Wooden bee: The black and blue wild bee

Wooden bee: The black and blue wild bee

the essentials in brief

  • The wooden bee (Xylocopa) is also called the blue wooden bee, black wooden bee or large wooden bee
  • Wooden bees are threatened with extinction and are therefore under protection
  • With dead wood or a bee hotel and flowers rich in nectar, bees can settle in the garden
  • Wooden bees are very peaceful, but they can also sting

Blue, black, or large wooden bee

Many names, one bee: Behind the names “blue wooden bee”, “black wooden bee”, “blue-black wooden bee” or “large wooden bee” there is one and the same type of bee: Xylocopa. It has a black body and blue wings and is significantly larger than its striped relatives, which is why all names are entirely appropriate.

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Can wooden bees sting?

Wood bees can sting like any other type of bee. However, they do this extremely rarely and only when they feel really threatened. Wood bees are solitary insects and are very shy and therefore not very dangerous. Should you ever have the rare bad luck of being stung by a wooden bee, treat the sting like any other bee or wasp sting:

  • Remove the sting
  • rub a raw onion slice on the sting
  • cool the sting
  • A paste made from baking soda and water disinfects and cools
  • Essential oils such as clove oil, mint oil or lavender oil disinfect and reduce itching


Fight wood bees

Wood bees are rare solitary animals and not dangerous. Even those who think they have to protect their wooden roof from wooden bees can relax with confidence: wooden bees only nest in rotten, soft wood. So there is no need to fight wooden bees.

Usefulness of wood bees

The reason why wooden bees are on the Red List of the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation is of course primarily due to their decline in numbers. Stopping this is a requirement of general biodiversity, which is necessary in the long term for a balanced ecological macro system.

In the case of many protected species, their immediate usefulness is pointed out - this can ultimately motivate more private people with gardens to participate in the protection of the species in question.

Of course, the wooden bee is also an important link in the ecosystem. Like all bees, it also takes on a role as a plant pollinator - but this is only moderately pronounced, because wooden bees have the habit of acting as so-called nectar robbers. So they have the habit of stealing their nectar from some plant blossoms for no consideration: Due to their strong mandibles, which they are also used to use for building nests, they sometimes simply bite through particularly deep, difficult-to-reach blossoms - the pollination effect remains possibly completely on the track.

Normally, however, wood bees perform their pollination task very well when collecting nectar. Because of their long tongue, they are particularly specialized in daisy, butterflies and mint family. Large wooden bees like to fly to the lip flowers of clary sage or the butterfly flowers of wisteria. They don't have to pierce the flower base either, so they pollinate the beautiful garden plants diligently. It's nice to see here:


How do you deal with wooden bees?

In light of the species threat, you should generally welcome wood bees to your garden. It is certainly not necessary to drive them away - even if their large, black and loudly humming presence can be a bit strange at first. The animals are by no means particularly dangerous or even harmful.

In view of the rather poor supply of suitable living space across the country, it is commendable if you try to offer the animals a home. There are several ways you can do this. Above all, it makes sense to create space for possible nesting sites. For example through the following measures:

  • Don't meticulously clean up dead wood
  • If necessary, create a bee hotel

Leave dead wood in the garden

If you have an old tree in the garden that is not yet in danger of falling over and does not bother you too much, you should leave it wherever possible. It not only offers wooden bees a wonderful basis for creating their nesting passages, but also a diverse livelihood for other insect, mammal and bird species.

Since wooden bees are also very faithful to their location, an old tree offers them an excellent place to live that they can use again and again. On the trunk you can also closely observe the amazing, busy drilling activity of individual wooden bees.

Leaving other dead wood, such as broken, rotten branches, is of course also worthwhile for the habitat of wooden bees. In order not to let the look of the garden become too crude, you can also cleverly arrange individual, shapely old branches at the edges of the beds or on the bank of a garden pond.

Bee hotel

wood bee

If you have a more tidy garden style and want to keep it, it is advisable to create an insect or a specific bee hotel. You can design this so that other useful bees also have nesting opportunities in it. For wooden bees, the bee hotel should of course be equipped with as much solid but rotten old wood as possible. Older branch discs can also look very decorative with clearly marked annual rings and larger cracks. The wooden bees also find good contact points in the cracks for their drilling activities.

But wooden bees also like to use stems filled with firm pulp or hollow stems as nesting sites. We recommend stalks of Japanese knotweed, reed or bamboo. According to the size of the wooden bees, the cross section of the stems should be about 5-9 mm. If you have been living with wooden bees in your garden for a long time, you can use a hole in an old nesting site as a guide for the cross-section of any plant stems. Some other wild bee species also feel very comfortable in plant stems.

The genus of wood bees

The wood bees, zoologically Xylocopa, are one of a total of three genera within the family of real bees. They are therefore closely related to the honey bees from the genus Apinae.

