Many homeowners don’t know how to identify carpenter bees, especially on their first encounter. When springtime comes around, you may find yourself swatting at large bees swarming around your deck or porch and assume they are bumble bees. You certainly wouldn’t want to swat at a bumble bee, especially if the nest is close by. That’s one reason why understanding the difference between the two can be important. However, there are more reasons we want explore.
If bees are entering or exiting holes in wood, like this one pictured above, chances are, they’re carpenter bees.
Are Carpenter Bees Aggressive?
Oftentimes, carpenter bees seemingly ‘dive-bomb’ when we get too close. This may cause many people who do not know the difference, to assume they are the more aggressive bumble bee. Interestingly, however, that’s where the carpenter bee’s aggression usually stops. Rarely is anyone chased or stung by carpenter bees, even though they hang around for weeks before they disappear.
Can they Sting?
Male carpenter bees have no sting and yet, they are the ones responsible for most “dive bombing” actions of the species. Females do have a sting but it is rarely used. Getting stung by a carpenter bee is very unlikely. However, it should be noted that those who are allergic to bee stings should treat all bees as if they will sting.
Do They Attack Together?
Since carpenter bees are a solitary insect, there is no harm in being attacked by multiple bees communicating with one another as is the case with bumble bees. Although you may see 10 or more bees at a time, and even hundreds in some cases, each bee is solitary and there is no colony. Where carpenter bees are found nesting within a particular area, it can be easily observed that the entry holes are distanced and upon opening damaged wood, no connections between individual chambers are ever made.
Even though bumble bees are much more aggressive and dangerous to humans, carpenter bees are an equally important pest. It’s likely that if you see them hovering, flying or crawling around wooden areas of your home, they are looking for a place to call their home as well. As their name suggests, they do so by building with wood; the wood in your house!
What are their threats to Humans?
Although their threat to humans is minor, their threat to structures is much more serious. If left unchecked, carpenter bees can cause thousands of dollars in damage to the wood attached to your home. So, let’s explore how to identify carpenter bees.
Learning How to Identify Carpenter Bees
Learning how to identify carpenter bees can be important to homeowners since carpenter bees can cause extensive damage to wood. It’s also important to note that while swatting at carpenter bees is mostly safe, swatting at bumble bees is certainly not. Confusing the two can create a dangerous situation in either instance.
Carpenter Bee Anatomy
Carpenter bees have six segmented legs. The first segment is hairless and the lower segments are covered with tiny black hairs. They bees are typically between ¾ and 1 inch long. They closely resemble bumble bees but can have a bit larger and more rounded head.
Additionally, carpenter bees have a shiny coat whereas bumble bees are usually covered in yellow and black hairs which can form a striped pattern.
This is especially true of the abdomen region where instead of hair, the carpenter bee is shiny, black and slick. What minimal hair the carpenter bee has is mainly located on the thorax and can appear a faded yellow or burnt amber, whereas bumble bees are typically bright yellow. It’s been jokingly stated that the easiest way to determine the difference is to remember that carpenters are too poor to afford a coat.
Carpenter Bee Life Cycle
Carpenter bees build their nests within wood galleries they have chewed. The female begins by chewing a round hole about a half inch in diameter into the surface of the wood as the male stands guard. This begins around Late April and continues to late May. Once she is in at roughly full body length, she will turn 90 degrees and follow the grain of the wood to construct her tunnel or gallery to about 4 or 6 inches long.
When the gallery within the wood is completed, she finishes by constructing 4 to 6 chambers or brood cells, in which she will deposit her eggs individually and store food for the larvae. Once the eggs are laid, they will hatch in roughly 2-3 days.
Once hatched, the larvae emerge and feed on the “bee bread” prepared by the female. Around 15 days of feeding is enough fatten the larvae an ready them to enter a short pre-pupal period of about 4 days.
This stage begins around mid-July to early August and lasts around 15 days. The larvae form a cocoon around their body which gradually hardens. Within this cacoon, the metamorphoses will occur and the pupa will develop the hard exoskeleton, wings, eyes, antenna, segmented legs and the formation of their specific body segments will take place. During this time, birds may begin pecking on the wood where the pupae is located, to open the cells and feed on the pupa.
