Much to the dismay of homeowners across the globe, carpenter bee damage can be a serious problem.
The carpenter bee is a large, black and yellow bee that is often mistaken for a bumblebee. They get their name because they burrow into wood to make their nests. Although they are generally harmless to people as they are unaggressive, carpenter bees damage untreated wood structures by boring holes in it to create the nests they use to lay their eggs.
While they are not a traditionally dangerous pest like wasps or termites, they can cause serious trouble for homeowners if left unchecked.
In this article, we will go over crucial information about these bees, the damage they cause, and how to deal with them if you have an infestation.
If you’re having issues with carpenter bees, proof. pest control is here to help. Using cutting-edge, organic techniques, we are equipped to deal with any pest, any time. Contact us today for a free consultation.
Characteristics & Behavior of the Carpenter Bee
What do Carpenter Bees Look Like?
Carpenter bees are black and yellow, with a shiny abdomen. They have bare, black heads, and their thorax (midsection) is covered in short, yellow hair. You will often see them bumping into each other while flying.
They do not have queens or worker classes, as they are a primarily individualistic species. As such, you won’t find carpenter bee hives like you would honey bees or wasps.
Where do Carpenter Bees Live?
Carpenter bees are the largest species of bee native to North America. They are most prevalent in the US in Southern states from Arizona to Florida, as well as on the East coast up to Southern Maine.
In the wild, they can typically be found in rotten wood near fields or anywhere else you may find trees and flowering plants. These bees are most active during the brightest hours of the day, from late morning until early evening. They typically do not nest much higher than 20 ft above the ground, as their young need easy access to flowers and vegetables that grow on the ground.
How are Male and Female Carpenter Bees Different?
Females lay up to 6 to 10 eggs in their lifetimes, in stark contrast to most other insects that can make dozens or even thousands of eggs in their lifetimes. The females can live to be up to three years old, and can usually produce two generations per season. The males only live for about one year, and typically die off in late Fall after fertilizing enough nests.
The females typically stay close to the nest, and are protective of the holes they burrow. They do have stingers, so keep your hands to yourself around carpenter bee nests.
Fortunately, this also means that it will take a while for a serious infestation to grow. If you see two or three carpenter bees in Spring, you can expect a few baby bees to show up not long after, but they do not spread as quickly as other pests like termites or rats.
Males also tend to “dive bomb” human faces, but don’t worry. Males do not have stingers and are completely harmless when they come into direct contact with humans. When they hover around your face, they’re simply exploring, as they are drawn to moving people and animals.
Do Carpenter Bees Make Honey?
Carpenter bees do not make honey and behave much differently from honey bees. Honey bees are a communal species with queens, worker classes and hives, whereas carpenter bees are largely individualistic, living in small family units.
While you wouldn’t keep carpenter bees like you would honey bees, some people intentionally house them by gardens. They are excellent pollinators and valuable members of garden ecosystems.
Feeding on nectar and pollen from flowers and vegetables, carpenter bees are “generalists” that will feed on and pollinate any plant that flowers. They pollinate flowers through intense vibrations (hence the buzzing). According to the US Forest Service, they are excellent pollinators of tomatoes, eggplants, and other flowering vegetables.
What are the Different Species of Carpenter Bee?
In North America, there are two significant species of carpenter bee: Xylocopa and Ceratina. Xylocopa, or the large carpenter bee, measures in at 12-25mm in length, which often causes it to get mistaken for bumble bees. They have yellow hairs, and a reflective, almost metallic-looking exoskeleton.
The small carpenter bee, Ceratina, is typically less than 8mm long. Ceratina typically has less body hair, so they’re usually less yellow and more reflective than the large variant. This species is more concentrated in Mexico and the American South than its larger counterpart Xylocopa.
There are dozens of different species of carpenter bees that can be found on nearly every continent. However, they are typically consistent in behavior. No need to be an entomologist to know what to do when you’ve got a carpenter bee infestation.
These bees are generally peaceful and can be quite cute, but the damage they can inflict on wooden structures can occasionally make them a serious nuisance to homeowners.
How to Identify Carpenter Bee Damage
Carpenter bees bore into unfinished, dry wood to make their nests. The most telltale sign of carpenter bee damage is circular holes that can range from the size of a pencil eraser up to the size of a penny.
Holes in Wooden Surfaces
These holes will be clean and smooth, with no sawdust or shavings around them. They will often use the sawdust from burrowing to create partitions in their nests. By mixing the sawdust with nectar and compressing it to make particle-board-like walls.
