Eliminating your bee problem can be a challenge.
First, you must know the type of bee that you’re dealing with (and make sure that it is, in fact, a bee, and not a stinging wasp). For example, because leafcutter bees (a type of ground bee) are extremely docile and rarely sting, it’s best to shift their behavior, rather than to try to get rid of them. Alternatively, honey bees are very sensitive to smell and abhor the smell of smoke; getting rid of them is as simple as lighting some cardboard and twigs under their home (being mindful of open fire regulations in your area, of course).
There are over 4,000 known bee species in North America alone. Thus, knowing the type of bee that you’re dealing with is of utmost importance. Carpenter bees are not the same as bumblebees. There are also mason bees, long-horn bees, Africanized honey bees, and sweat bees—among others. Your familiarity with bee species depends on the region in which you live, along with your particular environment—such as a country bungalow or a high-rise apartment—and if you (like me) enjoy the company of some species of bees.
I once held a male carpenter bee. I was seven years old and can still remember that moment with such vivid clarity...
Exhausted, with my arms and legs spread out, I laid in my bright-yellow swim trunks near a river’s bank. The tall and lush grass enveloped me as I watched the water droplets on my forearms disappear while the sun had its way on them. The river had been cold—and invigorating. As I watched the wind sway the trees, a large bee landed on my bare arm. Its short legs tickled my goose-bumped skin. Its slow gait calmed my pulse. Its hair—yellow and black striped, and fuzzy and wild—seemed to spring up in joy. I wanted to pet this tiny creature and wondered if it had it come for a drink. Was it attracted to the tiny pools of cool water on my skin? Just then, it buzzed off.
Yet I found that its presence had stirred my curiosity. I wanted to understand this unique creature.
What Are Carpenter Bees? And What Is Their Life Cycle?
Carpenter bees have black bodies, often with yellow hairs on their head and thorax. They are solitary bees that burrow into dead wood. They tend to be non-aggressive, peaceful fliers that mate once and for life. They do not produce honey, as they’re not a honey-producing family. In fact, less than 5 percent of bee species make honey.
In the spring, carpenter bees emerge from their wooden dwellings. It’s important to note that spring can come as early as February (in the southern states) and as late as the end of May (in the northern states). The carpenter bees then gather food and begin the search for their life partners. Once hitched, the newly knotted pair make preparations for the near future—the female as a homebuilder and the male as the home’s protector. Once their eggs are safely laid, the parents see their life assignment as completed and die. The next generation emerges in late summer—during the months of August and September—grows, pollinates, and then settles in for the winter. Those that survive—as only a percentage make it through the colder temperatures on limited pollen that was stored up—are seen in the spring.
Do Carpenter Bees Pollinate?
Like other bees, carpenter bees are master pollinators. They use their powerful thoracic muscles to produce strong vibrations that forcibly expel dry pollen grains out from inside the flower's anthers. This pollen then sticks (and falls from) their fuzzy bodies, thus pollinating other vegetation, including eggplant and tomatoes. This type of gathering is called "buzz pollination."
What Is the Difference between Carpenter Bees and Bumblebees?
While it can be difficult to tell the difference between carpenter bees and bumblebees, there are a few physical attributes that help you differentiate these two varieties.
- A worker carpenter bee typically has a shiny, hairless abdomen, (whereas bumblebees usually have a hairy abdomen with black and yellow stripes).
- Carpenter bees are usually significantly larger than bumblebees.
- Carpenter bees tunnel into wood to lay eggs. (Bumblebees nest in existing cavities often underground, such as abandoned rodent burrows).
- Carpenter bees, unlike bumblebees, do not live in colonies. The adults overwinter individually.
Do Carpenter Bees Sting?
Male carpenter bees do not have stingers. Accordingly, if you notice this species buzzing around your home, there’s no need to fear being stung. The male is simply fulfilling his duties. Tasked with protecting his female’s nest from other (flying) insects, he will hover and dive-bomb in front of any threat near his female’s nesting site, hoping that his size and skill will ward off the challenger.
