Carpenter bees do more good than harm



Annoying but important 

You know carpenter bees- the large yellow and black insects that bore holes in wood and can sometimes be seen patrolling their territories. These traits have given the carpenter bee a bad rap which it does not deserve. Carpenter bees are amazing native pollinators and are an important part of the ecosystem for several main reasons. These bees pollinate flowers, feed birds, and increase the yield of certain plant species. The damage they do to buildings is annoying, but only just that. They excavate nests, commonly called galleries, along the direction of the wood grain and they actually do surprisingly little structural damage this way; the value of these creatures far outweighs the damage that they could cause. (See the comments section for more details on carpenter bee damage.)

Carpenter bees are built tough

Carpenter bees are the largest bees in North America, and because of that, they are capable of some things that other bees just aren’t built to do. Inclement weather that normally gets in the way of pollination can be overcome by sheer size. Rain showers and wind that would knock smaller insects out of the skies are shrugged off by these buzzing beasts. They are also able to perform admirably in cold weather. These traits let them pick up the slack in pollination during times when other insects simply can’t risk it. Usually, their size is enough to scare away most pests and predators. This has led to carpenter bees being very docile- the females will only sting under extreme circumstances, such as being stepped on. The males, which can be seen hovering in their territories around nest sites or flowers, will usually fly straight towards intruders at high speeds. While this can be intimidating, these males are in fact all talk and do not have stingers. Their large size also makes them easy pickings for hungry birds. Large bees such as carpenter and bumble bees are important food sources for birds, especially in spring where they may be active before other insects.

The buzz on buzz pollination 

Carpenter Bee, Native Bees of North America

Carpenter Bee, Native Bees of North America

Carpenter bees have the ability to vibrate their flight muscles at specific frequencies while visiting flowers. Known as buzz pollination, this vibrates the flower and dislodges pollen. Tomatoes, blueberries, eggplants, and cranberries all benefit greatly from this type of pollination and produce larger fruit in greater quantities when buzz pollinated. Honey bees do not possess this ability. Carpenter bees are able to recognize one another and have been found to be able to make it back home after being moved up to 7 miles away. They generally live in semi-social settings involving varying degrees of cooperation between each other.

NC carpenter bees

Two species of carpenter bee are seen in North Carolina, the eastern carpenter bee, and the southern carpenter bee. Both look similar to bumble bees with a shiny black butt- the southern carpenter bee also has a vest of red fuzz. These bees usually nest in the trunks and branches of dead standing trees in a forest. As forests are cut down and manicured, many of these dead trees are the first to be removed. This leaves carpenter bees with very few options for nesting sites. It’s not difficult to see why our houses, decks, and barns look inviting to such a creature. Luckily there are some ways to make your property less appealing. Properly staining and/or painting the exposed wood on your property is first and foremost. While this will not guarantee that carpenter bees won’t move in, it is much less likely if there is no unfinished wood visible. Paired with another possible nesting site nearby such as a pile of wood or dead tree, this may be enough to keep carpenter bees away. These bees seem to prefer pine and cedar wood over other types for their nests. If possible, use another wood for your buildings.

If you have a problem area that you are unsure about, please comment on this post or send me an email at brannen@sprigglys.com and I would be happy to offer my opinion.

This article was originally published in The Sylva Herald.

32 Comments

  1. The15thMember on May 4, 2018 at 5:02 pm

    This is an old post, but maybe you’ll see me. I have carpenter bees nesting in my garage. I actually love them, the males are so curious and will fly over and investigate anything I’m doing near their territory, and they chase wasps away from my honeybee hives, which are nearby. I am concerned about what damage they could cause the garage long-term though. But the only information I can seem to find on whether they are truly damaging or not is from exterminators, who of course say to get rid of them! Last year at their peek I counted about 18 holes that appeared to be in use that go up under the wooden siding. What exactly are their boring habits, how damaging are they really to a structure? If they are not actually doing any harm to the garage, I’d certainly rather just let them live there. But if they are going to cause me a problem, I’d like to see if I can convince them to relocate.

    • sprigglys on May 6, 2018 at 2:13 pm

      Thanks for the question! Carpenter bees are truly fascinating and unique in their nesting habits compared to other bees. They excavate nests, commonly called galleries, along the direction of the wood grain and they actually do surprisingly little structural damage this way. This was probably evolved so that they could have many nests in a dead tree without compromising the structural integrity. They are VERY long-lived bees and are thought to spend the first few years of their lives entirely within the nest. From what I have seen and read, most of the structural damage associated with carpenter bee nests are from woodpeckers and other predators that try to chisel their way into the wood. Keep an eye out for this type of damage, as this can lead to a weakening of your garage. I have heard of old barns and the like absolutely riddled with carpenter bee nests that are still strong enough to stay standing. Thank you for preferring to co-exist with these important bees rather than exterminate them!