7 weeks after the egg was first deposited, an adult emerges from the brood cell to repeat the life cycle. They will immediately begin searching for food and storing it within the same tunnel they just exited or they might build their own new tunnel. For the remainder of the fall, carpenter bees will prepare for the long winter in which they will overwinter within their tunnels.
After the winter is over, the adult bees emerge once again and immediately begin searching for a mate. This begins around April, as the weather warms. Their mating ritual is one of a bobbing-dance in the sky as they swarm around, seemingly fighting. As many as 5 or 6 females and up to 10 or 12 males may be seen partaking in this “dance”.
Males will follow females into the air while attempting to mate with them during flight. The male must be positioned directly above the female, abdomen-to-abdomen for mating to be a success. Since this takes place during flight, it can be observed as fighting instead of what it really is; mating.
Once mating takes place, the cycle continues as the female begins preparing a brrod nest within a wooden gallery. As she constructs the nest, the male stands guard and “dive bombs” insects and other living creatures which come too close for comfort. This includes humans.
Average Life Span
There is conflicting information regarding both the carpenter bee’s life span and the particulars surrounding their death. Differing credible sources state that carpenter bee males die shortly after mating, or that the males enter the brood chamber with the mated female and die there.
Similarly, differing information is stated regarding the female lifespan. Some state that she lives for one year, mating only once. Others state that she can live 2 or more years, returning each year to the same nest to lay her eggs.
Whether one source or the other is correct, what remains true is that each year, one generation or more, break free from their overwintering chambers and begin their cycle once again. Each year, their numbers grow and more tunnels are constructed, more eggs are laid and more adults will emerge the following year as the population grows.
What do Carpenter Bees Eat?
Many think carpenter bees are eating the wood where they bore their tunnels. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Like other bees, carpenters eat nectar and pollen. The damage they cause to wood and wooden structures is strictly for nesting purposes. Usually, beneath the bored holes, sawdust can be observed piling or scattered about. This is caused by the female carpenter bee using her mandibles to chew the wood away while constructing her brood nest.
In the early stages, the larvae feed on the balls of pollen or “bee bread” formed and deposited by the laying female. This mixture of nectar and pollen will feed them until they emerge in the late summer to prepare their own food for the overwinter stay. The food sources they gather and eat contain proteins, lipids, vitamins, carbohydrates and minerals. Each of these are key in maintaining their health as they both grow or overwinter.
Collection of Food
Carpenters collect their food with a method referred to as “buzz pollination”. We should all be aware of the benefits of bees whether social or not. As they land on the flowering plant, their rapid wings beat, causing vibrations which loosen the pollen from the plant. As the pollen loosens, it is gathered within the pollen brush of their rear legs.
Once pollen is gathered, the bee will collect the nectar from the flower by using its proboscis to essentially, suck the nectar from the plant as if through a straw protruding from its mouth.
Additionally, the bees must also collect water and will collect droplets from leaves or simply drink from tiny “puddles” of water found on plants or on the ground. Once collected, all the food is brought back to their gallery and stored in either the brood chambers for the young or the overwinter tunnels for the newly emerged adults.
Are Carpenter Bees Beneficial
Like all bees, carpenter bees help with plant pollination. Our food supplies depend on pollinators like the carpenter bee. In fact, it is important enough to the environment and human food sources, that a great deal of information is available regarding how to build carpenter bee homes from wood and wood scraps. These can be placed away from structures to lure the bees away from homes and buildings but also help preserve the species. This may not always be feasible but is strongly encouraged where it can be implemented. The extinction of carpenter bees could cause global chaos and plummeting food sources as we slowly begin to starve.
How To Identify Carpenter Bee Damage
Carpenter bee damage is unique in appearance compared to other wood destroying pest damage. Their entry holes which they form into the wood surface are around 1/2 inch in diameter. These will usually be spaced out and seemingly random. In some cases there will be a variety of holes found in wood members. Settled nests, active nests, nests under construction, abandoned holes and holes just being started can sometimes all be found close together, like those pictured.
As you can clearly see in the active hole (upper center and left), sawdust will be pushed toward the exit and then expelled as it builds up . This can cause sawdust piles beneath the holes (as seen on the ground). Finding sawdust where no wood has been cut or drilled should prompt homeowners to closely observe the area for any carpenter bee nesting holes.
Beneath some of the holes you can also see splatter. This is a mix of pollen and nectar which are dropped upon entry of the nest, and fecal stains. This is proof that a hole is active as well. If splatter is observed late summer, it’s from a bee which will overwinter. If observed in the spring, it’s from a nesting female.
