Carpenters, Honey, Mopane and the Bee Whisperer

Bees are extremely important in the environment and for that reason you need more than one kind to do the job! We are in the fortunate position to have several thriving bee species at Royal Jozini.


Carpenter bees are a larger species and are often mistaken for a bumble bee because of their similar size and appearance. Carpenter bees have a much smoother, shinier abdomen, while bumble bees’ abdomens are fuzzier. (And we don’t have bumble bees in southern Africa).

Female Carpenter bees are black with two yellow or orange stripes across their backs, while the male is a greenish-goldish colour with distinctive white facial markings that make them easy to identify

The carpenter bee’s name is derived from the fact that they burrow into trees and wooden structures to lay their eggs in cavities they create. By manipulating the environment around them to suite their lifestyle, they construct durable homes that can be reused over many years.

Unlike the social Bumble bee, the Carpenter bee is a solitary creature and raise their young independently. The newly hatched bees are fed on a mixture of pollen and nectar. Carpenter bees often nest in small groups and the same nests are used year after year. When Carpenter bees live as solitary insects, their lifespan is usually one year. Subordinate queens who nest socially, can live up to three years. Lifespan is dependent on the wear and tear imposed on their bodies.

Carpenter bees survive winter by hibernating as adults inside the nest and then begin foraging in springtime and throughout summer.

We have carpenter bees at Lisango Lezulu Lodge at Royal Jozini and we watch with some concern as they drill holes in our wooden beams!  But there are far more tree trunks on the mountainside that are attractive to them, so we are not too stressed that the house will become unstable!

Another amazing little bee is the MOPANE BEE.

Mopane bees, Plebeina hildebrandti, are sometimes called mopane flies or sweat flies.   They may not initially be recognised as bees, as they are only about 4mm in size! It is a stingless bee, a highly efficient pollinator and their honey is in great demand – it is a dark, strong honey which is popular for its cultural and medicinal properties.  Like most stingless bees, they nest in tree branches, underground cavities, rock crevices and tree branches.

And then, of course, there are honey bees!  The African honeybee (Apis mellifera scutellata) is distributed in the summer rainfall region. It has been described as more aggressive than the docile Cape honeybee and has more yellow colourations on its abdomen compared to the Cape honeybee.

These bees were introduced to Brazil in the 1950’s and have mostly taken over the local bee species, and have also moved north into America, being known,  misleadingly, as killer bees.  Well, you have to be a bit tough to survive in Africa!

We are really fond of our bees at Royal Jozini and most lodges have put bee and bird ponds near them, so that the bees can get water – essential for their honey making.   And if you stay at Siqalo Lodge, where they keep hives, do ask for some Siqalo Honey.  It ranges from deep, dark amber, to light gold in colour, depending on the season and the blossoms the bees are feeding on.  Delicious!!

Before I go,  I must tell you about an interview I heard on the radio some years ago, on Talk Radio 702 with Terry Winchester.  It changed my attitude to bees totally!   Terry, a renowned beekeeper, was being interviewed and he was in great demand in the suburbs of Johannesburg to remove swarms of bees. He was an holistic beekeeper and the telepathic rapport he had with these amazing creatures has astounded all who  witnessed it. Terry “talks” to the bees and is able to remove them from inaccessible places without harming them.

I listened, fascinated, when he told the listeners how he speaks to the queen bee, and she comes to him, and then the others follow. And he can then calmly place them in a box to transport them into the countryside.  Terry passed away in 2013 and what an amazing “bee whisperer” he was!  He explained that bees sense love and kindness and respond accordingly. So now when a bee comes to drink my cool drink, I stay calm and welcoming and chat to it (I know, maybe I am a bit crazy).  And when a bee flew into our home office, I said to it that it will die if it stays inside and should fly back out. Which it did straight away!

When I told my husband, he looked at me like I had gone nuts, but lo and behold, in flew a bee and I suggested he ask it to leave. “GET OUT” he yelled.  “No, do it nicely”, said I.   And when he did, it flew back out of the door!

So next time a bee comes close, don’t flap your arms in a panic or try to swot it away.  Be kind and patient as it is probably thirsty and tired.


Do spread the word about the important work that these little creatures do,  plant bee friendly flowers in your garden to encourage bees to visit and remember to throw away your insecticides.  If the bees die, we all die.   Bee loss is becoming a crisis around the world, so let’s do our bit!