Carpenter Bees are Friends, Not Foes

 

When my children were young, they were terrified of carpenter bees. I can see how these creatures would appear malicious to young children. As far as bugs go, they are pretty darn big. They make a loud buzzing noise that is fairly scary sounding. Plus, they tend to hover around in close proximity to people’s heads.

I do remember one particular spring afternoon many years ago when my wife tried to send the kids out to play, and they refused to go. They were straight up mortified of the carpenter bees that were flying outside the back door that lead to our deck. When I insisted that the bees were not harmful, my son protested that the bees would “dive bomb” him every time he went outside. (I suppose that even if your dad tells you the bees won’t hurt you, the idea of being dive bombed by a very big bee is still scary.)

The thing about carpenter bees is that their bark is definitely worse than their bite. Because they are so large and make a loud buzzing noise, they appear rather intimidating. But the male carpenter bees don’t even have stingers, so they literally cannot hurt you at all. The females do have stingers, but they won’t sting unless they are seriously provoked. (As in roughly handling them.)

Carpenter bees are also frequently mistaken for bumble bees. The difference is that the behind of a bumble bee is striped with yellow and black, and very fuzzy like the rest of its body. The carpenter bee has a fuzzy body, but its behind is black and glossy, not fuzzy. Neither carpenter bees nor bumble bees produce honey.

The bees that hover around your back deck or front porch are probably the harmless male carpenter bees. This is because pretty much all the females do is burrow a hole into a piece of wood to make their nests and lay eggs. Then, the males chill out in the general vicinity outside the nest to protect it. So when my son said that he was being dive bombed by the bees, well, he was probably right. This was the male bees’ attempt to keep my son away from their nests. The male bees do the same thing to other bugs.

Recently, I found a forum online about carpenter bees in which a woman suggested swatting them with a tennis racket to get them to go away. This seemed like a darn shame to me. Bees are one of our number one gardening friends! Yes, carpenter bees are large and might bump into you, but they’re not going to hurt you.

Now one thing that you should look out for is this: make sure that the females are not creating their nests in your wooden siding. They are capable of channeling tunnels into wood, and seriously weakening it over time. If your wooden siding is painted with pigmented paint, you’re golden. The carpenter bees cannot tunnel through this. If your house is painted with wood stain, they can burrow through this, and you’ll want to keep an eye out. The holes that carpenter bees drill are pretty perfect- hence their name. If they’re drilling into your siding you’ll notice holes that go with the grain and can extend as long as a foot or so. Below is a picture of some holes from carpenter bees. See how perfectly round they are?

One of the best ways I have found to handle carpenter bees is to actually attract them, rather than swat them away. The key is to draw them to a spot a ways apart from your house. This way they won’t hover around your front and back door so much. Every year I pound some stakes of soft, untreated wood into my garden. This is paradise for carpenter bees. Plus, it gets them away from my home, and into my garden where they can stay busy at work pollinating all of my flowers. They’re friendly, harmless, and work for me.

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11 comments so far

  1. Eiglas on

    Super article! It’s a shame peeps don’t find out more about our buzzy friends.

  2. Gerald Rosenthal on

    i WOULD LIKE TO USE YOUR IMAGE OF A CARPENTER BEE IN A BOOK I AM WRITING ON THE SONORAN DESERT. IS THIS POSSIBLE? tHANKS.

    • nogmoseedbank on

      Hi Gerald. I found this image at the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture website, and the credit goes to J.K. Barnes. So unfortunately I can’t give you permission to re-print it. If you’d like, you can contact the university. Their contact info is at the bottom of the page here: http://www.uark.edu/ua/arthmuse/carpbee.html