Carpenter bees are known to cause wood damage in doors, house siding, railings, fences, lawn furniture, and most commonly, decks. They prefer unfinished and unpainted wood, and they particularly like nesting in redwood, oak, and pine.
The damage they inflict upon unfinished wood can be ugly and encourage rot. This is especially problematic if they burrow into unfinished wood that acts as structural support, such as under decks or in barns.
Stains from Feces
It is also worth noting that their feces can leave yellowish-brown stains which can accumulate over time. These rather disgusting stains often leave chemical impressions on home surfaces that cannot be washed off, even with the toughest power washer.
The only solution for removing these stains is to paint over it or sand off the stained material. If you see small piles of yellow sludge on your deck, in your gutters, or on your window sills, there is a good chance that you may have a small carpenter bee infestation.
Encouraging Other Pests
Carpenter bee nests can attract woodpeckers, which can damage your home as they try to get to the nests. Carpenter bee nests can also attract other pests, such as wasps, hornets, or even termites who can use the holes as starting points for infestations. Because of these other pests, carpenter bee damage can be serious.
Damaging unfinished wood can be ugly and encourage rot. This is especially problematic if they burrow into unfinished wood that acts as structural support, such as under decks or in barns. Carpenter bee nests can also cause paint to peel and can create a mess on the outside of your home.
Are Carpenter Bees Dangerous?
Carpenter bees are not aggressive, and they will only sting humans if they are handled or squished. In fact, male carpenter bees do not have stingers, so they are virtually unable to harm people (at least directly). Avoid placing your hand near their nest holes, as that will almost certainly upset the mother bees enough to sting.
The main dangers that carpenter bees pose are their potential to cause structural damage to homes and other buildings. Their nests can weaken wooden beams, eaves, and rafters over time, which could lead to dangerous collapses
In addition, the sawdust and wood shavings they create while nesting can clog up ventilation systems. Homes and other buildings that are regularly treated for carpenter bees will be much less likely to suffer any damage. If you think you have a carpenter bee infestation, it is best to call a professional exterminator for a consultation.
How to Get Rid of Carpenter Bees
The Most Effective Way to Fill Carpenter Bee Holes
Ironically, the most sure-fire way to get rid of existing carpenter bee nests is to do some minor carpentry yourself. Filling their holes with more wood or plaster won’t work, as they can and will chew through it again. Metallic materials like steel wool and compressed tin foil are great to keep the bees out since they won’t chew on materials that they can’t ingest.
To fill bee holes, cut a piece of steel wool or rolled-up tin foil that is large enough to fill the entire entrance to the hole. Then, smooth over cracks with plaster. Remember, the plaster itself will not be enough to keep the bees out, as they will simply chew through it if you don’t use metal as the primary filler.
Once the plaster is dry, sand and refinish any wood surfaces that could be a problem. If the damaged wood is unpainted, consider painting, or applying a new coat of finish, as this will significantly help keep the bees away until it’s time for a new coat.
Be sure to use heavy gloves and consider a wearable insect repellent, as the bees may retaliate against you. To prevent this, try filling the holes while the bees are away during the day. Prioritize filling the holes as soon as you see them to keep them from laying eggs in the wood. If there are larvae or eggs in the hole, any present bees will be significantly more hostile than normal.
How to Prevent Carpenter Bee Damage
If carpenter bees become more of a problem for you year after year, it may be time to consider some maintenance work on the exterior of your home. This is especially relevant for homeowners with wooden decks or porches. With more surface area for bees to bore holes into and more exposure to the elements, an unfinished deck is basically an apartment complex for these pests.
On surfaces like decks and windowsills, some professionals recommend that you reseal and refinish every two years. However, that is definitely a big commitment for most people. You can prolong the finish of a deck by sweeping it regularly, rotating furniture, using synthetic mats or rugs, and washing it annually.
Repairing or removing any rotten wood on your property can help prevent not only carpenter bee infestations, but termites as well. It’s also just good practice for homeowners in general. Epoxy can be used to repair wood in situations where only a small percentage of the wood is damaged, but it can often be a more costly and less effective solution than just replacing the damaged wood.
If you’d like a deeper dive on the subject, check out this in-depth guide on how to repair rotten wood.
Another way to get rid of carpenter bees is to simply remove the wood they are nesting in and replace it with fresh wood. Depending on where the wood is located, it can be a cheap and effective way to solve the problem. However, this may not be possible if the wood is structural support for your home.
If you have a carpenter bee infestation, it is best to call a professional for a consultation to at least get an opinion on the matter.
