Xylocopa virginicacarpenter bee

Geographic Range

Eastern carpenter bees (Xylocopa virginica) are a Nearctic species found in the eastern, central, and southern parts of the United States. They can be found as far south as Guatemala. Their range stretches from Virginia to Florida, and west to Texas. (Grissell, 2017)


Eastern carpenter bees create their nests in dry, coniferous woods, stumps, logs, or other dead trees. They dig into the wood and create long tunnels up to 47 cm long to nest. Nests are often found in trees of the genera cypress, pine, and juniper. Eastern carpenter bees tend to choose nesting sites on unpainted wood and wood with no bark. They often build nests in well-light areas. This species often nests in the same location for generations. (Grissell, 2017)

Physical Description

Eastern carpenter bees resemble bumblebees. They have large, rounded bodies that are black with yellow hairs. The dorsal surface is black with a purplish tint, hairless, and shiny. Male eastern carpenter bees have a white spot on their face, but females have entirely black faces. Females can sting, while males can not. Larvae are whitish in color. (Grissell, 2017)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • Range length
    19 to 23 mm
    0.75 to 0.91 in


Eggs of eastern carpenter bees are laid in their own individual cells in the nest. They hatch about 7-10 days after they are laid. Pupae remain in their cells until they are 20-22 days old. They do not undergo diapause. Juvenile bees are able to fly 3-4 days after they emerge from their cells, but they remain in the nest for 2 to 3 weeks. When they are not flying, they spend most of their time in the nests with their siblings. (Gerling and Hermann, 1978)


Male eastern carpenter bees catch females in order to mate with them. They will only pursue female bees in flight. If the female bee lands on something, the male bee will either leave her alone or attempt to pull her into the air. (Gerling and Hermann, 1978)

Female bees may live up to two years, mating in the spring of their first year and nesting in their second. Nesting behavior includes digging nests and gathering supplies. There are often two or three females per nest, but only one digs, gathers supplies, and lays eggs. Male eastern carpenter bees defend the nests in March and April, mate with female bees, and die in the late spring. (Gerling and Hermann, 1978; Grissell, 2017)

Female bees may live up to two years, mating in the spring of their first year and nesting in their second. There are often two or three females per nest, but only one digs, gathers supplies, and lays eggs. Male eastern carpenter bees defend the nests in March and April, mate with female bees, and die in the late spring. (Gerling and Hermann, 1978; Grissell, 2017)

  • Breeding interval
    Eastern carpenter bees have a yearly breeding season.
  • Breeding season
    Eastern carpenter bees breed during spring months.
  • Range eggs per season
    6 to 8
  • Range time to independence
    20 to 22 days

Female eastern carpenter bees forage, construct the nests, and lay eggs. After constructing their nests, female bees will forage for pollen and consume nectar. The nectar is regurgitated, combined with the pollen, and mixed. This combination is used to construct the cells in which eggs are laid. Each cell contains one egg and is capped in chewed wood pulp. Female bees repeat this process until they have laid 6-8 eggs. Their daughters may remain in the nest after they become adults. (Gerling and Hermann, 1978)

  • Parental Investment
  • female parental care
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • post-independence association with parents


Female eastern carpenter bees live for up to two years. Adult bees emerge from their nests in March after a few warm days have occurred. Juvenile bees leave their cells and nests in June. Males die in the late spring. Newly hatched males overwinter with the females in the nest but die in the following spring. (Gerling and Hermann, 1978; Grissell, 2017)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    2 (high) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    1 years


Eastern carpenter bees only leave their nests on warm days. They can be solitary or social, which means they nest alone or in groups. Male eastern carpenter bees are territorial and will defend their nests. (Barrows, 1983; Gerling and Hermann, 1978; Grissell, 2017)

Females of this species are responsible for building nests. A single female will choose a nesting site, typically on dead trees, logs, or stumps, and will begin to chew a hole. She will create the nesting tunnel, known as a gallery, 15 mm in diameter. Female bees are able to chew at a rate of about 15 mm per day. If the grain of the wood is vertical, the gallery will be built vertically. Similarly, if the grain of the wood is horizontal, then the gallery will be built horizontally. Completed, newly-built galleries are about 35-45 mm in length. Alternatively, old nesting sites may be expanded upon and reused. They are much longer than new galleries. (Barrows, 1983; Gerling and Hermann, 1978)

