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
). They also belong to the genus Xylocopa, and to the insect order
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, in particular, those fromt he Xylocopa group. However, please read the personal accounts below of people who have written in to BuzzAboutBees below!
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.
I received a wonderful email from a Mr Wayne Robey of Indiana. He wrote:
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.
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 once lived in a mostly brick ranch house (Ohio Huber) and had a stack of 1x2" pine boards on my back patio for some reason.
Shortly, I noticed sawdust at the base of the stack and one bee-hole about halfway up. Since my house was mostly made of bricks, I was not alarmed. Over a period of >15 years, I observed the bees. Usually when I would come out there would be an out-rider, or 'lookout bee' that would observe and interact with me.
Some years in, I decided to get rid of the board stack (at least 60 boards high). I figured most of them would be riddled with bee-holes but was surprised to find that the bees had only nested in a single board, gouging out a small bit of the board below to gain access.
I removed all but the main board (+10' long) and cut a 4-foot section of the under board containing the gouge to save as a foundation.
Not long after, I came home to find a bee drilled thorax-deep into my wooden garage door. I stroked its little bee-butt with my finger, causing it to withdraw and fly hastily away. I then sprayed insect repellent on the bee-hole. No bees ever bothered my garage door after that.
Some years later I sadly needed to rehab my house to sell it, and since I was moving to an all-wood house, I could not take my bees with me. We rehabbed in winter, so the bees were too dormant to flee from my table saw.
I ripped the 10' and 4' boards lengthwise and killed all the bees. The 4' board had 1 access hole and 1 nest. The 10+ board had ~15 access holes and ~13 nests, 4 with nesting compartments and 2 of those plugged. A couple of the access holes were in-and-out, meaning that the bee drilled in and then abandoned the hole due to proximal tunnels in the board. There are many instances of bees tunneling through the edge of the board and turning back.
Also, I would dispute your claim that these bees prefer dead/rotted wood. I have only observed them chewing up firm and healthy wood. I do not mean to criticize here, but merely observe.
Also, I do miss my bees.
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!
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:
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.
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.
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