Things to know about Carpenter Bees

Is it a Carpenter Bee, a Bumble Bee, or a Honey Bee?

Carpenter Bee
Carpenter Bee. Photo by Bob Peterson from North Palm Beach Florida

Carpenter bees can damage soft wood of your home, but how do you know if the bee you see is a bumble bee, honey bee, or carpenter bee – and whether you should beware its sting, protect it as an endangered pollinating species, or eliminate it to prevent damage to your home?

Following are a comparison of the three bees, and information on the damage caused by carpenter bees and what you can do to control them.

Carpenter bee

  • At 1/2 to 1 inch long, most are similar in size to bumble bees, but some species can be as small as 1/4 inch long.
  • The back end of this bee’s body (abdomen) is shiny black and mostly hairless, its body parts are more distinct than those of the bumble bee
  • Some species black, green or purplish. may have various markings with minimal hairs
  • They nest in the soft wood of trees, homes and other structures
  • The male cannot sting, the female can but is unlikely to unless provoked

Bumble bee

  • The bumble bee is 1/2 to 1 inch long; it is stockier than the carpenter bee.
  • These bees are fuzzy, furry creatures with black and yellow bands across its body.
  • They nest underground; travel from nest to flowers to gather pollen.

Honey bee

  • about 3/4 of an inch long
  • Its head and legs are black; the center of its body (thorax) is furry and pale/yellowish in color; the back end of its body (abdomen) is shiny with alternating dark and orangeish/yellowish bands.
  • They nest in hives and are an endangered species.

 

Carpenter Bee Damage

To create their nests, carpenter bees bore round holes into soft wood, which they then build out with expanding tunnels and galleries, or “brood chambers.” (See below, “In the Carpenter Bee Nest,” for more on this.) The carpenter bees prefer soft woods, such as cedar, redwood and soft pines, that are at least two inches thick to enable the building out of its nest.

Initial damage is slight, but as the bees build out their tunnels and chambers to raise successive generations, the structure of the wood can be damaged and weakened by the internal hollowing.

 

In the Carpenter Bee Nest

In the spring, the carpenter bees mate; build or expand their nests; and lay their eggs. To do so:

  • Carpenter bees bore a round hole into soft wood. For large carpenter bees, the hole is about 1/2 inch in diameter; it is much smaller for the small bees.
  • Once the hole is about an inch deep, the bee then turns its boring to follow the grain of the wood and create a tunnel, initially about 6 to 8 inches in length.
  • Along the tunnel, the bees construct “brood chambers.” Into each chamber is placed a ball of food made of pollen and nectar. Then an egg is laid in the chamber and it is sealed shut.
  • When the egg hatches, the larva feeds on the pollen/nectar mix then emerges as an adult.
  • This development can occur in about a month, or longer or shorter depending on geography and temperature. The bees can produce up to three generations during a summer, with each female depositing 6-8 eggs in each brood.
  • The colony will overwinter in the wood, then mate and being again the next spring – continuing to build out the tunnel and breeding chambers as the population grows.

 

How Do You Know if You Have Carpenter Bees?

The following are signs of carpenter bee infestation in wood:

  • Like carpenter ants, carpenter bees do not eat the wood (termites do eat wood). Rather, the bees excavate the tunnels, depositing the wood shavings outside the nest. This and defecation outside the tunnel openings provide evidence of carpenter bees.
  • Male carpenter bees will flit around the opening of the nest, guarding it from other flying insects and predators. Thus if numerous bees are seen around your home’s eaves, doors, windowsills, decks, shingles, etc., - where no hive is visible, it is likely that they are carpenter bees.
  • Bees will be seen early spring through late summer. During the winter, the bees will overwinter down in their nests within the wood; mate in spring, then emerge through summer to gather food. In warm, southern areas, you may see the bees year round.

 

For information on control, see Control Carpenter Bees.

 

References