The picture reveals only a small portion of one wall of a log cabin. Carpenter bees can cause this damage all over the surface of wood structures.
Additionally, it is clear from the picture that the cabin is in need of a fresh coat of sealer. Making sure to seal wood regularly can help reduce carpenter bee damages.
How to Safeley Prevent Carpenter Bees
When possible, it is always best to practice preventative pest control measures. Many insects are beneficial and their species needs to be preserved to maintain balance in the ecosystem. There are several ways to safely prevent carpenter bees.
Replace or Cover Exposed Wood
Replacing exposed softwoods with hardwoods is a great way to reduce carpenter bee damage to structures. They prefer the soft woods as they are ideal for tunneling and building their brood chambers. Cypress, pines, cedars and other soft woods are typically the common woods used in structures.
When exposed, most of these woods have a short life expectancy and are bombarded with an array of wood-damaging pests. With hardwoods, the damaging pests are fewer and less extensive. Many of the hardwoods have a better resistance to both insects and weather but are costlier and less available for building.
On top of that, wood can be covered instead of left exposed. This can be done by means of plastic, metal, fiberglass, poly materials and even paints and sealants. Although many woods are beautiful when exposed, left untreated, most are at risk for insect damage.
Caulking and Seals
Carpenter bees will attack woods that may not be visible but are still exposed. They can enter cracks and crevices between non-wood substances to access the woods hidden beneath or above. For instance, entering a covered front porch through s crack or crevice in the soffit or siding will allow them access to the entire attic.
In cases where no visible exposed wood exists, but carpenter bees are present, searching for and sealing cracks and crevices with a caulking or other sealant material can reduce access and damage to hidden wood members.
Some people report using deterrent devices which are designed to mimick the look of a bald-faced hornet nest. Even resulting to the use of brown paper bags has shown some results. While this DIY deterrent may work in some situations, it is by no means a solid method with perfect or even consistent results. There is no harm in giving it a try and hoping it is successful. Several devices designed to deter carpenter bees are manufactured and can be purchased in stores or online.
Filling Old Carpenter Bee Holes
If damages have already occurred, filling the old holes with a wood filler or caulking can help reduce infestations. This should be done during the fall after the eggs have hatched and emerged, but before the adults begin overwintering. If the bees are inside the galleries, they can simply bore their way back out. Sealing while they are active will garner the best results.
While this is not a full-proof deterrent, it will aid in lowering the infestation and can be coupled with one or more other prevention methods to possibly create a carpenter bee-free zone.
Pest Control Treatments
While DIY methods on carpenter bees are dangerous, professional help can be beneficial in reducing structure damage. Carpenter bee tratments require a special knowledge and methods be used to properly eliminate the pest. This will generally also require the use of insecticides above-head. Proper PPE and safety measures must be followed to reduce pesticide exposure and possible poisoning. That’s why carpenter bee insecticide treatments are best left to professionals.
When To Treat
It’s best to treat at first sight of carpenter bees. Early spring is when they first emerge from their overwintering. Preventing them from mating and laying eggs is the goal. To prevent carpenter bees, sealing up gallery entrances can be performed before or after a treatment is made. Galleries should not be sealed when bees are actively working inside them. They will only tunnel their way back out and continue damages.
The goal is to stop damage to wood so the treatment timing is crucial. Stopping them before they are able to lay their eggs prevents them from completing the life cycle. Interrupting the life cycle can reduce their returning numbers the following year. Usually after two treatments one year apart, the reduction is nearly 100%. From here, it can take a few to several years before you might notice them again.
What can Four Seasons Pest Solutions Do For You?
Here at Four Seasons Pest Solutions, we have been providing successful carpenter bee management for decades. Our strategies, methods and treatment protocols have proven effective and long-lasting.
Whether it’s a cabin, barn, overhead deck, railing, facia board, fence or other exposed wood, Four Seasons Pest Solutions is you go-to source for carpenter bee control in Somerset, Kentucky and anywhere within a 2-hour drive. Our territory stretches from Louisville, KY to Knoxville, TN and from Bowling Green, KY to the Eastern KY border.
Give us a call and we can tackle your most difficult pest challenges, including carpenter bees.
Remember, it’s okay to live among pests… but you don’t have to live with them!
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