Carpenter bees are very interesting insects with a unique set of behaviors.  They are excellent polinators of plants but they can also be a nuisance, especially if you have a large colony in your garden or in your backyard.  This article discusses some of the special traits unique to carpenter bees, how to determine if you have an infestation, and what steps to take to get rid of them from your home.

Unique Characteristics

Carpenter bees get their name because they dig into exposed pieces of wood to build their nest.  Contrary to popular belief, carpenter bees do not eat the wood like termites.  Rather, they rely on pollen and nectar from nearby plants as a food source for themselves and their young. 

In addition to child-rearing, the female carpenter bees are also responsible for digging the elaborate nest that these insects are most known for.  The female will initially dig an entrance hole that’s ½” to 1” wide.  From there, they dig a connecting tunnel that’s 5-6” long in another direction for added protection.  This process will take approximately one week to complete and consumes a lot of energy.  For that reason, carpenter bees will generally prefer to use existing holes or nest as oppose to building a new one to conserve their energy. 

Carpenter Bee Warning Signs

There are several signs to be aware of if you believe that you have a carpenter bee infestation.  The most obvious sign are the circular holes that these insects create.  They’ve been known to create their nest in several places including fence post, mailboxes, and lawn furniture.  There's a chance that they may also colonize hidden or unexposed areas so you may have trouble locating their nest.  If that’s the case, you can also look for wood shavings on the ground.  These shavings are from the circular holes they create so if you find these then their nest should be close.  Lastly, look for any yellowish streaks around your wooden structures.  Carpenter bees will release their waste prior to entering their nest so you will often see yellowish streaks just below the entrance.   

Case of Mistaken Identity

Because their look very similar to bumblebees, there is usually some fear associated with carpenter bees.  Carpenter bees, however, are not as aggressive and the chances of getting stung from these insects are low compared to bumblebees.  The male carpenter bees do not have stingers so they pose no threat to humans.  Their main defense mechanism is to perform “dive bombs” near the head or body of anyone who gets too close to their nest.  But, as I mentioned, they have no stingers so this is mainly just for show.  The female carpenter bees, on the other hand, do have stingers and will sting someone if they’re provoked.  However, they spend most of their time inside the nest and have been known to sting only when they are held in someone’s hands. 

The best way to differentiate carpenter bees and bumble bees is to look for the previously mentioned carpenter bee warning signs.  If you have some large bees hovering around a circular shaped hole then it's most likely a carpenter bee.  There's also some physical differences between the two.  Bumblebees have yellow and black hairs on their stomach while carpenter bees have a black and shiny stomach with no hairs. 

How to Get Rid of Carpenter Bees

If you've developed a carpenter bee problem, you always have the option of calling a pest control expert and they can take of the problem for you.  However, if you're more of a do-it-yourself type of person or you don't want to spend the money to hire an exterminator, there are things that you can purchase from your local home improvement center that can help. 

Carpenter bee sprays and traps are two effective methods methods for dealing with an infestation.  Carpenter bee sprays kill on contact and you can spray up to 20 feet away from the nest for added protection.  In addition, the insecticide stays active for several days so any carpenter bees that return to the nest will also be killed. Carpenter bee traps are usually box-shaped with a nesting hole similar to the ones that carpenter bees make.  These traps are successful because they take advantage of carpenter bee's tendency to use pre-existing nesting holes, rather waste their energy to create a new one.  The hole leads to a container that's coated with a residue that prevents the bees from escaping.  All you need to do is place the trap around the colony and empty the container when it starts to get full. 

There are also some extra steps you should take to prevent future generations of carpenter bees from colonizing in your house.  After you notice you notice a decline in carpenter bees, you should plug their nesting holes with wood putty or a plastic plug so that other bees won't be tempted to re-use them.  Just in case there's a few still living in these holes, you should do this activity at dusk or dawn since they're less active during this time.  Lastly, periodically apply a fresh coat of paint over all wood surfaces.  Carpenter bees will often avoid any painted surface so this acts as another layer of protection. 

More of a Nuisance Than a Threat

Overall, carpenter bees are not as dangerous as their bumble bee counterparts.  They rarely sting humans and the chances of structural damage from their nesting hole is minimal (unless of course you have hundreds of them returning year after year.)  In fact, carpenter bees are excellent pollinators and some people actually put pieces of wood in their yard in hopes of attracting a few of them into their garden.  The downside, however, is that their dive-bombs may make it hard for your enjoy your time in the backyard and their nestings holes can make your wall or mail box look unsightly.  If you've grown tired of them,  the solutions mentioned in this article will help you to finally get rid of carpenter bees and regain control of yard.