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You’ve probably noticed large, shiny, black bees hovering around your home in the spring. These are called carpenter bees, a species in the genus Xylocopa of the subfamily Xylocopinae. While the carpenter bee poses relatively no threat to humans, they’ve been deemed a pest by many because of the damage they inflict on residential and commercial dwellings.
Carpenter bees were named after their expert carpentry skills for hibernation and rearing offspring. Their ideal nesting material is hard, untreated or weathered wood like bamboo, cedar, redwood, or pine that is more than two inches thick. Your most telltale sign of nesting is a perfectly crafted, circular and smooth hole along the surface of wood.
Yes and no. Male carpenter bees don’t have stingers at all. Female carpenter bees can sting, but will only do so when seriously threatened. Typically, the females are hard at work excavating chambers for their brood, so if you’ve spotted a carpenter bee hovering, it is likely a harmless male. Male carpenter bees are territorial and tend to appear aggressive and dangerous, but their “scary” exterior is their only defense mechanism. The males spend a lot of time hovering near their nest to protect it. Their sole purpose is to mate and chase off predators, allowing females to safely rear offspring. Both males and females have no problem dive-bombing humans who come near their nest.
Carpenter bees are easily mistaken for bumble bees because of their size, but there are some noticeable differences. First, carpenter bees have very strong mandibles that can penetrate wood through vigorous vibrations of the whole body. This laborious drilling is so intense that human ears can hear it!
The second major difference is in appearance. Bumble bees have a yellow and black coat of thick hair on their abdomen whereas carpenter bees have black, shiny, mostly bald torsos. You can further differentiate a male carpenter bee from a female by the yellow patch on his face.
Finally, bumble bees are a very social species that form colonies with complex societal roles, whereas carpenter bees are mostly solitary.
Carpenter bees emerge from hibernation in the spring for mating season. Depending on species, males will either attract females using pheromones or they will patrol entryways for a desirable female. Once fertilized, the female will excavate a new tunnel and deposit her eggs, partitioning off six to eight individual chambers, one for each egg. Think of these as walls or bedrooms in your home. These new eggs then hatch over several weeks, using their mother’s regurgitated nectar as fuel for hibernation in the peak of summer. When they awaken in the spring, the young carpenter bees will either tidy up and enlarge their existing tunnel, or they can start a new one for mating season. Then the cycle repeats itself the following year.
Fun fact: Carpenter bees don’t actually eat wood! They may use the sawdust for nesting material, but their nutrients come from flowers. In fact, carpenter bees are essential to the ecosystem because they’re excellent pollinators despite their short mouthpieces. They gravitate towards open, shallow flowers mainly because of their small, straw-like mouths. Carpenter bees are sometimes referred to as “nectar robbers” because of their ability to slice open the sides of flowers, exposing all the nectar.
Carpenter bees also have a knack for carving perfectly circular holes in wood, approximately 18 mm in diameter. After drilling a safe inch from the entrance, carpenter bees make a 90-degree turn and forage with the grain of the wood. The sawdust collected is then used to build “walls” between eggs.
While carpenter bees are mainly independent, multiple carpenter bees can infest the same piece of wood. It’s not uncommon for females to cohabitate with their sisters and daughters. When this happens, each bee assumes a role in foraging, nesting, and guarding the entrance, whereas a solitary forager must do it all alone. Established carpenter bee nests can remain for years.
Carpenter bees aren’t just a nuisance; they can cause fairly significant damage to homes over time. While the majority of the destruction is superficial, carpenter bees perform branching activities beyond their tunnel systems. This allows them to channel deeper into the structures of your home. These bees are also efficient workers, so one nest can turn into a dozen if left untreated.
Carpenter bees can also ruin the appearance of your home with their feces. They’ve been known to defecate in and around the entrance, consequently staining the exterior.
There are precautions you can take to protect your home against carpenter bees. Perhaps the most simple solution is painting the exterior. Painted wood acts as a deterrent. Staining, however, does not have the same effect.
If you have existing holes left by carpenter bees, you’ll need to plug each entrance with a wooden dowel that matches the exterior in color. Be sure to use wood glue or some form of adhesive to keep it plugged. This not only helps restore a more aesthetic appearance but the chemical scent will also deter bees from drilling there again.
Keep in mind that carpenter bees are experts in their craft and very protective of their nests. Therefore, getting rid of carpenter bees is best left to the professionals. Ehrlich pest specialists are trained and experienced in handling carpenter bee infestations. For carpenter bee control you can count on, call Ehrlich at 888.984.0186 or contact us online.