We were sitting in the garden the other day when I saw a huge black bee land on the yellow roses. I remarked that I’d never seen a totally black bee before. Strangely enough, the next day our neighbours Richard and Sarah arrived. “You’ll never guess what we’ve found” they said, “a black bee”.
Not only had they found the black bee, they’d also found the results of the black bee’s attention – it had done a good job of eating its way through one of the wooden beams in their conservatory.
We looked the black bee up and it turns out they are Carpenter bees or wood-boring bees. Life in France certainly is an introduction to wildlife that I never had in London that’s for sure. These bees are actually pretty common in France and seen close up they’re really quite pretty with a lilac coloured sheen on their wings. Almost every article I read said something along the lines of – Carpenter bees are your buddy or wood boring bees are good for the environment and you should befriend them. That might well be so but it’s not so good when they are tunnelling into your several hundred year old beloved oak beams. The bees make a single entry hole which leads into multiple galleries in which the female Carpenter bee lays her eggs. Each gallery is then blocked in with a pellet of pollen which provides nutrition for the larva – and fuels my belief in the benefits of taking bee pollen!
In France the bee is called the blue bee or abeille charpentiere and its Latin name is Xylocopa violacea.
We looked up advice for sorting the problem out - you should plug up the holes with caulk, which we call painter’s mate, or putty. Apparently the bees are trapped inside and make no effort to get out. After that you need to paint over the area or varnish it though apparently varnish doesn’t work as well. Another site I read advised vacuuming them out! I don’t know how good an idea this one is – although Carpenter bees are not prone to stinging unless absolutely provoked, it seems to me sticking a vacuum nozzle near them might be sufficient grounds for a sting and they are big buggers. Finally you can treat the area with an insecticide designed to get rid of bees and then paint or varnish when you’ve filled in the holes.
On the whole though the overwhelming information is that the bees are non-aggressive, don’t cause that much damage to give you serious stress and if you leave an old tree or pile of wood in your garden that will definitely be their preferred habitat.
I am now engaged in checking over the outside of the house to make sure there are no signs of holes, piles of sawdust on the floor or – apparently – obvious signs of bee poo mounds. My feeling is that thanks to the copious amounts of wood piles and dead trees in our garden, these creatures have plenty of choice of accommodation without going for my lovely old beams!