Keeping Food Sources Away
Removing the carpenter bee’s food source is another way to get rid of them – if you remove or move their pollen and nectar sources, they’ll go somewhere else to find more. Avoid placing gardens near unfinished or old wood, or directly next to your house if there is wood in the windowsills or siding.
Bee Repellents and Sprays
Pesticides can be effective in the short term, but are not a great option to keep the bees away in the long term. Consumer-grade sprays can keep carpenter bees away for up to three weeks before wearing off, so you’ll need a lot of it to cover an area throughout the season. If you decide to use sprays, apply them over any area with untreated or degraded wood, and especially over any areas with holes.
Insecticide dust can be an effective way to make sure that the bees are cleared out, as it can be applied much deeper into the nests than the spray typically can. When deploying insecticide dust, be sure to wear a facemask so as to avoid breathing in the dust.
Vinegar can be a cheaper and more environmentally friendly alternative to sprays, but as you can imagine, it wears off even faster. However, avoid apple cider vinegar or wine-based vinegars. When these vinegars dry, they can leave behind sugar in its residue which will attract even more bees or other more dangerous pests like termites.
What are Carpenter Bees Attracted to?
Carpenter bees, like many insects, are attracted to sugars. If you’re hosting 4th of July parties, expect them to be flying around your guest’s soda and alcohol. Be sure not to leave food or beverages lying out in your yard, especially if you already have noticed bees nesting nearby.
Not only will this attract more bees to the area, but it will make the current population dig in even more. If they see a large amount of energy-rich foods, they will double down on their location and burrow further into their nests.
Flower and veggie gardens also attract carpenter bees. If you’re a fan of gardening, consider moving your garden further away from your home if these burrowing bees have been a problem for you historically. If you have enough yard space, keeping your garden a 20ft distance from your home can be enough to keep them from nesting in important places.
You might even find success by providing them with older wood to nest in close to the garden, if you’re willing to accept the risk of them expanding closer to your home.
Carpenter Bee Traps
DIY carpenter bee traps can be made out of materials you likely already have around your house. One common trap is to take a two-liter plastic bottle, cut the top off, and invert it over the hole so the bees can’t get back in. You can also make a funnel out of paper or cardboard and tape it over the hole. Pour some sugar water or juice in the bottle or funnel to bait the bees, and they’ll get stuck trying to get out. Check your traps every few days and dispose of any bees you find.
Premade traps are also sold online as well as at major hardware stores. These traps typically prioritize killing the bees with poisons inside, so be careful to check the label if you are interested in simply relocating the bees.
Vibrating carpenter bee traps are a new, more humane way to trap carpenter bees. The trap works by simulating the sound of a female carpenter bee’s mating call. When the male carpenter bee hears the call, he flies towards it and gets stuck in the trap. Carpenter bee traps should be placed near areas where you have seen damage.
Do Carpenter Bees Have Predators?
There are a few predators that may control the population naturally, depending on your region. One is a small wasp, Cerceris fumipennis, which parasitizes the eggs of carpenter bees. Another is a type of longhorn beetle, Prionus laticollis, which feeds on the larva and eggs of the carpenter bee.
However, these wasps are definitely more troublesome pests than carpenter bees, and should never be intentionally used as a solution to protect your house from damage. A suet feeder for woodpeckers could potentially scare them off, but you then run the risk of creating more damage from the birds trying to get to the bees.
Should You Kill Carpenter Bees or Relocate Them?
Bees of all different species have been declining in population worldwide at alarming rates for decades now. It’s no secret that this has caused some serious problems for ecosystems around the world. Even though the carpenter bee is not endangered, many environmentalists argue for conservation efforts to protect pollinators of all kinds in some form or another.
Carpenter bees currently have no sort of legal protection, so you won’t get a call from the EPA if you decide to have them exterminated at your house. Most legal protection surrounding bees involves honey bees and FDA regulations surrounding honey production.
There are pros and cons to both killing and relocating carpenter bees. Killing them off could potentially help your house from more damage, but it also eliminates a valuable member of the ecosystem. Relocating them carries its own risks, including the chance that they will start nesting closer to your home.
We think the best solution is to try and find a happy medium. If you have been having issues with carpenter bees damaging your house, try using some of the methods suggested in this article to try and relocate them. If they are still a problem after trying those methods, then consider killing them off. Remember that there are risks associated with both solutions.
Should I Use Insecticides for Carpenter Bees?
