While hiking in some low hills near Taipei in the late afternoon in July an hour after it rained, I saw this large flying insect visiting flowers the way bees do.

I'm curious, is it a bee (if so, what kind), does it come from a hive or live on its own, and does it sting?

I'm estimating its body to be about 5 cm long. While not captured in photos, I'm pretty sure I remember it sticking its head into flowerers. It was moving flying from place to place fairly quickly and difficult to get any photos at all, this is the best I could do.

edit: Since further clarification of the size was asked for in comments, I'll add here also that the length of "about 5cm" that I mentioned wold be for nose to tail when stretched straight, (rather than in it's current somewhat curled position) and it could certainly be 4.5 cm. But I'm fairly sure it's closer to 5 cm (2 inches) than to 4 cm. I've added a few more images of the flower sans insect. I've cropped my friend on the left out of the images.

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  • $\begingroup$ Five centimeters long?? As in, would cover the palm of your hand? $\endgroup$
    – Dubukay
    Jul 1, 2018 at 22:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Dubukay I've seen giant hornets in Japan about that long, so a 5 cm bee isn't impossible. But without knowing the size of that flower in OPs image we can't be certain of their estimate for the bee. $\endgroup$
    – user137
    Jul 1, 2018 at 22:44
  • $\begingroup$ @user137 Yeah, I’m aware that it’s possible, but with those petunia-looking flowers that the bee is sitting on I figured it’d be worth checking $\endgroup$
    – Dubukay
    Jul 1, 2018 at 22:47
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Dubukay "Five centimeters long?? As in, would cover the palm of your hand?" As my palm is 9.5 cm wide (3 and 3/4 inches), no. 5cm is but 2 inches. When it straightens out, this insect is about 5 cm from nose to tail. I'll go to 4.5 cm, but I'm fairly sure it's closer to 5cm than to 4cm when measured end-to-end rather than in the somewhat curled position shown. Yes it sounds large, doesn't it! Thus the title; "Is this a large bee?" $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jul 2, 2018 at 0:17
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @user137 I've added an edit to the question which reflects the comment above. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jul 2, 2018 at 0:25

2 Answers 2


Good question, thank you for providing images and a good description!

The bee is not Bombus dahlbomii but rather a Red-headed Carpenter (Xylocopa ruficeps) a surprisingly rare bee with few records and the lack of a Wikipedia page (as of May 14, 2024).

How to Identify

The bee is either in the carpenter bee group or the bumblebee group, the two main groups of large bees. The bee can be narrowed down to a carpenter bee, due to the shiny abdomen

Non-professionals commonly confuse carpenter bees with bumblebees; the simplest rule of thumb for telling them apart is that most carpenter bees have a shiny abdomen, whereas bumblebee abdomens are completely covered with dense hair. Males of some species of carpenter bees have a white or yellow face, unlike bumblebees, while females lack the bare corbicula of bumblebees; the hind leg is entirely hairy.
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carpenter_bee

After clarifying that it is a carpenter bee, the genus can be easily found due to the large size of the bee pictured as the genus Xylocopa (Large Carpenter Bees).

The exact species can be found by going through the range maps of each species in the genus Xylocopa. The species ID is simple as there is only one bee of the genus Xylocopa that is in the Taiwan range. https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/570760-Xylocopa-ruficeps/map#5/20.756/106.743

Here is an example:
enter image description here

https://www.inaturalist.org/photos/219358554, Photo 219358554, (c) Janus Olajuan Boediman, all rights reserved, uploaded by Janus Olajuan Boediman

  • $\begingroup$ 2 comments: 1) please provide a source/citation for your first quote. 2) I'm not sure i'd trust inaturalist as any sort of authority of all possible species in any given area (as you've done in this post and a handful of others). It's good that you add this explicit info, but I just personally would not rely on it as the definitive stopping point of what species are/are not present in any given area. It's probably better for ruling in favor of the presence of something somewhere vs using as evidence that only 1 species' range is in any given area $\endgroup$ May 15 at 0:10
  • $\begingroup$ @theforestecologist 1) Thanks, fixed. 2) That's ridiculous, INat has been used in hundreds of research projects. INt is one of the largest mass data collection systems in the world and has been used as a reputable source. In fact INat is the leading source of information on all living things and has been used to document animal movements via the range map system. INat is very scientific, all of the IDs required for data (range maps, etc) are verified by a 2/3s majority identification system. Obviously you haven't contributed to INat. It is a pretty neat system and I encourage you to try it out $\endgroup$
    – Arrow
    May 15 at 0:45
  • $\begingroup$ I will redirect you here: forum.inaturalist.org/t/research-credibility/43603 $\endgroup$
    – Arrow
    May 15 at 0:46
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not discounting it's utility. I'm suggesting that just because some organism is NOT on there at some location doesn't mean that that organism is not found in that location. Again, it's the statement that "the only species found in x on inat is y, so no other species exists there" that I question -- I'm not sure I would use such a statement supported by inat as definitive proof that other species don't also live there. Not everything is on inat. $\endgroup$ May 15 at 6:23
  • $\begingroup$ @theforestecologist Inat has more records than any other scientific data collection. Range is indicated on Inat when some species observations are few and far between. If, for example a species is discovered on an Island that has never been reported on that Island via Inat. The Inat team will color the island a light green, indicating that this is the range of that species even though no one has found that specific species there: inaturalist.org/pages/taxon_ranges $\endgroup$
    – Arrow
    May 15 at 11:38

Note: My mistake. I did not notice the location is Taiwan. There are giant honey bees in China, such as Apis dorsata Fabricius, however their size is only 17-20mm.


I suggest Bombus dahlbomii. It can grow up to 40 mm long, 1.6 inch

Bombus dahlbomii



  • $\begingroup$ OP says they found the bee outside Taipei, but Bombus Dahlbomii is South American. The wikipedia link you give doesn't say if this bee is found outside South America. $\endgroup$
    – user137
    Jul 2, 2018 at 3:11
  • $\begingroup$ Ops. My mistake. I cannot find a anything about a 40-50mm bees native to china. There are large enough wasp but the color and presence of hairs do not match. $\endgroup$
    – JayCkat
    Jul 2, 2018 at 4:01
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, it certainly looks similar. Taiwan being an island active in shipping, there's certainly a possibility of movement from South America. Though I don't know how to read these 1, 2, 3 but if dahlbomii could be anywhere in South Neotropical Region then that would include here as well. Would this necessarily be a queen, and could it sting? $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jul 2, 2018 at 5:40
  • $\begingroup$ My bee's abdomen is dark/black and appears smooth, your bee's abdomen is bright orange and fuzzy. My bee's hind legs are orange and fuzzy, your bee's hind legs are black and smooth. Not knowing much about bees, I don't know if that is a big difference or not. There is also of course also the geography thing still... $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jul 4, 2018 at 14:08

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