Scientific name: Order Hymenoptera, family Apidae. Bumble bee--Bombus spp. Carpenter bee--Xylocopa spp.
Size: Adult--1/3" to 1"
Identification: Adults are fat, black, and fuzzy, with yellow bands on the body and spurs on the hind legs. Carpenter bees can be solid black.
Biology and life cycle: Eggs are laid in nests in cavities in the soil. They especially like abandoned field mouse nests. They have several broods per year. Larvae are fat, white grubs that stay in the nest's cells. Young queens hibernate, other forms usually die in winter. Carpenter bees or cedar bees are very similar but nest in wooden fences, patio covers, wood shingles, roof eaves, and door and window sills. They like soft cedar wood. Complete metamorphosis.
Habitat: Wood structures, soil, and in stalks of yucca and agave.
Feeding habits: Worker bees feed on the nectar of many flowering plants.
Predators: Praying mantids, armadillos, and humans.
Economic importance: Pollination of ornamental and food crops; however, they are less effective than honeybees.
Natural control: Birds, wasps, and praying mantids.
Organic control: If necessary, can be controlled with soapy water or plant oil products or repelled with hot pepper products.
Insight: Bumble bees pack a powerful sting. If you don't threaten them, they usually don't sting, but they can and will if threatened. Plant pollen- and nectar-producing flowers to attract them. Praying mantids catch and eat old, slow, and not very alert bees. Bumble bees living in the ground can sometimes become very aggressive, especially when disturbed by lawn mowers or other equipment.
To control, go out after dusk when the bees have gone back into the ground. Use a flashlight covered with red cellophane (bees and wasps can't see red). Pour citrus oil, or soapy water into the opening and cover it with a large rock (another tip: run away quickly). Remember that bumble bees in the garden are usually not aggressive and are highly beneficial, so hurt these friends only as a last resort. For nests under decks or outbuildings, put honey with a touch of boric acid in a small lid connected to the end of a stick.