      • The15thMember on May 7, 2018 at 9:47 pm

        Oh, good! Thank you so much for the information! I did not know they were long-lived, that is very fascinating! Keep up the good work, guys, educating people on pollinators. My mother reads your column in the paper every week and loves it! So many people are just uninformed, thinking all bees are dangerous and scary. (I used to be one of them!) I just got some honeybees about a month ago, and I can’t believe how docile they are. As long as you treat them with respect, they are completely reasonable. It’s amazing to me how people think hives are a danger to a neighborhood and things like that. It makes me think that if people just knew . . . if they knew that the bees just go about their business unless threatened, if they knew that carpenter bees are just curious and not attacking, if they knew that the Sevin dust that Lowe’s puts as an impulse buy at the checkouts has the potential to decimate a nearby hive . . . . I just think it’s great that you guys are out there pushing against the tide of scare-tactics and misinformation that continues to be fed to people by exterminators and similar people just trying to make money. All the power to you! 🙂

        • Lara on May 21, 2018 at 6:09 pm

          Thanks for this thread – I have had carpenter bees living in the old sills of my foundation (I live in a home which is 150+ years old). I think the bees are leveraging the old beetle holes which were already there. I think they are a delight to watch, they are not aggressive and do enjoy our garden. I am glad to find out that the impact they are having on the house is likely minimal (also my deck is rotting so they probably are in there!)

          • sprigglys on May 21, 2018 at 9:50 pm

            We love hearing you enjoy watching these bees, we do too! Thanks for your comment!



      • Houston Allman on June 12, 2018 at 7:01 pm

        I have to replace all of the trim around my house because of the bees but it’s only going to cost about $3000 to do it. That thrills me. I did notice that they bore so many holes that only a paper thin thickness of wood is left between their holes and
        exposure to the outside air.

        • sprigglys on June 18, 2018 at 2:09 am

          Wow, any idea how long it took for them to dig such extensive galleries? If you are replacing with real wood, definitely stain and/or paint any exposed wood ASAP to hopefully keep them from setting into your new trim. Another option would be to use another material such as composite that would be less desirable for them.

  2. Caroline Cox on May 6, 2018 at 3:27 am

    Well, thank u for the positive comments on the carpenter bee. I kinda like them, myself. Every other site I went to n order to read about them, ended n how to kill them.

    • sprigglys on May 6, 2018 at 2:16 pm

      Definitely, we are so happy you found us! Most information right now will tell you to kill them, but as they are important pollinators, the goal should be to rehouse carpenter bees not kill them. Spriggly’s is currently researching housing solutions to carpenter bees that attract them away from your house and into a new type of nesting unit. Stay tuned!

  3. Alison Sue Rosenbaum on May 15, 2018 at 2:23 pm

    I’ve always been fascinated by carpenter bees. I love how they come check me out while I’m drinking coffee on the deck. I say “hello guys and gals!” Then when they know that I’m not a predator they go back to patrolling.

    • sprigglys on May 17, 2018 at 9:18 pm

      We so agree! They are extremely fascinating and enjoyable to watch!

  4. Barb on June 6, 2018 at 5:37 pm

    Today its 56 degrees outside in Western Pennsylvania. I see carpenter bees all over today. On ground sitting on my roof on the tires of my truck. It seems like something is wrong with them. I’ve never seen this before. Could this be from the weather being cooler?

    • sprigglys on June 6, 2018 at 9:25 pm

      They are just a little cold! The flight muscles of bees stop working around 40 degrees Fahrenheit, however, carpenter bees being larger and quite fuzzy, have the ability to be out even during colder weather. They are just taking a moment to warm-up in the sun.

  5. Barb R on June 9, 2018 at 12:04 am

    I’ve read that need do not like mint. I don’t want to kill them, but I would like to encourage a move as they are burrowing on my pool deck. Any other ideas? I have a mini-forest behind my house so why they choose my deck is unknown.

