Eastern Carpenter Bee

Xylocopa virginica

Apidae (bees) in the order Hymenoptera (ants, bees, wasps)


Eastern carpenter bees somewhat resemble bumblebees but have a noticeably black, shiny abdomen. (Bumblebees, although about the same size and shape, have a noticeably fuzzy abdomen, usually with a prominent yellow band across it.) You can also distinguish the two by their behaviors: Carpenter bees are rather solitary and excavate their nests in wood. A small pile of sawdust beneath a hole about 3/8 inch in diameter is a clue to their presence.


Length: about 3/4 to 1 inch.


Photo of eastern carpenter bee with entrance to nest hole
Eastern Carpenter Bee With Nest Hole


Photo of eastern carpenter bee nest, cutaway to show chambers
Eastern Carpenter Bee Nest Chambers
Habitat and conservation

Often seen foraging nectar from flowers. Primarily a forest species that bores nest holes vertically into wood, this is the only large carpenter bee in Missouri. It prefers coniferous wood and often reuses old nests, cleaning them of debris and enlarging them. Nest plugs and cell partitions are made of wood chips; cell walls are unlined.


Adults feed on nectar from flowers, sometimes biting a hole in the base of the petals to "rob" the nectar without pollinating. They do pollinate many flowers, however, including "maypop" or passionflower. The female provisions her nest tunnels with nectar and pollen, then lays eggs on this food, which nourishes the young as they develop.

image of Eastern Carpenter Bee Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri



As with many members of the ants, bees and wasps group, the females of this species are capable of stinging when molested, while the males lack stingers altogether. The males often startle people with their aggressive-looking territorial hovering, but although they investigate anything new in their territories, they are only interested in combating rival males. They are uninterested in people.

Life cycle

Carpenter bee nests are provisioned in the spring and summer. After emerging, the young adults fly and feed briefly before overwintering in the tunnels. Mating occurs the following spring. The white-faced males are often seen at this time hovering in a pendulous, bobbing dance near nests, waiting for females. These males rush to investigate any airborne object—a thrown pebble for example—that comes near them.

Human connections

Structural damage to timber can result when there are many nests and when woodpeckers enlarge the holes to feed on the larval or overwintering bees. Because carpenter bees are important pollinators, some farmers encourage their presence by providing blocks of wood attractive to them.

Ecosystem connections

They are important pollinators for many types of plants. In nature, their tunneling into soft, dry, rotting wood speeds decomposition, helping to recycle nutrients back into the soil. Biologists study carpenter bees because their behavior seems transitional between solitary and true social behavior.