  • Average territory size
    20 m^2

Home Range

They can have territories up to 20 m². (Barrows, 1983; Gerling and Hermann, 1978)

Communication and Perception

Like other social bees, eastern carpenter bees communicate using touch, vision, chemicals called pheromones, and wing vibrations. Bees communicate about the safety of the nest, where food is, and what they should do. Like other bees, eastern carpenter bees can see ultraviolet light. (Horridge, 2015)

Food Habits

Adults consume nectar from a large variety of flowers, such as the flowers of Virginia bluebells, basils, sage plants, currant bushes, American plums, and beardtongues. Eastern carpenter bees have a unique method of pollinating called "buzz pollination". They use their strong muscles to shake the pollen from the flowers. They may also "rob" flowers that they can not fit into by cutting a slit in the base and taking the nectar. (Barrows, 1983; Buchman, 2020)

  • Plant Foods
  • nectar


Eastern carpenter bees are preyed upon by birds like shrikes and woodpeckers. Small mammals like rodents and invertebrates like big-headed ants will feed on adults and their larvae. (Watmough, 1983)

Ecosystem Roles

Eastern carpenter bees are generalist pollinators and feed on a large variety of flowers. They are preyed upon by many types of birds, mammals, and, invertebrates. Male bees are territorial and may pursue insects, birds, and nonliving objects that trespass on their territory. (Barrows, 1983; Buchman, 2020)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • pollinates

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Eastern carpenter bees are generalist pollinators. They may pollinate a variety of plants, including crop plants. (Gerling and Hermann, 1978)

  • Positive Impacts
  • pollinates crops

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Eastern carpenter bees can damage wooden structures like homes, railings, fences, and buildings. Their nests may weaken and stain structures. Female bees may sting humans. Male bees may hover and dart towards humans close to their nests. (Buchman, 2020; Gerling and Hermann, 1978)

  • Negative Impacts
  • injures humans

Conservation Status


Deena Hauze (author), Animal Diversity Web Staff.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


union of egg and spermatozoan


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


the state that some animals enter during winter in which normal physiological processes are significantly reduced, thus lowering the animal's energy requirements. The act or condition of passing winter in a torpid or resting state, typically involving the abandonment of homoiothermy in mammals.


(as keyword in perception channel section) This animal has a special ability to detect heat from other organisms in its environment.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


an animal that mainly eats nectar from flowers


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

stores or caches food

places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


an animal which has an organ capable of injecting a poisonous substance into a wound (for example, scorpions, jellyfish, and rattlesnakes).


movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others


uses sight to communicate


Barrows, E. 1983. MALE TERRITORIALITY IN THE CARPENTER BEE XYLOCOPA VIRGINICA VIRGINICA. Animal Behaviour, 31(1): 806-813. Accessed June 14, 2020 at https://doi.org/10.1016/S0003-3472(83)80237-1.

Buchman, S. 2020. "Carpenter Bees (Xylocopa spp.)" (On-line). U.S. FOREST SERVICE. Accessed June 16, 2020 at https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/pollinator-of-the-month/carpenter_bees.shtml.

Gerling, D., H. Hermann. 1978. Biology and mating behavior of Xylocopa virginica L. (Hymenoptera, Anthophoridae). Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 3(2): 99-111. Accessed June 14, 2020 at https://www.tau.ac.il/lifesci/departments/zoology/members/gerling/documents/30.pdf.

Grissell, E. 2017. "common name: large carpenter bees scientific name: Xylocopa spp. (Insecta: Hymenoptera: Apidae: Xylocopinae)" (On-line). Featured Creatures Entomology & Nematology. Accessed June 14, 2020 at http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/misc/bees/xylocopa.htm.

Horridge, A. 2015. How bees distinguish colors. Eye Brain, 7: 17-34.

Richards, M. 2011. Colony Social Organisation and Alternative Social Strategies in the Eastern Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa virginica. Journal of Insect Behavior, 25: 399-411. Accessed June 14, 2020 at https://doi.org/10.1007/s10905-011-9265-9.

Watmough, R. 1983. Mortality, Sex Ratio and Fecundity in Natural Populations of Large Carpenter Bees (Xylocopa Spp.). Journal of Animal Ecology, 52(1): 111-125. Accessed June 17, 2020 at https://www.jstor.org/stable/4591?seq=1.