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What are the Big Black Bees?

You may have encountered a big black bee and want to know what it's called? Many people ask us about the large bumble bees. Are they bumble bees or carpenter bees?

We wrote this article at Bow to the Bee, to educate you about the big black bees and how to differentiate them from one another. Hope you enjoy the content. Check out our jewelry and mission.  

 

What is the difference between Big Black Bumble Bees & Big Carpenter Bees?

Bumble bees and carpenter bees are very much alike. They share the same family, Apidae; however, they have a different genus.

Bumble bees are classified into the genus Bombus, whereas the genus Xylocopa contains large carpenter bees.

If you know much about insects, you may have gone through the classification system of different insects into class, family and genus, etc. If you are not familiar with these terms, you can understand it as the grouping of insects in different groups based on their similar characteristics.

It's easy to confuse bumble bees with large carpenter bees. They have almost the same size, and they are both robust.

The differentiation between these two bees becomes more confusing when carpenter bees come with a pale ginger thorax or upper body. A close inspection can enable us to differentiate between a large carpenter bee and a common eastern bumble bee. The abdomen of a carpenter bee looks shiny, whereas the abdomen of a bumble bee is hairy.

Which species you will encounter depends on the region of the world you are living in. If you happen to travel to another region of the world, you will be aware of more species, perhaps all black. In Europe, one is more likely to encounter carpenter bees with Iridescent violet hues. These bees are commonly known as violet carpenter bees.

 

Are Carpenter Bees Considered Good Pollinators?

The quality of carpenter bees as a pollinator is very attributable. Wilson & Messinger Carril, in their book, The Bees in Your Backyard, describe the enormous capacity of carpenter bees to carry pollens. The body size of carpenter bees, such as in Xylocopa, allows them to carry a huge quantity of pollen.

Therefore, carpenter bees are well known as good pollinators of many flowers. While describing the importance of carpenter bees as good pollinators, Wilson & Messinger Carril also include that Xylocopa species are one of the most important pollinators for some crops such as tomatoes, cotton, passion fruit, and Brazil. In addition, carpenter bees are the most important pollinators in deserts.

You can analyze the importance of carpenter bees as pollinators by their use in greenhouses in Australia to ensure heavier fruits. Nectar robbing is one of the common traits among bees. Carpenter bees become less beneficial when they involve in nectar robbing. Mostly tubular flowers, possibly blueberries, don't get much benefit from carpenter bees because of nectar robbing. Other than carpenter bees, mason bees, bumble bees, and honey bees are also involved in nectar robbing.

Can you find any species of bumble bee/black bee that is all black?

Yes, there are species of bumble bees that produce total black pigmentation. These species are predominantly black. However, there are species that mostly feature bands of different colors, such as white, yellow, red, etc.

Key differences between bumble bees and carpenter bees?

It is important to summarize the key differences between a carpenter bee and a bumble bee.

● One of the key differences is the nesting habit. You may observe carpenter bees showing nesting behavior or sometimes chewing tunnels in wood.

● On the contrary, you may observe bumble bees making their nests in pre-existing crevices.

● Another key difference is the abdomen. You may observe the shiny abdomen of the carpenter bee and, on the contrary, the furry abdomen of a black bumble bee.

What Are the Black Bumble Bees?

You may have encountered a big bumble bee and want to know about it. Many people ask us about the large bumble bees. They wonder what they look like and what they are called.

Some people may confuse it with large carpenter bees. That is why I am obliged to write about the black bumble bees to let you people know about it and differentiate it from others.

Black Bumble Bee Appearance

Length of bumble bees are between one-quarter to one inch. Their black and yellow body is covered with fuzzy hairs. The two pairs of wings that are seen,  held together by tiny hooks.

They are often confused by many people with carpenter bees, which can be distinguished from bumble bees by their shiny, fuzz-less abdomen.

 Can you find any specie of bumble bee/black bee that is all black?

Yes, there are species of bumble bees that produce total black pigmentation. These species are predominantly black. However, there are species that mostly feature bands of different colors, such as white, yellow, red, etc.

Identification

It is easiest to start identifying a bumblebee by tail colour and the number of bands on its body

  • White-tailed bumblebees

Queen

Its collar is yellow that extends towards the downside of thorax, a wide yellow band is seen across the belly and bright white tail of bee.

Workers

 They are smaller than queens and very similar to them in look.

Males 

They have a broader yellow collar and lots of yellow hair on their head.

 

  • Cuckoo bumblebees

Females have a broad yellow collar and a thin yellow band at the base of the abdomen. Their abdomen has a distinctive shape that curls under and ends in a white tail with black hairs at the very tip.

Males resemble females, generally with orange hairs at the tip of the tail, although they are variable – some have yellow tails and some are completely dark haired.

  

  • Red-tailed bumblebees

Queens are large and robust with short, velvety hair and a dark orange-red tail.

Workers are very similar but smaller.

Males have an orange-red tail and also have a yellow collar and facial hair.

 

How to Spot a Bumblebee Nest

Bumblebee nests are not easy to spot because they’re typically hidden underground or invisible. There are a number of spots where you can find them. This includes:

  • Under compost heaps or natural debris
  • Inside bird boxes
  • Within rodent holes
  • Beneath tall grass
  • Inside trees trunks
  • In various holes or openings of your house
  • Under your shed

 

Bumblebees nest in dark and dry areas, away from direct sunlight. They usually nest inside, under, or behind some sort of shield from external elements, and their nests don’t hang as beehives do.

Bumblebee Behavior

  • Black bees are eusocial, which means that they live together in colonies and a queen rule over them.
  • Bumblebees are social insects, their colonies aren’t as large as the honeybees’ colonies.
  • A single bumblebee queen will rarely have more than a couple of hundred workers living in her nest. Sometimes she can have as few as 50 worker bees with her.
  • The queen, who’s the founder, will mate after emerging from her cocoon, and then go into hibernation. A typical bumblebee nest is divided by caste; there’s a queen, workers, and drones. Once queen wakes up, she finds a nesting place and takes her position on the throne. Her day is spent sitting in the middle of the nest, feed on honey produced by the worker bees.

 

Bumble Bees as Pollinators

The value and effectiveness of bumblebees should be compared to honeybees to keep their practical use in perspective. Almost all of the pollinator force on cranberry crops is from honeybees and bumblebees. These pollinators and a few wasps and solitary bees provide cranberries with the pollination they need.

Blackbees (Bombus species) are 2-4 times more effective pollinators per bee than honeybees (Apis mellifera) and solitary bees. This is due to a 50-200% faster flower working rate and an average of 50 or more % longer hours worked each day.

For a few crops, bumblebees can be 10-20 times more effective pollinators per bee than nectar collecting honey bees. This is either because bumblebees either contact the stigma more consistently on , blueberries, red clover,  cranberries, some vetches or their larger bodies contact much more of the stigma e.g. cucurbits (pumpkins, squashes, melons, cucumbers), cotton, kiwifruit, cranberries. As well they may carry about twice as much pollen.

We wrote this article at Bow to the Bee, to educate you about the big black bees and how to differentiate them from one another. Hope you enjoy the content. 

Learn more about Bow to the Bee's jewelry and mission to save the bees, our tiny gold bee necklace or the gold bee pinky ring