Carpenter Bees

Carpenter bees belong to the bee family ‘Apidae’, although they were originally classified with the family ‘Anthophoridae’. (You can read more about the families of the different types of bees here ). They also belong to the genus Xylocopa, and to the insect order ‘Hymenoptera’.


Nesting Habits

Not surprisingly, these bees get their name because they are known to make their nests by boring holes in wood.

They then use small amounts of wood chips to form partitions between the cells in which they lay their eggs. Small amounts of sawdust may be visible around nest sites, although old nest tunnels may be used.


Although they are solitary, with some species, females may live alongside their own sisters or daughters, thus forming a basic social group.


This particular species pictured left is Xylocopa violacea, is generally found in southern Europe, although it has recently been discovered in the UK.  I have read that this species lays the largest egg of any insect!

I took the photograph above whilst on holiday in Italy.

I had seen several of them foraging among the flowers (they’re good pollinators), and was eventually lucky enough to see one whilst I had my camera with me.


Do Carpenter Bees Sting?

Like other species, they will sting only if provoked, and are mostly interested in foraging and going about their business. (Learn more about bee stings and treatments here).

Males cannot sting.  However, they are territorial, and it can come as a bit of a surprise if they seemingly fly at you!  They seem to be attracted to you the more you waft your arms around.

However, they cannot harm you in any way. The females are able to sting, but like bumblebees they are docile, and will rarely do so.


Carpenter Bee Lifecycle

They emerge from hibernation in the spring, around April or May. They overwinter as adults in wood within abandoned nest tunnels.

By late spring or early summer, you may see them hovering around searching for mates and suitable nesting sites. After mating, the fertilized females excavate tunnels in wood.

As with some other solitary bees, the female constructs the nest alone. She lays her eggs within a series of small cells, each supplied with a ball of pollen on which the larvae feed. The larvae emerge as adults in late summer, and hibernate until the following year.


Do I Need To Get Rid Of Them?

Some people are keen to get rid of these bees if they discover they have them, however, these types of bees do not always cause significant damage, although some species may cause damage.

Carpenter bees are more inclined to make their nests in rotting old or damaged wood. This can lead people to believe it is the bees themselves who have caused the damage, but very often it will be a sign that the wood needs to be replaced in any case.

However, they may also target soft wood.  If concerned, it is better to check carefully and take steps if necessary (see my advice to a reader below).

Bees are excellent pollinators of flowers and plants. It is better to engage in preventative carpenter bee control, rather than using pesticides or trying to kill carpenter bees.  Always maintain woodwork, keep it well painted and in good condition. These bees are not out to make work for themselves by selecting hard, painted wood that will be more difficult for them to bore into.


A Request For Advice

I received an email message via my contact form, asking the following question.  I thought I would share it, because certain carpenter bees are often mistaken for bumblebees, and I felt the advice and insight might be interesting for other visitors.  Thank you to Lisa for allowing me to publish her query:

From Lisa, USA:

"I am fascinated by what my husband calls a worker bumble bee.

Every spring when the bees come out to play, a bumblebee hangs out by my deck.

I swear he comes when I call. He guards the deck from any other insect including other bumble bees. He chases them away.

I will often go to the door and say "hello bee" and he will come to the door and hover as if listening to me. I know that all this is coincidence, but I like to think he can hear me.

As soon as anyone goes on the deck, its like he is hanging out with us, keeping guard.

I love having him, but what is he actually doing? Right now I have not put any plants out and he is already here for a couple of days. Thank you".

My response to the query above was as follows:

"Dear Lisa

From the behaviour you describe, it sounds like you have carpenter bees rather than bumblebees.  Some carpenter bees do indeed look like bumblebees, in that they are quite ‘roundish’ in appearance.  Males bees are very protective of the nest, chasing off insects, and investigating human ‘trespassers’!  

Indeed, in a sense, when you call ‘hello bee’ from your door, he is indeed ‘hearing you’ – by that, I mean that he is probably picking up the vibrations and investigating the intrusion accordingly, to see if there is a threat to the nest.  So in fact, there is no coincidence here, and you are not imagining things, and yes he is seeminlgy ‘hanging out’ with you and ‘keeping guard’ to ensure you don’t harm the nest. 

However, all this is bravado on his part.  Male carpenter bees (just like other male bees) cannot sting.  They are completely harmless.

Another alternative is that you have a male carpenter bee prospecting for a mate, having found an ideal nest site.  Anyone/anything is chased off, until a potential sweetheart arrives on the scene! 

Bumblebees do not (as far as I am aware) exhibit this kind of behaviour in defending nests.  Worker females (all workers are female) do defend the nest, but from inside it.  For this reason, dead bees may sometimes be found outside a bumblebee nest entrance, following a conflict within the nest (followed by some tidying up and clearing out!).

For your information, some carpenter bee species can, over time, cause some damage to woodwork.  If the woodwork is crucial, I suggest you keep it painted and well maintained to deter them, because they prefer soft and old, untreated wood.  Try to locate the nest if you believe you have one, and examine it to see if it is causing damage (it is the females that do the burrowing and nest building).  If there is damage, but the wood is not important, then it is nothing to worry about – or you may wish to relocate the piece of wood if you can, a little further from the house at the end of the year, if you are concerned.

 

Here is a brochure you may like - it has information about several bee types, including carpenter bees.

I hope this helps."


If you have a similar situation, I recommend the following steps to locate the nest and/or protect structures, such as the timber structures of a home:

1. Are there any areas that could be soft or rotten or unpainted?  These are the preferred areas where carpenter bees prefer to nest, so I would check these first. 

2. Second, check the eaves of the house.

3. If there is no sign, simply go through checking any vital structures you would be concerned about.  If you know these are safe, you will have some peace of mind.  It could be something not to worry about - such as the leg of an old garden chair, or old wooden box that you can move away.

4. Look out for other bees of the same species and watch where they land.

5. I do recommend you also treat your wood, especially if you live in an area with carpenter bees. You might come across the nest in this way.  Prioritize any soft/untreated/old wood, and important structures.  If you come across a worrying problem, then if you can, remove the piece of wood and replace it entirely - this is the best if you can do it.  Take the wood away from your home.  If this is not possible, you may have to block the holes with caulk if you fear serious damage to vulnerable structures.  If there is nothing to worry about, you can leave the carpenter bees alone.  Not all species cause problems.  Some of these species prefer to make their nests in hollow twigs.

6. You could also try a repellant, a natural one that is free of DEET - or one that contains Picardin, to deter future nests.






There's more information about solitary bees on these links:

Find out about charming little mason bees.


You'll find information about mining bees here.


Learn about enchanting little leafcutter bees.


Other links of interest:

Honey bees are amazing. Find out more!


And bumblebees are beautiful! Here they are.


But all bees need our help. Here's why.........


......And here's what we can do about it.


Link back from Carpenter Bees to Home page.


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