Insecticides such as Drione Dust can be extremely effective at eradicating carpenter bee populations, but should be saved for very serious infestations. Drione Dust can ma ke nests completely uninhabitable for not only the bees, but by other pests for up to three months per use. If you decide to use insecticides to curb your bee problems, we suggest consulting guides to make sure your usage is safe and efficient.
However, keep in mind, this chemical will make the area toxic for everything, including pets, children, and non-invasive wildlife like birds and honey bees. The dead carpenter bees will be toxic, and will eventually cause the toxins to enter the ecosystem through runoff or scavengers.
As such, most commercial insecticides are usually not the best solution for carpenter bees due to the low level of harm they cause in comparison to the environmental harms of using these chemicals.
We advise that you only use poisons when necessary for a few reasons. First, as we’ve mentioned before, they will kill other bees and animals that come into contact with the carcasses.
Second, many commercial insecticides are broad-spectrum, meaning they will kill any insects that come across it. This includes honey bees, solitary bees, bumble bees, and other non-pest pollinators that are essential to the health of our environment. If you’re looking for a solution for small scale carpenter bee problems, consider using an organic or non-toxic method.
Worst of all, insecticides can mix with the pollen from the flowers bees feed on. This can not only potentially ruin your garden, but damage the entire ecosystem around it.
If you’re having issues with carpenter bees, consider discussing organic and non-lethal removal options with a licensed pest control professional. proof. pest control offers organic pest removal options in seven states across the USA. If you need an eco-friendly solution to your bee problems, contact us for a free consultation.
How to Keep Carpenter Bees Away
Organic Bee Repellents
Bees hate acidic solutions like citrus oil and vinegar. Boiling lemon peels and spraying the solution into nests is a great way to scare bees off. Acidic solutions will not kill them, but they will avoid sprayed areas for a few days until either the wood absorbs it or precipitation washes the residue away.
As mentioned earlier, this can sometimes leave behind sugars that will embed into the unfinished wood, making it more tantalizing for other pests in the future. Use this method with caution, especially when spraying unfinished or unpainted wood.
Spraying bees with soapy water can kill them after a significant amount of exposure. The oils in most soaps will stick to them and can eventually cause suffocation. Spraying soapy water into holes will make them uninhabitable until the wood eventually absorbs the solution, and will likely kill any bees currently inside.
If you wish to kill a large amount of carpenter bees in one fell swoop, spraying their holes with soapy water after sunset is a good way to do that. However, this is admittedly not the most humane way to control them.
Bees Hate Noise!
Carpenter bees are known to avoid areas with prolonged noise pollution or loud noises that occur sporadically. Your neighbors might not appreciate it, but an air horn is an extremely effective way to get these bugs heading for the hills.
A more sustainable way to bother them is to play loud music near an open window on nice summer days. Bees will avoid boring new holes next to sources of noise. This strategy is best used in tandem with other methods.
Bee hotels are also a potential option, if you aren’t comfortable with killing the bees or want to have them near a garden for their pollination benefits. These structures provide a place for carpenter bees to nest without damaging wood. Building bee hotels can be a great DIY project for the family. If you’re interested, check out this comprehensive guideon building and managing bee hotels.
Are Carpenter Bees Pests?
Carpenter bees can be an incredible asset for the natural ecosystems they are a part of. These bees are incredible at pollination; if they live near your garden, you can expect a more healthy ecosystem. They don’t sting, and are non-aggressive when compared to more obvious pests like wasps.
However, if you have a lot of carpenter bees living near your house, they can do some significant long-term damage. If there are too many, they’ll reproduce exponentially, and infestations can get out of hand if they aren’t managed proactively. Since they live for several years and gradually expand their nests, the problem can become worse over time if you neglect the issue.
They burrow into wood to make their nests, and can end up making a lot of holes in the process. Over the years, this can weaken the structural integrity of your home or deck, as well as attract other pests that may want to take advantage of damaged areas.
Additionally, if you have a lot of bees living nearby, they will create a buildup of fecal matter that will stain gutters, window sills, and any wood near your home. It can eventually become unsanitary, becoming hazardous for pets and attracting flies.
It’s safe to say that most homeowners will not want carpenter bees nesting in the exteriors of their home for these reasons. Despite their positive effects on the environment, it’s best to make an effort to prevent carpenter bee infestations. By maintaining wooden surfaces, keeping their sources of food away from the house, and by filling nests as they appear, you can prevent carpenter bee damage in your home.
If you are having trouble keeping bugs away from your home, sometimes your best choice is to call the professionals. Here at proof pest control, we have the tools and skills necessary to protect your home from any pest issue. Click here to schedule a free consultation, and protect your home from damage today!