Beloved bees

Published 5:18 am Thursday, March 3, 2016

I’ve been reading information from the Xerces Society, an organization formed to promote the conservation of insects and other invertebrates. They claim that bumblebees are the “best-loved” of all the bees.

Bees, bumble and otherwise, certainly have my respect. As tireless, industrious workers, bees pollinate many different kinds of plants, thereby ensuring that fruits and seeds continue to develop. They play a vital role in the chain of events that keeps flowers in my garden and food on my table. But I’d never actually considered loving a bee. The stinger presents a sufficient threat to keep my admiration from blossoming into passion.

Perhaps bumblebees are best-loved in the sense that they are the least feared. Their roly-poly roundness does suggest a child-like playfulness, and the dense hairs that cover their bodies vaguely resemble fur. One of my children once had a stuffed animal creature that combined teddy bear characteristics with bumblebee coloration, wings, and antennae. That hybrid beast certainly had the stuffing loved out of it.

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Bumblebees also hold the distinction of being among the first bees to emerge in the spring.  Mated queens hibernate through the cold months, and they emerge with the earliest flowers to start the tasks of building nests and collecting nectar to feed the next generation. Because they serve as harbingers of warmer weather, I’m usually happy to see them appear.

When I first moved to the Farmville area, I mistook another type of bee for a kind of bumblebee. It looked similar, but had a shiny abdomen rather than a furry one. A neighbor corrected me and explained that what I saw was a carpenter bee.

The word carpenter led me to envision a skilled tradesman who could take a pile of wood and turn it into something useful, like cabinets and furniture. Carpenters wield an impressive array of dangerous-looking tools, and they can hit a nail with such precision that their fingers remain unscathed. A carpenter built my house and my back deck.

The concept of a carpenter bee intrigued me. I wondered what these magnificent insects might construct. Did they make rocking chairs for queen bees to use when singing lullabies to their brood? Did honey bees hire them to make honeycombs? Did bumblebees ask them to build storage sheds for pollen reserves? Perhaps the one hanging around my house simply wanted to pick up a few tips from the professionals who constructed it. Imagine my disappointment when I learned that carpenter bees didn’t seek to admire the workmanship involved in building homes and decks. They just wanted to chew through them. It seems that the only thing carpenter bees have in common with carpenter humans is their tendency to create sawdust.

On the other hand, carpenter bees do work diligently alongside bumblebees to pollinate my garden’s tomatoes, and I am quite fond of home-grown tomatoes.

Still, it was necessary to defend my house. I had a conversation with the carpenter bee that seemed to have claimed my back deck as its personal territory. I explained that a vast number of trees, natural wood sources it could use to its heart’s delight, lay just beyond my yard. The bee buzzed and wagged. I think it was trying to explain that what I thought of as a back deck was actually just a stack of wood laid out in an attractive buffet. Furthermore, he seemed convinced that his claim on it took precedence over mine. Clearly, we were at an impasse.

A bit of research revealed that carpenter bees prefer their wood unpainted. My husband organized our counterattack, and this year we’re ready to stand our ground with freshly painted deck railings.

Bees — carpenter, bumble, and otherwise — play such a vital role in sustaining a healthy ecosystem. I’m ready to offer them a certain amount of grudging affection. Full blown ardor and the exchanging of hugs and kisses will have to wait until they agree to do something about their stinger problem. Until then, I’ll love watching from a distance as they work to pollinate my plants.

Karen Bellenir, a Farmville resident since 2009, blogs for Pier Perspectives at and maintains an archive of past columns at She is editorial director for Wordwright LLC providing services to authors, publishers, and other producers of print and electronic publications (  © 2016 Wordwright, LLC