  3. Mark on

    I am trying to relocate some Carpenter Bees that have drilled into the undeside of my roof overhang. What I want to do is capture the Carpenter Bees just long enough so that I can seal off the damage they unintentionally did to the underside of my roof and then let them out of the Bee hutch. I built a 5 foot High, by five foot long, 2 1/2 feet wide bee hutch with screen door mesh to temporarily hold the bees until I’m done with the repairs and let them go. I put on the underside of the the roof of the bee hutch a bunch of boards with holes drilled into them to make the bees comfortable (like their own burrows) while I do the work repairing the Damage to my home.
    The question is, what can I feed the bees while their waiting in the bee hutch. The Carpenter Bees are easy to catch, and I don’t want to harm them, I just want to temporarily keep them in the bee hutch I built. If I put a bunch of live flowers on the floor of the hutch, would they be able to feed from the nectar of the flowers, and what kind of live flowers should I put in with them, or what else could I feed them. I’m hoping that maybe they might like to make the Bee hutch I built their new home so they would have a place to live instead of under the roof overhang of my home. Eventually, I think I could leave the door open on the bee hutch and they might stay in it as their new base of operations. Any advice would be appreciated, thanks.

  4. Mark on

    I just wanted to add that I’m very gentle when I captured them, I have two plastic containers that are about 8 inches long, 7 wide, 5 inches deep and I catch them by closing the two halves together. I had just tried that to see how it worked out and let the Carpenter Bee go, so I haven’t started yet. The Temporary bee hutch has boards on the roof of it made out of 4 x 4’s with holes about 3/4 wide drilled into them about half an inch vertically, with a bore going sideways 3 to 4 inches so that when I transfer the Carpenter Bees there they will feel at home. I really like the Carpenter Bees and I think I can transfer them temporarily so I can make the repairs on the roof overhang of my home so they don’t go in there again. You mentioned they can’t bore through painted surfaces so that is what I will be doing repairing my roof when they are in the Temporary Bee hutch I built then they won’t be able to bore into the roof of my home again once they go out of the bee hutch again. Can you buy bee nectar to feed them? Anyway, just waiting for your advice on all of this.

    • nogmoseedbank on

      Wow, Mark. This sounds like quite an undertaking. I must say that I am impressed- especially that you are taking teh care to treat the bees well and not harm them. It is my understanding that bees eat pollen in the spring and summer, when flowers are in bloom, and eat their own honey during the fall and winter when flowers are scarce. It is not clear to me whether they will eat honey that is not their own, but perhaps it would be worth a shot? I buy raw honey at my local Co- Op, and it is quite different from “normal” honey. It is extremely thick, almost like a paste, and comes in a little disk-shaped container, about the size of a hockey puck. Perhaps one of these opened and placed in your containers would keep them well fed. I know that some hummingbird feeders have bee guards, so this makes me think that they would eat hummingbird nectar or syrup as well. (You can buy this commercially or make your own by disolving regular white sugar in water.) Good luck to you, I hope your bee moving endeavor goes well!

  5. Mark on

    Hi nogmoseedbank, it was your website that inspired me to do something and get in contact with anyone I could reach to learn as much as I can about Carpenter Bees and thanks for telling me about the raw honey.

    I just wanted to forward this letter of correspondance with Eric Mader who is the Assistant Pollinator Program Director from Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation in Portland, Oregon.

    Hi Eric, thanks so much for your response, I just have a few very short follow up questions underlined in your original email response below

    Eric Mader wrote:

    > Hi Mark,
    >
    > Thanks for contacting us about your carpenter bee issues, and thanks for your thoughtful approach in dealing with them!
    >
    > I have a couple of specific ideas for you. First, for feeding, you can provide them with a honey-water mixture (1:1) while they are inside the enclosure, which should keep them very full and happy until they can get out and visit real flowers again. A fairly easy way to feed them the honey-water solution is to simply put it in a colorful bowl (blue or yellow would be great), and to add a few flower petals or whole flowers to the surface of the mixture, both to keep the bees from drowning while feeding, and to help attract them to the food.

    Mark responded: That’s Great, I’ll follow your instructions verbatim! There is plenty of room on the floor which is a plywood floor(with screening over it) to put a dozen or so real flowering plants in the enclosure, so what type of live flowering plants would be the best to put in there? If I put rasberries in there bought from the store would they like that too?

    >
    > For capturing the bees, your jar method sounds great. If that doesn’t get them all, you might also try inserting the foot-end of a pair of panty hose into a vacuum cleaner nozzle, and vacuuming them up. If you have a few inches of slack in the panty hose, they will simply be netted inside the nozzle, allowing you to transfer them to the hutch.

    Great Idea, thanks!