On the other hand, the female carpenter bee has a stinger. Thankfully, she is usually quite preoccupied with constructing the perfect tunnel for the tiny little eggs that she will lay and won’t mind your presence. The females seldom sting. When she decides to attack, though—which is usually only when she was handled or provoked by people—her sting packs a wallop.
How Did Carpenter Bees Get Their Name?
Carpenter bees are named for their infamous activity of boring holes into wood. With her powerful mandibles (teeth), the female will bite her way through soft wood in order to create a tunnel in which to lay her eggs. Carpenter bees prefer unpainted, weathered, or rotting wood, especially less denser varieties such as redwood, pine, cypress, and cedar. The entrance hole that the female creates is perfectly round and about the diameter of your little finger.
Where Do Carpenter Bees Nest?
Around your house’s property and closer to home, carpenter bees will cause damage. These are their most common nesting sites:
- Outdoor furniture
- Fence posts
- Swing sets
- Porch ceilings
- Fascia boards
- Window trim
- Wooden roof shakes
They prefer to nest in locations where the roof overhangs, as they do not want their tunnels to get flooded with rain or filled with debris. They also don’t want to be seen by birds. Unfortunately, they don’t always have the same fear of humans and will gladly choose locations both in deck joists and in patio furniture.
They will also nest in pre-existing bee homes. Carpenter bees have a phenomenal sense of smell. The female will follow the pheromone trail of a deceased carpenter bee, locate her once-occupied abode, and gleefully take up residence there. Occupying an already-established home is far less work and provides more immediate shelter, (though the female will probably do a bit of remodeling first).
How Do I Get Rid of Carpenter Bees Instantly?
From late fall until very early spring, carpenter bees are either still hibernating or have passed away in their tunnels. Winter is the time to kill bees fast.
- Disperse a non-toxic pest control powder. Using the Insect Buster, attach the vinyl tube to the brass curved tip. Push this tube into the bee’s hole and give the Insect Buster a good squeeze. By dispersing diatomaceous earth (DE) or another non-toxic pest control powder into the hole, you’re ensuring that the adult carpenter bees will pass, (if not already deceased), as well as the spring-awakening larvae. Both will have to walk through the DE as they attempt to exit the premises. Once covered with DE powder, there’s no longer any hope for survival, as the diatomaceous earth’s tiny dust particles will have clung to the legs and bodies of the bees and poisoned them when they attempt to groom the powder off.
- Fill pre-existing holes. Using a ½ inch diameter wooden dowel, cut it into smaller sections, cover the end section with wood glue, and push it into the hole. Saw off the extra length so that the dowel is flush with the wood. Once dry, paint over this area. This will prevent carpenter bees that are scouting for a new home to consider these locations. Note: Because DE does not kill bees on contact, I advise waiting 24-48 hours before filling the pre-existing holes.
- Monitor bee activity. Once the nests are filled and secure, it’s important to remember those locations for the spring. They clearly made great homes for carpenter bee nests. In late winter, consider dispersing DE around pre-existing, filled holes, remembering that carpenter bees will return to the same place year after year. For the homeowner this means that, without proactive measures, you could see them again this spring.
What a great article! I loved finding out that the males don’t have stingers which makes me feel safer going about my gardening. So crazy to learn about how many different types of species there truly are.
Hello Marie, It is so amazing that the male carpenter bees know how to protect the females even if they cannot actually sting. It is also great for us humans to know this information to we do not have to fear being stung by the males. Cheers, Vanessa and the Dr. Killigan’s Team
Hello V, There are over 20,000 species of bees in the world. Isn’t it incredible how many species there are and how different each one is!
So interesting, that male carpenter bees do not have stingers, yet seem to act as though they do.
Wow! I did not realize that so few species of bees make honey. How many species of bees are there?