Bees are mostly active during the daytime, but nocturnality has been reported in some bee families. We studied temporal flight activity in three species of carpenter bees (genus Xylocopa) in relation to light intensities. X. leucothorax is diurnal, X. tenuiscapa is largely diurnal being only occasionally crepuscular, while X. tranquebarica is truly nocturnal. Occasional forays into dim light by X. tenuiscapa are likely to be due to the availability of richly rewarding Heterophragma quadriloculare (Bignoniaceae) flowers, which open at night. X. tranquebarica can fly even during the moonless parts of nights when light intensities were lower than 10(-5) cd m(-2), which makes this species the only truly nocturnal bee known so far. Other known dim-light species fly during crepuscular or moonlit periods. We compare eye and body sizes with other known diurnal and dim-light bees. We conclude that while extremely large ocellar diameters, large eye size:body size ratio, large number of ommatidia and large ommatidial diameters are all adaptations to dim-light foraging, these alone do not sufficiently explain the flights of X. tranquebarica in extremely dim light. We hypothesise that additional adaptations must confer extreme nocturnality in X. tranquebarica.