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What are Carpenter Bees?

By J.Gunsch
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Carpenter bees (Xylocopa sp.) are very large, wood boring bees that become active in early spring. They range in size from 0.75 of an inch (1.9 cm) to 1 inch (2.5 cm) long and are about 0.5 inch (1.3 cm) in diameter. These bees have a yellow thorax and a black, shiny abdomen. They are often confused with their close relative the bumble bee; however, bumble bees have a fuzzy rather than a smooth abdomen.

In some areas, carpenter bees can become a problem, as they like to nest in houses or other domestic structures made of wood. Very adept drillers, the female bees quickly bore holes in wood siding, eaves and decks to lay their eggs. Nest sites are marked by very noticeable sawdust accumulation below their holes. The holes may appear to be superficial at about 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm) deep, but from this point, female bees make a 90° turn and burrow downward up to 4 feet (1.2 m).

Once the nest has been excavated, the female deposits her eggs and stuffs the hole with pollen for her offspring to eat when they hatch. Laying only one egg per nest, female carpenter bees may bore many different holes in close proximity to one another, which may exacerbate problems for homeowners.

Unlike most bee species, carpenter bees only travel in mating pairs. While the female is drilling her nest, the male acts as a guard. Males hover around the potential nest site, buzzing loudly and aggressively chasing any insects or other animals that come near.

Due to their size, male bees may seem very threatening, but they are in fact quite harmless because they do not have a stinger. Females do have a stinger and the ability to sting, but they are by nature very docile; she will only sting if she is handled or abused. Male bees attempt to scare people away, but when left alone they simply resume hovering around their nest. Carpenter bees are mostly concerned with predatory insects and usually ignore people and pets.

Carpenter bees are profuse pollinators and are therefore an important part of the ecosystem. Unless they are damaging one's home, they are not a threat to people. While they prefer raw wood over painted or stained wood, painting or staining won't necessarily make a home immune from attack. Commercial pesticides labeled for wasps and hornets also work to kill these bees when necessary. Perhaps the best method for prevention is treating the problem at its source, the nest, if possible.

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Discussion Comments
By anon945101 — On Apr 10, 2014

Spray the hole and plug with an expandable foam ear plug.

By anon258180 — On Mar 30, 2012

I ran a 4" deck screw into their blasted hole and really ticked off the pair. They tried like hell to get into that hole but try as they might, they couldn't get around the protruding screw. I didn't kill them; I just put a giant screw-shaped padlock on their front door and a notice that said "You're evicted!"

By anon156092 — On Feb 25, 2011

I just did some research online to find that the males can't sting, which is a relief. I was starring at one outside my front door, concerned that when I walked out, the stupid thing was going to sting the crap out of me. It's been hovering there for hours and looks pretty threatening. Now I'm going to walk outside and mock it for being a defective bee. Take that stupid bee!

No need to kill it, as my mocking will likely shame it into leaving me and my house alone. If it doesn't leave, at least I know that it's feeling bad about itself.

By anon92166 — On Jun 26, 2010

I have just relocated two teak Adirondack chairs to my home from about 50 miles north. The female came with, and the male was left behind. I understand he is still looking for the chair. I feel terrible - but I can't return the chair - I will not kill her, but even though I live in an area with lots of weathered wood, I have never seen carpenter bees here - am I spreading them? is this bad? I puttied up all the holes to prime and she dug them all out.

I respect this life form too much to attempt to harm her. I don't know if she is just waiting, or if there is a nest. She is huge - bigger than an inch and only comes out when I move these chairs. What can I do to facilitate cohabitation and enjoy my chairs?

By anon85453 — On May 20, 2010

Please leave these important pollinators alone! Are you aware that one in three bites of your food is insect pollinated? Educate yourselves, kids and neighbors. Try installing bee boxes for them to utilize instead of your homes. Leave dead trees for them to nest in. Without our native bees, we would not exist!

By anon84754 — On May 17, 2010

I have what I believe are carpenter bees burrowing in my tree out front. I hate to kill them, but I'm concerned about my tree, it is quite expensive. Any options to scare them off? SD

By anon75042 — On Apr 05, 2010

Carpenter bees are annoying, yes, and they frighten me terribly, but let's be rational. Unless they are severely damaging your home, leave them alone! They are children of the Earth, just like you.

The poor little bees are helping flowers bloom and fruit grow, since they pollinate so much. Keep the Rule of Three in mind for all things, people.

By anon31006 — On Apr 28, 2009

I was looking for our tennis racket to kill the male bee today. I was swinging at it with the broom but could not get a good swing with that. The bee just hovers over me and the kids every time I step outside. I know it won't sting us but it is still annoying. Our house is not even wood, it is vinyl siding, when will they realize there is no wood to burrow through?

By anon30910 — On Apr 26, 2009

There is no mention of WD-40! I just killed two females today when they entered their holes, I sprayed in some WD-40 and *bingo!* They backed out and died. For the males, I use a racket ball racket then smoosh the stunned boogers! They are a real bother and nuisance. I have no apology.

K

By anon13612 — On May 31, 2008

I would like to get rid of the carpenter bees that have burrowed into my porch for the past 2 years without killing them. I read somewhere that plugging the holes in late spring after the young had left may help and that almond oil can repel them, anyone know if these ideas are accurate?

By anon8571 — On Feb 16, 2008

Paint and stain will not prevent Carpenter Bees from boring into the wood. My Cedar home has been stained and is still attacked every spring. Will try Pesticides this spring.

By anon3389 — On Aug 27, 2007

The wood on the shed, the face board at the roof/eve is stained and I still have a carpenter bee nesting there (2 holes) although your article said that paint or stain would prevent this.

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