Carpenter bees are excellent pollinators and help sustain our environment. But despite them being extremely good to the ecosystem, are they good to us too…and do carpenter bees sting!
Here’s the twist; male carpenter bees are unable to sting, but females do have a stinger. The good news is, unless you threaten or attack the bees, the chances of getting stung by a female carpenter bee are very low.
The rest of this article will explain a few topics related to this question in great detail, including how to identify carpenter bees, if a carpenter bee sting is dangerous and how to treat it, their biology and behavior, and how to keep them away.
Identifying Carpenter Bees
Carpenter bees belong to a species in the genus Xylocopa of the subfamily Xylocopinae. They are also called wood bees as their nesting material is untreated wood like cedar, redwood, bamboo, or pine.
Each type of bee has certain distinguishing features. And to identify a species, it is important to study these features.
Carpenter bees are ½ to 1 inch long. Their size is similar to that of bumblebees.
Carpenter bees are solid black, or black and yellow. The male has a yellow face with a white dot on the head. Females have pure black heads.
Carpenter bees have shiny black, hairless abdomens. They also have clearly separated body segments.
Yes, two elbowed antennae
Carpenter bees nest in untreated wood of trees, homes and other structures. Females are experts in carving out their nesting cavities, hence the name “carpenter” bees.
Male carpenter bees do not have a stinger. The primary role of males is to guard the nest. If you go near the nest, the male will buzz and fly at you aggressively. Females can sting, but they rarely attack unless threatened.
Carpenter Bee vs Bumble Bee
Carpenter bees and bumble bees are often mistaken for one another due to their similar size and color, but there are a few noticeable differences between them:
- Carpenter bees have a shiny, hairless, and black abdomen, whereas bumble bees have a yellow and black coat of thick hair on their abdomen.
- Carpenter bees are mostly solitary, but bumble bees form colonies and are very social.
- Carpenter bees nest in the wood of trees and homes, while bumble bees usually burrow in the ground.
Carpenter Bee vs Honey Bee
Both carpenter bees and honey bees are among the finest pollinators, but carpenter bees can cause damage to your home and other wooden structures.
These characteristics will help you distinguish between carpenter bees and honey bees:
- Honey bees live in colonies called hives, while carpenter bees prefer to live in untreated wood.
- Honey bees have small and narrow bodies, and thin wings. Carpenter bees, on the other hand, have shiny hairless abdomens and are larger than honey bees.
Female Carpenter Bee
Female carpenter bees possess excellent carpentry skills. They construct nests and create the perfect space to lay the eggs. Though female and male carpenter bees look alike, males have small white markings, and the females have pure black heads.
Another noteworthy feature of female carpenter bees is that they are equipped with stingers. But getting stung by them is highly unlikely unless you poke your finger into the nest and threaten the larvae. Males are unable to sting, but they are aggressive and will fly at you if you go near the nest.
Carpenter Bee Larvae
Once the female carpenter bee constructs the nest, she creates tunnels to use as egg chambers. The female bee dies shortly after eggs are laid. After the eggs hatch, the larvae are fed with “bee bread” which is a combination of pollen and nectar. The larvae gradually develop into adults and continue the cycle.
As the carpenter bees collect pollen and nectar for their larvae, they help in cross-pollination in several plants. Thus, carpenter bees are an important species as they greatly contribute to the balance of our ecosystem.
Do Carpenter Bees Sting Or Bite?
Okay, I know… ‘Do carpenter bees sting or bite’ may seem like an odd question, but there are numerous instances in the insect kingdom where one family order will sting yet another bite.
Female carpenter bees have a stinger and will only sting humans if they threaten and disturb the nest. They won’t and don’t bite. The primary function of their tiny mouths is to chew and burrow into wood, hence their name.
The female’s sting is very painful but is likely to subside when counter antihistamines and painkillers are used. But if several allergic reactions like difficulty breathing, nausea, loss of consciousness occur, seek medical help immediately.
Male carpenter bees are unable to sting and are not dangerous. They guard the nest and will fly at you vigorously if you go near the nest. Humans are usually intimidated by the size, the loud buzz, and the aggressive nature of male carpenter bees.
Are Carpenter Bees Dangerous
Carpenter bees, if they nest indoors, can cause extensive damage to wooden structures in your home. Also, their feces can stain the wood surfaces and can ruin the home aesthetics.
Besides, female carpenter bees possess stingers that contain venom. Since they don’t lose their stinger when they sting, they can sting multiple times. But, females won’t come after you as long as you do not disturb the nest. Though most carpenter bee stings are not threatening, multiple stings can result in severe reactions.
In short, carpenter bees can be dangerous if you threaten the nest. If you want to treat the nesting site, It is advisable to wear protective gear and do it at night as the bees will be less active during nighttime.
Treating A Carpenter Bee Sting
When a female carpenter bee stings you, you’ll experience a sharp pain immediately. There will also be a burning sensation at the site of the sting.
You don’t have to remove the stinger from your skin, as the female carpenter bees do not lose their stinger. This explains why they can sting multiple times.
Here are a few steps to take immediately after getting stung by a carpenter bee:
- Clean the area using soap and lukewarm water to prevent infection.
- Use a cold compress to reduce inflammation. If required, apply antihistamine cream to reduce swelling.
- If pain persists, take antihistamines, or ibuprofen (Advil) or painkillers.
In the case of multiple stings, or severe reactions like shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, seek medical help as soon as you can.
Carpenter Bee Behaviour
Carpenter bees are most active during the spring, during which the males seek out females. The females will then create nests, lay eggs and die soon. Later during the summer, the eggs hatch and the larvae gradually develop into adults.