    >
    > You are correct, by the way, having adequately painted surfaces will help discourage them from boring into your house. The idea of creating some wood block nests for them to use instead, and hanging them around your house and garden to observe and enjoy sounds like a fantastic way of dealing with them.
    >
    > Please send us pictures of your project, and best wishes!

    I will indeed send some photos

  6. Mark on

    I accidentally sent the post before finishing up a few more things I wanted to tell you…I’ve been saving emails, taking notes from your page and any other sources who are interested and knowledgable about Carpenter bees….there is a lady, Liz Day in Pennsylvania who has raised Carpenter Bees that I thought might be interesting to forward what she has done.

    I have decided to wait until next year to try any relocation because the C-Bees are getting settled for winter right now and it wouldn’t be a good time for them right now. There is no rush because I need to learn more about them & their life cycles, plus my C-Bee hutch has just been finished and it’ll be ready when I need it. I’ll send a photo of it too you -anyway, here is Liz Day’s experience in observing them.

    Hi Mark,

    Matthew Shepherd forwarded your email to me, because I have tried to raise carpenter bees.
    It is great to see someone looking to help our pollinators instead of kill them!

    I live in Indianapolis; am not sure where you live. The following has been my experience with these bees (Xylocopa virginica, the large eastern carpenter bee).

    I have tried to move them into glass-sided observation nests (with an opaque cover), and have corresponded with other people (mostly grad students) who’ve tried to raise them in plain wooden blocks of various kinds. Much of this effort was an attempt to find ways to raise and manage carpenter bees as pollinators.

    Neither I, nor most of the people I corresponded with, could get the bees to accept any of the human-made nesting structures. Occasionally it would work, but most of the time they would just leave. For some reason, virginica only want to inhabit tunnels that carpenter bees have dug themselves. It’s very frustrating. This is one of the reasons that carpenter bees aren’t widely managed as pollinators – they don’t “manage” very well!

    I did what you did – got nice thick pieces of redwood, drilled attractive starter holes in them, and imprisoned some bees in them while feeding them sugar water. The bees remained calmly in the holes and came down to drink the sugar water, provided in little tubes, every day for a week. As soon as I gave them access to the outdoors, they left and never returned.

    Other bees were removed from their original tunnels in winter, while they were dormant, and placed in new tunnels. Despite having broken dormancy inside the human-made nest, and thus presumably thinking it was their own, the bees all rejected it after about two weeks and departed. (Normally they don’t abandon a tunnel; it is inhabited by successive generations year-round.)

    This is remarkable behavior, considering that digging a tunnel is great labor for the female and wears down her jaws. Carpenter bees often fight over tunnels until the losers are pushed out. But apparently, they would rather dig their own than use anything we’ve made! Stubborn.

    • nogmoseedbank on

      Mark, thanks very much for passing on this excellent information from the experts. Capturing bees with a vaccuum? That is brilliant- I never would have thought of that. I hope that your bee relocation endeavors are going well. Again, thank you for taking the time to share this information.

  7. Bob on

    I recently encountered the large (probably male) carpenters bees swarming around my garage and deck lights at night (way after dark).

    Is this normal for them to swarm so late at night ?

    Do they swarm close to their nests ?

    Since I do not see any signs of nesting in the immediate adjacent area where they are swarming, how do I determine where they may be nesting ?

    Any help would be appreciated.

    • nogmoseedbank on

      Hi Bob. Thanks for reading my blog and for your comment. Please allow me to first say that I am not an expert on carpenter bees. My passion, and the topic of my blog, is survival gardening, of which bees play a critical role since they are pollinators. So I’d be happy to give you my opinion from my experience, but I would definitely suggest seeking some expert info from a local garden center or your cooperative extension. Personally, I have not heard of bees swarming late at night before, so I am not sure what their motivation for that would be. I would think that, if they are swarming, there must be a nest nearby, since they tend to swarm in order to protect the females. If you do not see any signs of holes burrowed in your house, then that is great. I would recommend checking the area underneath your deck, and under porch steps and in fence posts, if you have them. Carpenter bees tend to like these areas- areas that are made of soft wood. They can be tricky and like to squeeze into spots under eaves, too. Good luck with the mystery of the night bees, and best wishes to you.


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