Carpenter bees belong to the bee family ‘Apidae’.
Large carpenter bees belong to the genus Xylocopa, and small carpenter bees to the genus Ceratina.
This page is about large carpenter bees.
More than 500 species of Xylocopa are known to exist world-wide, and most are found in tropical and sub-tropical regions.
However, they are also found in the USA and Canada, and some are found in Europe.
The Xylocopa violacea, pictured above, 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!
These species can sometimes be mistaken for bumble bees.
Not surprisingly, these bees get their name because they are known to make their nests by boring holes in wood.
In fact, Xylocopa is the Greek word for "wood worker". These clever bees then 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.
Like other species, they will sting only if provoked, and are mostly interested in foraging and going about their business. Read about bee stings and treatments.
It's interesting that most people feel threatened by males, despite the fact that males cannot sting (see my page on which bees sting and which don't). 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.
The females are able to sting, but like bumble bees they are docile, and will rarely do so.
Carpenter bees 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 as they search 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.
Carpenter bees are great pollinators, and are generalists, meaning that they will visit a large number of flowering plants (depending on what flora is available) to gather pollen and nectar.
They are similar in size and shape to bumble bees - and indeed, some species are frequently mistaken for Bombus.
Their large, furry bodies are superb for pollination, as pollen is trapped on their hairy bodies, and is easily transferred from flower to flower.
The crops pollinated by carpenter bees include passion fruit, Brazil nuts and cotton. Like bumble bees, carpenter bees are also used in greenhouses to pollinate tomatoes - this is practiced in Australia.
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. However, please read the personal accounts below of people who have written in to BuzzAboutBees!
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 that 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.
The lesson seems to be that keeping vulnerable areas painted could be a good deterrent to carpenter bees.
I was also touched by an email in which a gentleman described how he had lived with carpenter bees for 15 years, and enjoyed having them around. Unfortunately, there came a time when this gentleman needed to get rid of the carpenter bees, because he had to rehab and sell his home. He describes a situation in which he used insect repellent to deter the bees (I tend to recommend deet-free repellents rather than poisons to kill the bees. They are available from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
Anyway, his account of observing the bees over the years is an interesting one, and fortunately I was given permission to share it on this website:
I'm always interested to learn of people's experiences, particularly when they challenge the established ideas!
I have come across many writings regarding carpenter bee preference for soft & rotten wood. However, it does sometimes seem that the more we observe wildlife, the more inclined we are to change our ideas about it!
I liked the fact that Myran lived with the bees for years, that he felt able to accommodate them for such a long time, until he needed to move house. It made me smile!
I received an email message via my contact form, asking the following question. I thought I would share it, because certain large carpenter bees are often mistaken for bumble bees, and I felt the advice and insight might be interesting for other visitors. Thank you to Lisa for allowing me to publish her query:
My response to the query above was as follows:
From the behaviour you describe, it sounds like you have carpenter bees rather than bumble bees. Some carpenter bees do indeed look like bumble bees, in that they are quite ‘roundish’ in appearance.
Male 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.
(You can read more about this on my page 'Do bees have ears/how do bees pick up sound?').
So in fact, there is no coincidence here, and you are not imagining things, and yes he is seemingly ‘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. Anyone/anything is chased off, until a potential sweetheart arrives on the scene!
Bumble bees 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 bumble bee 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.
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:
You could also try a repellant, a natural one that is free of DEET - or one that contains Picardin, to deter future nests.
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