saw a big bee by my azaleas and tried to get a picture of it because it had a long pointed body but the same color as a bumblebee. I never got the picture and never tried to look it up to see what it actually was. Have you seen bees like that? They almost look like they have antennae and then the black abdomen is very pointed.

  2. I don't like bees, and I'm kinda allergic, so I never get close enough or look at them long enough to see what their abdomens look like. Thanks for the interesting little known fact.

  3. The only flying insect that causes me stress are wasps, I've been stung by them and keep my distance as a result. So, Amy, I understand your apprehension.

    Liz, I'm thinking 'yellow jacket'. Try this link, it has a picture of what I think you're describing.

  4. Nope, not a yellowjacket. It's one of the weirdest insects I've seen. It's hard to describe but it could be some kind of wasp.