Contrary to a common misconception, carpenter bees do not eat wood. They use nectar as their food source, and feed their larvae with a combination of pollen and regurgitated nectar known as “bee bread”.
Carpenter Bees And Log Homes
Carpenter bees nesting in log homes is a nightmare. Even though the entrance to the burrows is small round holes, just the size of a finger, the damage these bees can cause to wood is extensive.
Repeated infestations can greatly damage wood and established carpenter bee nests can remain for years. Hence, it is imperative to take the necessary measures to get rid of carpenter bees.
We will discuss the preventive measures in detail in this article.
Signs of an infestation
Signs that indicate the beginning of a carpenter bee infestation will significantly help to prevent extensive damage to wooden structures.
Look out for these signs to estimate the chances of a carpenter bee infestation:
Entrance holes in wood
The most common signs of a carpenter bee infestation include small and round holes in wooden structures. Therefore, if you suspect the presence of carpenter bees in your surroundings, inspect all the wooden structures for the presence of little holes.
Cracks and crevices
Look out for cracks and crevices in wooden structures both indoors and outdoors. Fill all cracks using wood glue, nail holes or putty.
Carpenter bees bore entry holes about 1 inch deep into the wood. Digging into the wood will leave sawdust on the ground below the wood. Hence, sawdust piles indicate carpenter bee activity.
Pollen and feces
Yellowish dusty specks near holes in wooden structures indicate the presence of carpenter bees. Moreover, their feces often stain the wood. Yellow-brown stains on the wood are a good indicator that carpenter bees exist nearby.
Benefits Of Carpenter Bees
Carpenter Bees are great pollinators and play a critical role in our ecosystem. They gather nectar from many flowers, thereby transferring pollen. The larvae of carpenter bees are fed a combination of pollen and nectar, so the carpenter bees cross-pollinate other plants while gathering food for the larvae.
Even though carpenter bees are a threat to maintenance of wooden structures, their contribution to pollination far outweighs the damage they cause.
The best thing to do is to leave carpenter bees undisturbed if they nest outdoors. Taking preventive measures to get rid of them rather than spraying them with killing chemicals is also equally important.
Do Carpenter Bees Pollinate
Carpenter bees pollinate a wide variety of plants. They feed and collect nectar and pollen for their larvae. When the bees go from one plant to another, they cross-pollinate the plants, thereby playing an important role in the ecosystem.
In fact, carpenter bees are often called “nectar robbers” because of their ability to open the flowers and access all the nectar.
How to Keep Carpenter Bees Away
As carpenter bees are beneficial for the environment, the best thing to do is prevent carpenter bee infestation.
Here are a few actionable steps you can take to keep carpenter bees away from your home and surroundings:
1. Paint the wood
Carpenter bees prefer untreated and natural wood. Painting the surface of exposed wood will be less attractive to them. Besides, the slick surface of the paint will make it difficult for the bees to hold onto.
2. Shut the doors
Keep your home, garage and shed doors shut during the spring season. Carpenter bees are most active during the spring season, searching for nesting sites to lay eggs. Shutting the doors will prevent the bees from nesting indoors.
3. Keep away foods that attract bees
Typically, bees are attracted to fruits and sugary foods. Do not leave your food open and seal all the trash cans that are inside and outside your home.
4. Set up a noise machine
Carpenter bees are very sensitive to sound waves and the vibration caused by them. If there is excessive noise near their dwelling, chances are, they will fly off to some other place. Set up a boombox or noise machine to force the carpenter bees to move out of their nests.
5. Stuff the holes on the surface of exposed wood
When carpenter bees spot a wood surface with holes, they will start digging to create nests. To prevent this, use steel wool or other similar items to close off the holes on wood. Also, spray a chemical on the wood surface, as the chemical scent will deter the bees from drilling.
6. Spray citrus or almond oil
If you know where the nesting site is, spray almond oil or citrus oil on it. Be careful while going near the nest. Wear protective gears and take all precautionary measures. Carpenter bees dislike citrus and almond oil, so they may move to another place if the scent is too strong.
7. Install traps
Carpenter bee traps typically consist of a small wooden box with drilled holes and a plastic bottle suspended below. During the spring season, when the carpenter bees are in search of nesting sites, they enter the wooden box through the holes and fall into the plastic bottle below. It is difficult to find their way out of the box, so they are most likely to die in the plastic bottle.
The tips mentioned above are a few ways to prevent carpenter bee infestation. But the methods that involve the killing of bees are not encouraged as carpenter bees are good pollinators and contribute to the ecosystem.
If you are unable to get rid of carpenter bees even after multiple DIY treatments, seek the help of a pest management professional.
Will Wasp Spray Kill Carpenter Bees
Regular wasp sprays will not necessarily kill the carpenter bees. For spot treatment, these may come in handy to temporarily prevent them flying at you. But to fully eliminate carpenter bees, you will need insecticide dust rather than wasp spray.
Once you sprinkle the dust on the nest, the females are likely to drag the insecticide into the nest cavity. This dust may reach the larvae, thereby killing all of them. Hence, dust is preferred over sprays to kill carpenter bees.
Additionally, poisons will only be effective if it is mixed with the food carpenter bees eat. Spraying on the wood will not kill them because opposed to popular belief, carpenter bees do not eat wood.
In Summary Do Carpenter Bees Sting?
Well, I think we’ve just about covered it. Female carpenter bees can sting but rarely do. Not unless provoked or threatened. The male bees simply cannot sting, they exist to guard the nest and bring beauty and charm to our gardens.