    • sprigglys on June 10, 2018 at 1:59 pm

      Thanks for the question! Unfortunately encouraging carpenter bees to move out once they make a nest can be difficult. We have not experimented with mint, but let us know how it works for you. We have heard that loud music drives out carpenter bees, however we have not tested this either. I would guess that the loud music mimics the vibrations caused by a woodpecker trying to get into their nest. Perhaps banging on the wood could cause them to consider relocating? Let us know what you try, and how it works. Make sure to have other wood nearby to try and lure them to a new home (even heat treated pine 2x4s work well), make a stack or pile 10-20 feet from the house in a sheltered location if possible. Once they become established somewhere else, make sure to replace and/or cover any damaged or exposed wood with paint or stain.

    • Anthony on October 26, 2018 at 1:51 am

      They actually love mint mostly when the mint starts to bloom flowers lol you’ll have a lot of other insect’s that enjoy the flowers from mint as well

  6. furtdsolinopv on August 15, 2018 at 8:36 am

    You made some clear points there. I did a search on the issue and found most individuals will consent with your blog.

    • sprigglys on August 15, 2018 at 11:52 pm

      We hope so! Carpenter bees are extremely important pollinators and do less damage to homes than some might think.

  7. Tricia on September 9, 2018 at 11:57 pm

    I currently have a medium size piece of drift wood that some carpenter bees have made into a fantastic apartment home. I will be redoing the backyard and would like to rehome this piece in the future into the garden area instead of where it currently sits on the patio. Does anyone have any suggestions on the best way to do this?

    • sprigglys on September 11, 2018 at 3:14 pm

      Thank you for the question! Wait until the winter to move the drift wood, so that all of the carpenter bees are inside of their galleries in the wood. Mid-December should be fine if you can wait that long. Very glad you chose to give them a nice place to live.

      • Tricia on September 14, 2018 at 11:41 pm

        Perfect! Thank you so much for the reply! Super helpful

  8. Jan on November 26, 2018 at 3:09 am

    I found one upside down tonight on my patio, legs bicycling slowly, almost as if it were dying. At first I thought it was a spider, but at a closer look I saw the little bit of fuzzy yellow and decided it must be a bee. I scraped it into a glass jar (with a lid because it was still moving, albeit a tiny bit). Initially my first Google attempt identified it as a carpenter bee and and harked on the terrible wood damage they cause – but thankfully I found your site for another opinion. It’s been unseasonably warm here (70s) the last couple of days, but today the temps dropped into the 60s (and 30s at night.) I’ve had honeybees before (during the summer) but this was the largest bee I’ve seen around here (North Texas) and weird for November. By the time I read all the info on your site, this thing seemed to get a new life (thank goodness I did opt for a lid) Wings spread out (they were tightly together when I first picked it up) and crawling all over the place obviously looking for a way out. So… I let it out on the front flower bed of our house (then ran away – their size still freaks me out a bit). Didn’t stick around to see if it eventually was able to fly off, but after reading your comment about their flight muscles I wondered if my bringing it inside my warm home (it’s 40 degrees outside and dropping to 32) is what woke it up. Now I feel bad for putting it back out in the cold! Should I expect to see more of these if this one showed up?

    • sprigglys on November 28, 2018 at 1:18 pm

      Thanks for the comment! We have noticed several similar chilled bees here in Western North Carolina as well. If your weather keeps warming up like it sounds like it has been, you might see a few more out as it seems like the males especially get cabin fever in cold weather and try to get out as soon as it warms. This can lead to them spending the night outside of their original nest and getting dangerously chilled. Keep an eye out for more carpenter bees, but do not feel bad- more than likely you gave it more of a chance to find shelter than it otherwise had. I completely understand that their size can be intimidating, but they are absolutely one of the most docile semi-social bees we have here in the States and they are usually very laid back. Keeping piles of leaves, fallen logs, and the like on your property wherever possible will give these and any other bees on your property some warm shelter during the cold months.

  9. Jennifer on January 9, 2019 at 10:24 pm

    I found a carpenter bee on our chain-linked fence today. It wasn’t moving until I touched it. It then moved its legs a little. I got a twig and warmed it in my hands and put it next to the carpenter bee. I then gently stroked its fuzzy back until it moved onto the twig and then I put it is a little screened “bug keeper”. We put it in the sun and it moved around a little but not so much. After a half an hour we brought it inside. Now it is hanging from the side of the screen. Carpenter bees have lived on the soffit of our screened porch for years. There is one motionless on the wood just below one of the hives, too. It was unseasonably warm yesterday (almost 70), but today the high was 50. It will drop to the 30’s and 40s in the coming days. Should I try to put it on a ladder near a hive, or on some plants below on the side I found it on, or keep it inside and feed it? If I feed it, what ratio of white cane sugar to water should I use?

