Identification, Images, & Information
For Insects, Spiders & Their Kin
For the United States & Canada
Clickable Guide
Moths Butterflies Flies Caterpillars Flies Dragonflies Flies Mantids Cockroaches Bees and Wasps Walkingsticks Earwigs Ants Termites Hoppers and Kin Hoppers and Kin Beetles True Bugs Fleas Grasshoppers and Kin Ticks Spiders Scorpions Centipedes Millipedes


Xylocopa tabaniformis

Xylocopa tabaniformis
Pasadena, CA, Los Angeles County, California, USA
May 7, 2006
Size: ~16mm
This insect looks and acts like a carpenter bee, pierces the calyx of flowers in order to get at the nectar (here Salvia microphylla in my garden). Faster flier than the Valley Carpenter Bee. Spent most of the time flying around the Sages in my garden, or chasing others of its kind (I observed three or four).

Just returned from the Entomology Research Museum, UC Riverside. Doug Yanega (UCR Entomology Research Museum, Riverside, CA), who provided the ID, showed me specimen of both X. californica and X. tabaniformis. It is clearly X. tabaniformis by size, color (the metallic sheen in my images is probably an artifact of reflected light), including the thoracic pile, and the yellow face of male specimen. Specimen of X. micans are similar, also in size, but from the southeastern US, e.g. Florida. X. californica is larger, black, with a dark blue cast on the lower abdomen.
Records for this species in Southern California include Pasadena, La Crescenta, and Burbank (The Carpenter Bees of California, by Paul D. Hurd, Jr.; Bulletin of the California Insect Survey, vol.4, no.2. 1955).


Since no one else seems to even want to guess...
What do you think- is this Xylocopa tabaniformis?

I agree that this is probably X. tabaniformis, though the images are a bit fuzzy. The size is about right, and it looks like specimen I saw. Based on the yellow face it should be a male. (The other two spp in Southern California, X. californica, and X. varipunctata are larger for once, and look very different)

I'm surprised to see this bee feeding in the flower. I've never seen Carpenter Bees do that, except in flowers with very large corollas.
Looks like some Sage you've got there, judging by the whorl visible in one of the images.

I have a wide variety of plants, but generally only one of each. In this case, it was Salvia brandegei, which always blooms very early for me. At the time it was the only Salvia going. It may be that the corolla tube is short enough so the bee didn't have to "cheat" to get the nectar. There's also a native Hylaea species that I've only seen on that plant.

I haven't seen the Xylocopa tabaniformis since the Salvia brandegei finished blooming, even though I have Salvia apiana and Salvia clevelandii 'Aromas' blooming now and had Salvia 'Gracias' blooming in between, not to mention Lavandula dentata candicans, Satureja thymbra and Origanum 'Kaliteri' and of course Eriogonum fasciculatum. And there's also my rose geranium, which is visited by all the other bees, even the Xylocopa varipunctata. Until the current heat wave, my front yard was just solid nectar and pollen sources- and it's still got quite a few.

Looks like a male California carpenter bee, Xylocopa californica. There are at least two subspecies. All have a metallic color to them, either green or blue.

Thank you, Eric,
The light-colored pile on face and thorax confused me. In the brief descriptions of the three species occurring in Southern California (Hogue (1)) no reference is made to sexual dimorphism for X. californica. "Some white hair on the thorax" is mentioned for males in X. tabaniformis. According to Doug Yanega (personal communication) neither X. varipunctata nor X. tabaniformis have any metallic sheen on the abdomen. So this should be, as you say, X. californica.

The eye color seems not unimportant, but I find no mention about this in Hogue. Is this variable? Or is it that, when you key out these insects, other characters are more decisive?

Now you have me doubting myself:-) Not that this happens infrequently! Ha! I haven't collected enough specimens to be able to answer your question. Plus, eye color fades or changes in pinned specimens. Your specimen is quite small, I notice, which does lend credence to the possibility it is X. tabaniformis....

X. tabaniformis
it is, and right you are! I was glad, nevertheless, to see the skeptic in your comments. Please see my notes above.

Carpenter Bee
Thanks for your thoughts, Eric. I appreciate that pinned specimen look considerably different from live ones. What are the size parameters for the two species (X. californica, X. tabaniformis)?
Today was finally a sunny and relatively warm day. Quite a few of these bees flew in my garden, as well as much else. Most of the morning I observed and waited until landings (I'll post one or two; treated all of them as separate specimen because of the time elapsed between shots).
Using Flash, I noticed, can change the looks of the thoracic pile considerably. Yet, all of them show some metallic, mostly bluish, sheen. Since both X. varipunctata and X. tabaniformis are black, without bluish or greenish metallic sheen, this must be X. californica
diamesa. What do you think?

Please see also:

Comment viewing options
Select your preferred way to display the comments and click 'Save settings' to activate your changes.