Hear this and tremble, carpenters, barn-dwellers, and other lovers of naked wood


The sound of a female carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica, the “Virginia wood-cutter”) chewing wood fibers at the end of her tunnel inside a piece of exposed wood in a barn. She’s chewing away with her sharp mandibles, making a tubular nest for her eggs. She’ll provision these with nectar and pollen, giving the young a well-protected place to start life. The mother bees overwinter in their tunnels and their offspring often bore new holes close to the natal hole. So a cluster of bees on a single board or in one part of a barn is often a family group. Here’s a photo from 2012 of a modest-sized tunnel. These borings can get much bigger, hollowing entire pieces of wood.

Surely the invention of the saw opened huge new opportunities for this species of wood chewer. Before humans came along, the bees had to wait for branches to crack open or for wood to expose itself in other ways. Carpenter bees must regard humans as evidence of intelligent design: we’re a species whose only purpose is to erect grand temples of dimensional lumber for carpenter bees. Amen, sisters. Teleology is a fine thing.

5 thoughts on “Hear this and tremble, carpenters, barn-dwellers, and other lovers of naked wood

  1. Jim Markowich

    We do offer them bees the shed. And for a number of years that sufficed. But they cannot help themselves, and spend far too much time opaque-window-shopping the hemlock siding of our house. If they do that at low altitude, they get a meaningful swat.

  2. Traci Paris

    David, thanks again for another beautiful and thought-provoking glimpse into the natural world. I can imagine we humans are proof of intelligent design for others besides the carpenter bees – robins, raccoons, and jellyfish come to mind. I’m sure there are others. What do you think?

    1. David George Haskell Post author

      Yes, if these creatures have systems of philosophy, I’m sure they see teleology in a different way than we do. Other species — those hunted and endangered by us — may have a different perception of the “design” principles involved in the appearance of humanity!

  3. Pingback: Weekly Diigo Posts (weekly) | The Reading Zone

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