Carpenter Bees

Carpenter Bee Graphic with tools During the spring, people often notice large, black bees hovering around the outside of their homes. These are likely to be carpenter bees, named for their habit of excavating holes in wood, in order to rear their young.

When you see a carpenter bee seemingly dive-bombing you, think twice about fleeing. You may consider these insects intimidating because of their huge size and loud buzz, but they’re actually very gentle and important pollinators in our environment. Unlike honey bees, they have no hives to protect. Carpenter bee females can sting in defense, but males, which may appear a bit more aggressive and territorial, cannot sting.

Carpenter bees (Xylocopa spp.) look like bumble bees. The females are solid black, but the males are golden-blond. The males are sometimes nicknamed “teddy bears” because of their soft, burly, and fuzzy appearance. They construct their nests in trees or in frame buildings. Most of the top of the abdomen of carpenter bees is without hairs and is shiny black in color. By contrast, the abdomen of bumblebees is fully clothed with hairs, many of them yellow in color. If you see a number of large bees hovering near the eaves of the house or drilling in wood, you have carpenter bees.

Life Cycle

Comparison of caroenter bee and bumble bee Young adult male and female bees hibernate in the tunnels during the winter. They mate in the spring and set about to clean out and enlarge the old tunnels or to excavate new ones as brood chambers for their young. Each chamber is provisioned with a portion of "bee bread", a mixture of pollen and regurgitated nectar, which serves as food for the larvae. An egg is deposited on the food supply and each chamber is sealed off. There are typically 6 to 8 chambers created by the female.

The larvae that hatch from the eggs complete their development and pupate. Hatching and maturation occurs over several weeks, with the pollen serving as a food source for the developing larvae. Later in the summer, the new generation of adult bees emerge and forage on flowers, returning to wood in the fall for hibernation

Carpenter bees nest in soft wood and pithy stems of plants. Nests usually consist of tunnels half of an inch in diameter and 6-to-10 inches deep and may include several brood chambers. Carpenter bees may buzz like saws when constructing nests (hence their name), but they do not eat the wood.

Economic Importance

Carpenter Bee anatomy Like other native bees, carpenter bees are important pollinators in native plant communities, gardens, and in some crops. As they visit flowers and feed on nectar, they pick up and transfer pollen. We depend on insect pollination for a third of our food, including fruits and vegetables, nuts (almonds) and seed crops. Insect pollinators such as honey bees contribute a value of around $29 billion to our agricultural industry with about 15 percent of this value coming from native bees like the carpenter bees. Insect pollinators are also important for pollinating wild plants, contributing a food source for birds and other wildlife.

So, before getting out your bottle of insecticide spray for controlling carpenter bees, or plugging their nesting holes, think again about their benefits.

Carpenter Bee Control Without Insecticides

Spray infested areas with a natural citrus spray. Cut up the rinds of several different citrus fruits (orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit) and boil them in a shallow pot filled with water. Fill a spray bottle with the citrus-extract water and spray the carpenter bee burrows with it

Apply almond oil or essence around the nest to repel bees. Like citrus spray, almond oil and almond essence is another tried and true option that repels carpenter bees. Place the oil around the nest and any visible bee holes to encourage the bees to leave and prevent future reinfestation.

Place a physical bee trap that will lure in and trap carpenter bees. A very non-invasive means of getting rid of your bee infestation is to buy a bee trap and place it near the area of infestation. The trap will attract carpenter bees and prevent them from escaping, thereby slowly reducing the population of bees infesting your home.

Use a tennis racket to kill carpenter bees when they're most active. In the spring, carpenter bees fly around looking for burrows to lay eggs and deposit pollen as food for the larvae. This means they are very active for 2-3 weeks. Use a badminton or tennis racket to effectively smack and kill carpenter bees.

Have a beekeeper relocate the bee nest if you don't want to kill them. If you want to get rid of your carpenter bee problem without killing them, your best bet is to contact a professional beekeeper and have them relocate the nest. You may have to pay them for this, but it will be better than having to kill a large number of bees.