What is a Carpenter Bee?

the tropical carpenter bee, Xylocopa latipes, sits on wood, macro view

When most people think of bees, they think of honey bees, or perhaps bumble bees. But have you ever seen a carpenter bee?

There are, surprisingly, over 16,000 species of bees in the world. These species are divided into seven families of bees. Many of these bees, like honey bees, live in colonies that can grow quite large.

However, some species of bees, like the carpenter bee, live alone. If you have seen a lone bee that seems extremely large flying around, it might be a carpenter bee.

At Environmental Pest Management we take care of any bugs or creatures that are pestering you. Call us today for a free quote and start the process of getting your home pest-free.

carpenter bee

What is a Carpenter Bee?

A carpenter bee gets its name from the fact that it burrows and lives in the wood, similar to termites. Carpenter bees will tunnel into the wood, either on your house, deck, or outdoor furniture.

Carpenter bees, though they may be a nuisance, are vital pollinators. They help farmers immensely by pollinating a wide variety of plants. We should do what we can to help bees.

Many people who have seen a carpenter bee flying around notice that they are large. However, they actually come in two sizes. The large carpenter bees are Xylocopa, and the small carpenter bees are Ceratina.

The larger species, Xylocopa, are the ones associated with damage to homes and buildings. 

Larger carpenter bees can range in size from one-half inch to one inch long. If you didn’t know better, you might see a large carpenter bee and think it is a bumblebee. However, large carpenter bees have less hair than bumblebees.

Small carpenter bees are around one-quarter of an inch long. Both large and small carpenter bees have metallic coloring on their bodies with some body hair on their legs and abdomen. The males will have some yellow sections as well.

Carpenter bees tunnel through wood but do not eat it. Just like most other species of bees  they eat pollen and nectar.

Galleries

For large carpenter bees to make their galleries or homes, bees undergo a long and very intensive process. Many female carpenter bees choose to inhabit a nest that has already been built because of the work required. Carpenter bees can add a foot or two of a new tunnel each year.

The design of carpenter bee galleries is remarkably similar. A female will create an entrance that is about ½ of an inch wide then bore straight into the wood for one or two inches. Then, she will make a right and create a tunnel from four to eight inches.

From this tunnel, she will create different rooms or cells in rows. She will then lay an egg with a food ball and block the chamber with wood pulp; the female will then die. Her eggs will hatch and feed on the food left for them and grow.

Small carpenter bees prefer branches and twigs for their nests, rather than homes or furniture. However, they do tunnel and create rooms for eggs similar to large carpenter bees.

Life Cycle

There are four stages in a bee’s life. They begin life as an egg, hatch into a larva, grow into a pupa, then become an adult.  Depending on location and climate, how fast they progress through these stages varies.

New adults will leave their nest in April or May and feed on pollen and nectar throughout the spring and summer. When the weather gets cold, they will return to their gallery for the winter. 

Interestingly, some smaller carpenter bees can reproduce without a male.

a Carpenter bee drill acacia tree branch making the nest.

Are Carpenter Bees Dangerous?

Large carpenter bees look scary. They are large, hover around decks and homes, and make a lot of noise. Females do have a stinger but typically only sting when they feel threatened or have been provoked. There are very few instances of female carpenter bees stinging humans.

Males may seem more aggressive but do not have a stinger. They dart around defending a nest from pests or other bugs. 

The biggest threat with carpenter bees is that they tunnel or burrow into wood for their galleries. They prefer plain, unfinished wood. However, their galleries can become quite large and eventually can affect the integrity of your home or furniture.

Large carpenter bees will choose doors, windowsills, railings, decks, poles, roof eaves, shingles, fences, or outdoor furniture for their home.

A female carpenter bee (Xylocopa sp.) chewing into underside of table to excavate tunnel for laying her eggs.

How to Get Rid of Carpenter Bees

There are a few things to look for if you think you might have a carpenter bee problem. 

  • The Carpenter Bee Itself. Carpenter bees are quite large and they are hard to miss as they fly around the outside of your home. In the late spring and summer you will see them coming in and out with regularity.
  • Gallery Opening. This one-half inch opening is about the size of their body.
  • Sawdust. Sawdust will fall out of their gallery as they are boring new tunnels. Check for a small pile near a small opening.
  • Plant Residue or Poop. You might notice a yellow coloring from pollen or nectar left around the hole as well as brownish coloring from their feces.

Thankfully, carpenter bees are solitary. If you have one  you can rest easy knowing there isn’t a large colony to deal with.

Carpenter bees prefer plain wood free of paint, stain, or finish. In many cases, a simple coat of paint or stain will keep them away. If you notice these bees around your deck or patio furniture, an afternoon or weekend of painting will likely solve the problem.

However, if they have chosen the wood on your home for their gallery, the process of getting rid of carpenter bees is a bit more complicated. 

Make sure to keep your doors and windows closed, especially during the spring and summer months to deter carpenter bees. Examine the outside of your home and seal or caulk any gaps or openings you find.

Xylocopa violacea, the violet carpenter bee on white fabaceae flowers

Call Environmental Pest Management Today

The best thing you can do if you see a carpenter bee is to call a professional. At Environmental Pest Management, we will come to your home and give you a free quote before any work is done. We use environmentally friendly and safe products, so you don’t have to worry about your family.

Call Environmental Pest Management today.

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