As is so often the case with animal species names, their scientific and translated name comes from their way of life: Xylocopa means something like “the wood-cutting one” - and in fact, wood bees work intensively on wood when building their nests. With their powerful mouthparts they drill passages in tree branches and rotten trunks, but sometimes also in wooden parts of human structures such as fence posts.

How much wood they remove when creating their long corridors can be seen from the wood chips that arise under their nesting structures. In areas where they are more numerous, they are sometimes also fought because of their wood-drilling activity.

Taxonomy and occurrence

The genus of the wooden bees comprises a total of 500 species within 31 subfamilies worldwide. Most of them live in tropical and subtropical areas, because the animals are extremely warmth-loving. Only 8 species have come to terms with European climatic conditions, in Central Europe only 3 species are settled. Due to the ever warmer climate, wooden bees can be seen more and more frequently in our local gardens, even if they are generally rare. Wood bees have spread noticeably in the southern federal states such as Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, Bavaria and Hesse.


Pigeon tail

The general global warming has also paved the way for other large insect species in our Central European latitudes: to a similar extent as the wooden bees, pigeon tails, for example, have shown significantly more presence here in recent years. Not only the name of the large butterfly is more reminiscent of a small bird than an insect, but also its appearance: because of their wingspan of a good 4 centimeters, their white-patterned rump and their floating back and forth on flowers, they hover almost a bit like a hummingbird.

Pigeon tail


Wood bees are relatively easy to distinguish from other real bees or wild bees. One of the most obvious distinguishing features is, on the one hand, their coloration, which is not black-and-yellow, as is the case with some other real bees considered typical by laypeople: rather, most wood bees are characterized by a deep black coloration, often accompanied by shimmering metallic shades of blue to purple on the body and on the wings.

The stature also differs significantly from honey bees or other types of bees: wooden bees have an unusually large and stocky build, which is similar to that of bumblebees. (whereby bumblebees also belong to the real bees)

Way of life

Wood bees have a one-year cycle that differs in some respects from that of other solitary bees. First of all, it is unusual for wood bees to hibernate both females and drones. To do this, individually or in groups, they look for a place protected from wind, rain and cold, such as a self-dug hole in the ground or a wall or wooden crevice. The old nest is also sometimes used as winter quarters.

The new wood bee year begins in April. Then, after waking up from hibernation, females and drones come together to mate. Then the female individually begins to create a nesting site. To do this, it drills brood tubes into older but still relatively solid wood and sets up around 10 to 15 brood chambers in them. An egg is placed in each of them and provided with a pack of provisions. This consists of a mixture of registered bee pollen, nectar and head gland secretion. Finally, the incubation chambers prepared in this way are closed and the larvae are left to their own devices.

The larvae develop on their own with the food provided. After about 2 months they pupate and become a finished wooden bee within a few days. As such, they eat their way out of their wooden brood chamber and can begin their lives as adults.

The females live relatively long compared to other solitary bees. After overwintering, they often live well into summer and can watch their offspring develop. After they hatch, a kind of generational flat share is sometimes even founded.

Here again a small, overview-like profile about the wooden bees:

Zoological classificationAppearanceOccurrenceWay of lifeSpecial recognition features
Belong to the family of real bees within the suborder of the stinging voices and the suborder of the waist wasepsCompared to other species of real bees, it is quite large and compact like a bumblebee (14 to 28 cm in length), its color is strikingly deep black, often covered with a metallic sheen in blue to purpleIn Central Europe only 3 species are represented, these predominantly in southern to southeastern countries, in German-speaking countries especially in Switzerland, Austria and Germany in federal states such as Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Saxony,Solitary way of life, i.e. living individually, no formation of states, one-year cycle, females and drones both overwinterlarge, deep black, corpulent appearance, loud hum when flying

This video shot by Nabu Thuringia gives an impression of the wooden bee and its way of life:


Identify wood bee species

Large wooden bee (Xylocopa violacea)

The large wooden bee, zoologically Xylocopa violacea, has several surnames, which quickly suggest species of their own. In fact, the blue wooden bee, the blue-black wooden bee, the violet-winged wooden bee and the common wooden bee can be thrown into a pot labeled 'Large wooden bee' or 'Xylocopa violacea'. Sometimes the species is even called the black hornet, because its body size and dark color reminds a little of its large relatives from the subfamily of the real wasps.

The key identifying features of the large wooden bee are already defined by the color-designating secondary names: their wings are actually crossed by veins that shimmer from blue to purple. Their abdomen is deep black, round and dense, like a bumblebee, with short hairs, the middle segment of the body, the thorax, is somewhat lighter and tends to be bluish-gray. Overall, large wooden bees - this is again indicated by their main name - are quite large. They can be up to 28 millimeters long.

