Carpenter Bees: Getting rid, without harming them

Here are some ideas you can try if you'd like to get rid of carpenter bees without harming them. 

Also, prevention is better than cure, so take a look at my tips to help prevent future carpenter bee nests.

But firstly, a little more information about carpenter bees.

About Carpenter Bees And The Carpenter Bee Lifecycle

There are a number of different species of Carpenter Bees, but those most likely to cause you concern, tend to resemble bumble bees. In fact, bumble bees are social - they live in colonies, whereas carpenter bees are solitary.

They usually build nests in unpainted wood; old, rotten wood; or damp, soft wood – these nests are tunnels, in which larvae are reared. And note, they do not eat the wood, they merely excavate the tunnels.

As with all bee species, the carpenter bees life cycle has 4 key life stages : egg, larva, pupil and then adult.

Males and females will hibernate in the nest over winter, and emerge the following year. Future generations may expand the size of the nest, creating further tunnels in the wood, and it is these future generations that can weaken the wood if allowed to expand greatly.

Eastern Carpenter Bee - Xylocopa virginica foraging on pale pink flower blossoms.  It has a black or dark abdomen and pale ginger brown thorax.Carpenter bees are sometimes mistaken for bumble bees. Above: Eastern Carpenter Bee - Xylocopa virginica

It is important to put the situation in perspective – carpenter bees are rarely aggressive and stinging is unlikely to be a problem (only females can sting, but rarely do).

They also provide an excellent pollination service, and bees are going through a difficult time just now.

That said, avoid wafting and waving your arms around the bees, as this can encourage them to fly toward you. This will usually be the non-stinging males, but it can cause unnecessary panic. Males cannot sting.

Please note that although these bees have mandibles (their version of teeth) they are not used to bite humans!

However, in the USA, some species in particular can cause damage over time, to wooden structures.  If the structure is crucial, then unfortunately, and despite them being lovely creatures, it may be necessary to do something about it. 

This is always a dilemma for people such as myself who are keen to help bees

I am well aware of the challenges facing bees, and the reasons for bee decline.

However, in the USA where there are species that can genuinely cause damage to wooden structures in homes, I'm afraid I have to take this into account.  

Violet carpenter bee, a large dark violet, iridescent bee with dark wings, this one foraging on a pink sweet peaViolet carpenter bee

Many people are struggling, and bringing up families.  I'm not in the business of imposing my values, to the extent that it is damaging to the situations of others.

So, if it is absolutely necessary, then you may need to get rid of them and so information is provided below.

However, I do urge you to read about some real-life reader experiences with carpenter bees you'll find on carpenter bees. 

Please also note, there are harmless leafcutter bees that look like carpenter bees - read about the Carpenter-mimic Leafcutter Bee, Megachile xylocopoides.

Carpenter Bees: Steps To Take

1. Firstly, locate the nest if you can.  This in itself may put your mind at ease, or it will show you whether or not you need to take urgent action, and where. 

2. If you do not know where the nest is:

  • check old, unpainted, soft wood first, because this is the kind of wood carpenter bees favour.

  • next, check any crucial structures that are vital for a building, and that you need to be concerned about, such as supporting structures. 

    Also check eaves and window frames.  If there are no nests in any of these locations, you can begin to check more widely. (However, I recommend you PROTECT these structures from carpenter bees for the future, by keeping them painted - see below).

3. It's quite possible you'll find the nest in an old table leg, or some other item that is not important. 

If so, you can simply move the table well away from your home, or dispose of it if this is an option.  

4. Once you have located the nest:

  • First, liberally apply a natural insect REPELLENT or one containing Picardin, (rather than insecticide such as DEET)  to a cloth or cover you do not need - perhaps second-hand rag that can be discarded later, then cover the entrance holes of the nest.  (If you have pets, ensure they cannot be harmed by the repellent you select).
    Ensure bees can't get in to the nest hole.

  • Re-apply repeatedly, and observe the nest for a few days.  Spray the repellent around the area – such as surrounding brick work, and keep repeating. The objective is to discourage the bees from coming back.  DO ensure you are also protecting other areas, especially crucial structures.

  • If possible, also paint the area - check it will be okay to use with the repellent.

Observe the nest over the next few days.  The bees will hopefully be repelled and will eventually stop returning.  The good news is, you didn't have to harm the bees.

What if the bees return?

If the risk of structural damage is still too great because the bees are returning, you may have to seal up the hole with caulk.  Hopefully, this step will not be necessary.

Prevention is better than cure!

If you are aware that you live in an area where carpenter bees are present, take action sooner rather than later to prevent problems:

  • Keep wooden fixtures painted and well maintained - especially vulnerable areas. 

  • If you are especially worried, you could also apply an organic repellent around vulnerable areas during Spring. I tend not to recommend pesticides, as I am concerned about using highly toxic chemicals in the environment that may have wider environmental impact and kill other bees unnecessarily. There are further issues regarding future use and disposal, and the potential to harm beneficial insects, children, birds and pets. 

You may find this general page about carpenter bees interesting - it includes details of a query from a visitor to this site, and further advice about getting rid of carpenter bees, as well as some key differences between bumble bees and carpenter bees. 

With regard to bumble bee nests, they are harmless, and can be left alone, since colonies will decline quite naturally at the end of the season.

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