Giant Carpenter Bees in Tanzania!

More from the enigmatic world of bees and flowers:

On a recent hike in southern Tanzania at the edge of the Uluguru Mountains I came across one of East Africa’s largest bee: the Giant Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa nigrita). This is just one of the thousands of wild bee species that occur in Africa.

Female Giant Carpenter Bee approaching Crotolaria flowers
Female Giant Carpenter Bee approaching Crotolaria flowers

This is a striking bee where the males and females are sexually dimorphic: meaning that they look very different. The females are boldly marked in black and white, while the males are covered in bright golden hairs that glisten in the sunlight.

Females visit flowers of many different species, and on this day they were feeding on flowers of legumes (a Crotolaria sp.) and also the flowers of pigeonpea (Cajanus cajan), which they are responsible for pollinating. Working the legume flowers requires a lot of skill and dexterity from the bees. The flowers need to be ‘tripped’ so as to expose the pollen from the anthers that slide out of the keel of the lower petals. The carpenter bees are experts at doing this:


Female bee grappling with Crotolaria flowers
Female bee grappling with Crotolaria flowers


While the females are busy visit flowers the males set up territories that they patrol during the day. These are usually near patches of habitat that females frequent. Male carpenter bees spend many hours flying back and forth around their territorial patch marking landmarks with scent and watching for females.

Golden male Giant Carpenter Bee!
Golden male Giant Carpenter Bee!


After a hard days’ work, they too visit the flowers for some refreshment in the form of nectar.

Male Giant Carpenter Bee grappling with Crotolaria flowers
Male Giant Carpenter Bee grappling with Crotolaria flowers


Several people have asked me how exactly I take these photos of bees. The key thing is patience and waiting at the flowers, with some understanding of the movements and behaviour of the bees. It took me over an hour of watching and waiting to get these photos of the Giant Carpenter Bees.

Patience is key to capturing bees in action!
Patience is key to capturing bees in action!


Many thanks to all for the kind comments.

More from the wonderful world of insects soon!


My name is Dino J. Martins, I am a Kenyan entomologist and I love insects. The Kiswahili word for insect is dudu and if you didn't know already, insects rule the world! Thanks to the amazing efforts of the 'little things that run the world' I was humbled to be selected as a National Geographic Emerging Explorer. This blog is a virtual dudu safari through the fascinating world of bugs. Enjoy, leave a comment and send any questions or comments to me through: insects.eanhs@gmail.com
  • Ima Ryma

    A giant carpenter bee is
    Expert at “tripping” flower stash,
    So can be done the pollen biz,
    Quick in and out in just a flash.
    Maybe a sip of nectar fun,
    But can’t stay long in just one bloom.
    There is so much work to be done,
    So off I buzz – vroom, vroom!
    The boy, the girl – bee dimorphic,
    Female bee a bold black and white,
    Male bee glistened golden haired thick.
    You’ll see the dif’rence in the light.

    Bee I a him. Bee I a her.
    I bee a big bee – that’s for sure.

  • Di GillDi Gill

    Wonderful photos of magnificent bees. thank you:-)

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