(Xylocopa iris)

Like the large wooden bee, this species of wood bees is one of the few species that are also widespread in Central Europe. You can find it mainly in the Mediterranean area, it is also represented in the near southeast to Central Asia. Specimens have also been found in certain regions in Switzerland and Austria. In Germany, if at all, it occurs more in the south.

With a body length of 14 to 16 millimeters, the Xylocopa iris remains significantly smaller than the large wooden bee, but its stature is similarly compact and bumblebee-like. Her whole body is kept jet black, the abdomen shimmers slightly in a metallic, sometimes greenish blue.

Eastern wood bee (Xylocopa valga)

wood bee

The species Xylocopa valga is known in German as the eastern or black probe wooden bee. It is the third (and last) species found in central Europe. It is particularly widespread in southern to southeastern Central European countries such as Italy, Slovenia, Romania, Serbia and Greece. In Germany, the eastern wood bee has been found sporadically in Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria and Saxony.

In its appearance it resembles the large wooden bee in certain aspects, especially it has a similarly thick, bumblebee-like and black-colored abdomen and, like Xylocopa violacea, reaches a total length of up to 28 centimeters. A characteristic feature, which is also recorded in one of the common names of this species, are the striking and consistently deep black antennae. The wings are black with a metallic, bluish tinge.

Other species that occur in Europe:

The following species of wood bees are not directly represented in Germany, but in the wider European area, especially in the Balkans:

  • Xylocopa cantabrita
  • Xylocopa amedaei
  • Xylocopa gracilis
  • Xylocopa olivieri
  • Xylocopa uclesiensis

Interesting to know:

Some of these “non-German” wooden bee species show a somewhat more typical bee appearance to our eyes. The Xylocopa cantabrita and the ylocopa olivieri, for example, have an almost black-and-yellow striped color like the honey bees instead of a metallic black. However, the striped drawing is usually not as pronounced and the colors merge a little more into the brownish-reddish. Their physique is also corpulent like wood bees and large with about 18 to 22 millimeters in length.

The Xylocopa cantabrita occurs mainly on the Spanish peninsula and is therefore also commonly known as the Spanish wooden bee.

Situation of wood bees with us

The question of how things are with us with the wooden bees is of course justified in times of ever more urgent species protection. In view of the general decline in plant and animal species diversity, we also take a closer look at the situation of wood bees.

The matter is actually double-edged. On the one hand, the wood bee is one of the endangered, endangered species in this country. In particular, the large wooden bee, which occurs most frequently in our regions, is on the so-called red list of the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation. So it has long been under careful observation.

The decline in local wood bee species is mainly due to the lack of suitable habitat. As we have already learned, wood bees prefer dead wood to create their nesting passages. The many overly tidy gardens in this country offer little of this, and in the agricultural and forestry sector, more and more space is no longer left to chance or nature. Deadwood that is simply left lying around is rather rare, but an important livelihood for wood bees and many other small animal species.

On the other hand, however, a certain renewed distribution of the species can be observed: because the summers are getting hotter and the winters are getting milder, heat-loving insect species, the wooden bees, are penetrating further and further north. Despite their increased occurrence in the southern parts of the country, you may also see one or the other wooden bees in northern German areas such as Brandenburg, North Rhine-Westphalia or Lower Saxony.

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There must still be something in there. #holzbiene #woodbee #blau #blue #schwarz #black #edelwicken #noblevetch #pink #insect #insect #nature #nature

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frequently asked Questions

Can wooden bees be dangerous?

In view of their size, their mysterious black coloring and their loud hum, wooden bees do not seem entirely kosher to many a garden owner. Of course, also because the sight of them is even more rare and almost a bit more exotic.

In general, wood bees belong to the less dangerous genera within the family of real bees. This is due to their solitary, i.e. solitary, way of life. Solitary stinging insects generally have less reason to sting, because the defense of a state is no longer necessary. Species that live socially, i.e. that form large colonies, such as German wasps, hornets or honey bees have to protect an entire colony in order to preserve the species and thus simply have more surface to attack.

Solitary species such as wood bees, on the other hand, are only dependent on their sting when they are attacked as individuals, for example on foraging foraging. It is therefore very rare that they sting. The secretion in their sting is no more poisonous than that of honey bees. To avoid a sting, you should leave a wooden bee alone as much as possible and not press it.

Are wooden bees protected or endangered?

According to the Federal Nature Conservation Act, the large wooden bee has the status of “specially protected” in Germany. Harming, catching or killing wooden bees is therefore prohibited and will be prosecuted.

Therefore, approach the animals carefully! Instead of driving them away, you would rather create the living conditions that are increasingly being taken away from them in the wild by designing your garden close to nature, leaving dead wood and, if necessary, building a nesting aid.