Monday, October 20, 2008

Carpenter Bees

When I was a kid, I had a fascination with insects (and still do, as many of you probably already know). There was a neighbor down the street who was somewhat mysterious. I never could figure out what he did for a living, and it seemed like he was always at home. (This was strange in the working class neighborhood where I grew up.)
Sometimes he could be the nicest person ever, and other times he seemed be quite irritable (maybe he would say that my childhood self could, at times, be quite irritating). He and his wife had more tall trees in their yard than most of the other folks in our neighborhood, and this was a big deal in the town of Yuma, Arizona where I grew up. I also remember that he owned a sweet looking motorcycle, and had a red pickup truck with a camper on the back. He and his wife also owned a lot of finches.

Their driveway formed a semi-circle coming up to the front porch from the street. Just in front of the screened-in front porch, between the motorcycle and the truck, were two sections of a sawed up tree stump. Each one was a little over a foot and a half in diameter. One of them had bark and the other did not.

The stump that had the bark was home to a nest of carpenter bees. The bees lived there for years, peering cautiously out of their holes before lifting off loudly and lazily on their journeys. There were always a lot of black females around and a very few males. (The males are gold with green eyes.)

I remember trying to come up with ways to catch these guys. Usually a clear jar or a cup pressed against the sawed off trunk would work with a piece of plastic to make a flat lid once the bees were in the jar. These bees are very fierce and impressive. They are at least 4 times larger than a honeybee.

I can still feel the adrenaline rush that hit me every time I caught one of these insects, (or anything that could sting for that matter). These bees were so large that the beating of their wings would make the plastic cups vibrate like a cell phone (of course no one had cell phones back then).

Usually, especially after I turned 14, I would just watch my captured subject for a while and then let it go. After years of collecting insects to put into collections, I had decided that I didn't want to kill them anymore just to put them under glass. To this day I prefer to watch insects in the wild, doing what they do without any interference from me.