Chances are you’ve been buzzed by a large, intimidating-looking bee when working on the outside of your home. You may also have the telltale holes in your woodwork where these bees build their nests.
About Carpenter Bees
Carpenter bees are large black and yellow bees that resemble bumblebees. But while bumblebees are fuzzy all over; carpenter bees have a large, shiny, solid black abdomen.
While they may look scary, male carpenter bees – the ones most likely to dive-bomb your head with a whitish spot on their face – don’t even have stingers, and females generally won’t sting unless you aggravate them.
Carpenter bees get their names by the perfectly round, half-inch or so diameter holes that they drill in wood for their nests. In the spring, the bees emerge from their winter nests, mate, and set about building this year’s nest.
The female bee uses sharp teeth to excavate a perfectly round tunnel in soft wood, or she may choose instead to remodel an existing tunnel. She then lays her eggs in the tunnel, where they develop as her life cycle comes to an end.
In late summer, the new bees emerge to feed on plant nectar, then crawl back into their hole for the winter.
Carpenter Bee Damage
Carpenter bees prefer to excavate their nests in soft, unpainted wood – such as the back side of fascia boards, siding, window trim, and porch ceilings. They also bore into decks, outdoor furniture, fence posts, and swing sets. Softer woods – like pine, cedar, redwood, and cypress – are more attractive for nests while treated lumber and hardwoods are less inviting.
The holes typically go inward for about an inch, then the tunnel turns and follows the grain of the wood for about six more inches. The tunnel might branch into smaller ones that are shared by multiple bees.
In addition to tunnels, you might also find:
- Fresh sawdust outside the hole.
- Scraping sounds from inside the wood.
- Fan-shaped stains outside the openings.
If your infestation is limited to a tunnel or two, there’s nothing to worry about. Even though they technically do bore into wood, carpenter bees don’t systematically destroy a structure like termites or carpenter ants.
However, if the infestation is extensive or has been going on for years, the sheer number of tunnels can cause problems, including:
- Woodpeckers: Insect eating birds can be drawn to the enticing sounds of bee nesting and larvae, which can invite much more severe damage.
How to Prevent Carpenter Bee Damage
Here are some tips for making your home less attractive to carpenter bees:
- Fill Cracks: Before painting or sealing, fill all cracks, nail holes, divots, and splintered wood with caulking or putty; since these are attractive starting places for bees.
How to Deal with Carpenter Bees
If the bees are already at work on your home:
- Stay Alert: There’s no way to completely prevent or eliminate carpenter bees. But by taking these steps and staying alert to new activity, you can keep damage to a minimum.
- DIY Carpenter Bee Trap (article)
- Carpenter Bees (North Carolina State University)
- Carpenter Bees (University of California Integrated Pest Management)