I’m the bug guy at my house, which is odd because I am notorious for aiding and abetting the enemy. I guess I earn the position because I’ll run across the house to save a spider from being killed. I love most bugs, with the exception of roaches. This particular find in Asia was a treasure for me. I was peacefully writing on the couch when two small heads popped into the doorway and yelled for me. “A flying black bug with wings.” I was told. Oh, but the Xylocopa latipes was so much more than that.
(I WISH I had taken a picture.)
An obsidian-hued exoskeleton framed with two iridescent ebony wings and two large gridded ivory white eyes that seemed to smile all the time, an Xylocopa latipes isn’t just a beautiful bee. It’s also a monstrosity of a bee. Easily as thick as a man’s finger, this is for all practical reasons, the largest bee in the world. (There is one larger, Wallace’s Giant Bee, which has a wingspan of 2.5 inches. But this bee is basically extinct. Two specimens that were found in 2014 sold for 10k each. Another bee was found in 2019 in a termite nest, and, fortunately, it was released so that it could continue its life cycle and hopefully, raise some babies.). This bee isn’t harmful because it doesn’t have a stinger, but not knowing that, I didn’t actually hold this drone, though I was going to take the risk, I didn’t. The Xylocopa latipes is a solitary carpenter bee that burrows into dead wood at about a depth of five inches. The burrows can have up to five chambers.
The little kids found this particular bee outside. She (I say she. I have no idea.) was floundering about in the grass. I captured her in a coke bottle and unsuccessfully tried to let her feed on sugar water. A little sugar water will usually give a honeybee the burst of energy it needs to get home and restart. If a bee is grounded, it’s typically because they miscalculated the amount of energy they need to get to a certain location. (Don’t judge. Apollo 11 exploded mid-air.) when this happens they end up walking around until they die of emaciation. But they can be saved and I’ve refueled many a little drone with a drop of sugar water.
Any good etymologist would have captured this bee, poisoned it skillfully, pinned him masterfully and added him to his collection. And not think twice about it. This was where my problem was since I was still suffering with guilt from killing a colorful fly that was in my room, so—don’t laugh, I’m serious. Mercy is a spiritual gift (really kicking the figurative hornet’s nest with that one). In any case, I most certainly wasn’t going to kill this gorgeous little Xylocopa. No, far from it.
I was going to send it home. And since this little girl had finer tastes than sugar water, (it was mixed with the few drops of coke that were left in the container, so that may explain a bit of her hesitance.) I tried some other flowers that adorn the front yard at our house, but it was almost wishful thinking. My Xylocopa flung herself from the pedals in a temper tantrum. Ever patient (I wish) I scooped her back up into her coke bottle, which I had cut in half with my predacious blade for convenience. I suddenly recalled that I had seen a giant black bee hovering around some pink flowers high above the ground a couple days back. I remembered distinctly because it had reminded me of the rhinoceros beetle I had caught the night before. I immediately walked over to a tree where I had seen some of the much needed (honeybells! Ah, no. No more Wayne Thomas Batson jokes, Noah. They don’t know who he is!) pink flowers with long petals that looked like dog’s tongues lolling out from a pollen rich base.
There was one flower low enough for me to reach by jumping. I accidentally tore it from the tree, though I was actually intending to put little Xyl on it. I fed it to the bee, and she really loved it. (Okay, slight personification there). But she drank all the pollen she could. I tried to release her onto the tree trunk, but she wouldn’t come out of my bottle as I gently rattled it against the trunk. Pleased that she had so enjoyed my hospitality and noticing that our Thai neighbor was looking oddly at me, anyway, I set the bottle back down and tried to get another flower. Despite my predilection for not appearing like a lunatic, I jumped up and down, trying to reach the other flower. I reminded myself of a puppy, jumping up for a toy. I could normally jump and touch a ten-foot ceiling—when the right girl was watching 😉 and so this peeved me a little. I even went to get my shoes to be a little bit taller. I tried to jump and cut it. Of course, that didn’t work, but it was fun anyway. (It would have worked if I’d have used a CRKT blade). I gave up bouncing after garnering a bit of sweat. I picked up Xyl’s bottle and went to look for another tree. I found one relatively quickly, but the tree didn’t have any low hanging branches at all. I shut Xyl in the bottle with her flower, which she was still playing around with and put the bottle cap between my teeth. I clambered with ease into the tree and was soon among the branches. About ten or more feet off the ground, I found five flowers, for which I was very glad. I fed her one there, and then broke a limb and moved her to a cluster of them. I hope she garnered the energy she needed so desperately and flew home. Because I wasn’t there to watch it. A swarm of angry mosquitoes was initiating another Battle for Bunker Hill, and I wasn’t going to stick around and see if this one turned out better than the last. I leapt from the tree and landed in a way that was antithetical to the ninja move I had in mind. But I did get a small amount of hemorrhage on my left palm, which consoled me somewhat.
Hope you all can see a bee like this soon. Keep in mind that there is a certain rare carpenter bee in North America too so be on the lookout!
Anyway, I got to play with a Xylocopa latipes. It was awesome.