I see these carpenter bees buzzing around on almost all my evening trips to Milkweed (Calotropis gigantea) plant if they are in bloom. I had captured them several times but I wanted to capture the bluish violet iridescent shine of the wings. I was able to see them but all my earlier attempts to capture on camera were futile. There were quite a few reasons for this. If the light is harsh then the reflection will also be harsh. Angle of light was also important as iridescent shine is seen on only one angle of their wings. Having a diffuse light provides a great illumination for such a shine. So I had to wait for an evening light on a cloudy day to get such a soft diffuse sidelight.
On that evening I waited for the clouds to diffuse the sun and waited at the appropriate spot near the milkweed plant hoping to capture the shine very nicely. I was using my Canon EOS 5D Mark III with Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM and Canon EF 1.4x III Extender. This gave enough distance between the bee and myself so as to let it feed undisturbed. After around one hour and over 300 futile attempts I was finally able to get bee in the exact position I wanted to produce the shine I was looking for. I could have used reflectors or external flashes and created a appropriate lighting. But I wanted to capture all of it in natural lighting without any artificial aid as much as possible. If you see carefully you can see the setting sun in the refection on the bee’s back.
Carpenter Bees (Xylocopa latipes) are one of the largest bees we have here in India. They are a member of the group of solitary bees (Family Apidae). Fully black with wings having a metallic blue, green and purple colors under sunlight. This species is not as sexually dimorphic (distinguishable) as many other species are at first glance, as the male neither differs in color nor has the front of his head lighter in color. However, he has unusual legs; they are unusually hairy, and the front legs are lighter in color, with long, smooth hairs arranged in a strange “brush-like” way. The specimen I had here is the female Xylocopa latipes.
This giant bee is commonly seen feeding from flowers. For some reason, this species seems to feed on flowers much higher up than the other common species, Xylocopa confusa. It also appears to prefer purple flowers like milkweed(Calotropis gigantea), as opposed to Xylocopa confusa which has a yellow chest prefers yellow ones like rattleweed (Crotalaria retusa). These are not absolute rules but just general observations I found.
The carpenter bees are so named due to their nesting habits; they bite into wooden surfaces such as logs and tree branches, and, in urban area, wood used for construction. The nest entrance is a round hole, roughly 1cm or so in diameter. Despite their large size and intimidating appearance, these bees are virtually harmless. Their sting is surprisingly mild for their size. Also, males frequently hover in their territory and make darts at any moving object in the vicinity, but are harmless, since they can’t sting. The females never attack. In fact, if the nest site is disturbed, the bees do not emerge; they hide in the nest, with a female guarding the entrance by blocking it with her abdomen. If the hole is touched, she will sting.
This bee frequently evokes both fear and fascination in those who see one. It is assuredly safe to watch this gentle giant going about its work, collecting nectar and pollen or biting a nest entrance in a branch.