Carpenter bees are familiar to farmers and gardeners as the bees that fly noisily around wooden buildings, and on farms in the mornings. They include the widespread and abundant genus Xylocopa, the large carpenter bees, and Ceratina and Allodapula bees, which are known as small carpenter bees.
Carpenter bees include the largest bee in East Africa: Xylocopa nigrita, which has spectacular large females marked in black-and-white, and bright all-golden males. Large carpenter bees are active earlier and later than most other bees as their larger size enables them to warm up and forage on cool mornings. They often fly at dusk visiting flowers that would typically not be available to bees.
Large carpenter bees visit a wide range of flowers, where they serve as important pollinators of legumes that require ‘tripping’ of the flowers, and of plants that require buzz-pollination—such as Solanum spp. They also serve as pollinators of orchids, milkweeds (Calotropis), and cultivated passionfruit.
Most large carpenter bee nests are excavated in wood—hence their name. They burrow tunnels, and construct cells they fill with pollen from plants. Small carpenter bee nests are excavated in pithy dry stems of plants, including the old flowering spikes of aloes.