    • sprigglys on January 12, 2019 at 1:57 am

      Thank you for saving your carpenter bee! If you leave it outside on a warmer afternoon (around 50) it should be able to find its way back home. Until then, feeding it might not hurt too much if you think the weather will be bad enough to prevent flying. Definitely stay on the light sugar syrup side, maybe a ratio of 1:4 sugar to water. Keep in touch and I hope you’ve taken some pictures of the process!

  10. Jessica on April 2, 2019 at 3:55 am

    Hello! I enjoyed reading this post and all the comments that followed. I have a family of carpenter bee’s in the beams of my front porch. They have been there ever since I bought my home a few years ago. And as the children play and we sit out on the porch, the bees tend to fly at our heads and get very close. It is scary not going to lie. I have had people tell me to put caulking in the holes but I couldn’t dare do that to them.
    I do garden, vegetable and flower gardens. And I was wonder about rehoming them. You have mentioned that in one of your comments and I was wondering if you have made any headway on this or have any ideas. I was thinking of trying to take some wooden boards I have and putting them into the ground like a post in my wild flower plot. And drilling a couple holes in the board. Or making some sort of sheltered board system to house them? Maybe if I take a bird bath and put colored stones in it and water for a bee and butterfly drinking area it might make it more attractive for the carpenter bees? I just know I can’t have them right there over my front porch steps chasing children. But I also don’t want to harm the bee’s. Any advice?

    • sprigglys on April 2, 2019 at 1:10 pm

      Thank you for the comment! Chances are the carpenter bees getting into your face are males who don’t have stingers and couldn’t sting even if they wanted to. It can be unnerving at times, however. We are still experimenting with ways to lure carpenter bees away from houses, however what you are doing sounds like it would have the best chance of working. Drilling starter holes doesn’t seem to encourage carpenter bees to make houses in wood, so leave them as is. Make sure the wood you use is untreated, and like you said they seem to appreciate a bit of shelter from rain and other weather so an eave at the top would give them a nice dry spot. Your bird bath idea is great as well. Make sure the boards you use are at least three inches thick to give your bees enough room to make their galleries. You were right not to close the holes, as the young carpenter bees inside will simply burrow around them!

      Good luck, and let us know how your housing works!

  11. Jessica on April 4, 2019 at 12:23 am

    Thank you for the advice and I most certainly will update you!

  12. Deanna on April 7, 2019 at 7:06 pm

    I’m so excited to find this article, I absolutely love native bees especially the Carpenter Bees! They are so gentle and very interesting to watch. Thank you for sharing an article that doesn’t tell people to kill them!

    • sprigglys on April 8, 2019 at 12:53 pm

      Thank you so much for your kind words and for your love of native bees – and especially – carpenter bees! We quite agree that they are gentle and very interesting to watch. Thank you for reading! Please feel free to share this article far and wide. We would love for as many people as possible to think the way you do!

  13. Denise Poirier on April 17, 2019 at 2:07 pm

    Thank you so much for the info. I too have a love for all of nature. I found a carpenter bee walking around near my garden,upon inspection I determined his wing was hanging wierd,and he couldnt fly,I moved him to some flowers.next day he was still there. Well I live in north Florida,so its been warm but that day it was going to get cold and rain heavily,so I put some things around him,and placed a small table over him to protect from rain,well he survived all that,but next day it was even colder so I brought him in,made him a nice house in an aquarium,put some bottle caps in there one sugar water one with honey water, I used a small dropper to offer some of the solution,he started licking it,I picked him a bouquet and let him be,he stated coming to life,by the third day he was able to close his wings and on day 4 he started buzzing his wings,today is day 5 he hasnt woke (chiily today)Im hopeing he will recover,if not I will just take care of him,my friends think I’m nuts for having a pet bee, but I love him !

    • sprigglys on April 17, 2019 at 5:44 pm

      Thank you so much for doing everything you can to help that bee! We’ve moved many wet bees into the sun and swear we saw them acknowledge what we had done! You have done so much more and we know he (or she) appreciates it. Give him a bit more time and hopefully, they’ll warm up. They tend to just stay in one place when it gets too chilly. Also, we do not think you are nuts for helping the bee – we so appreciate people that view these incredibly beneficial insects as something as important as a pet. Thank you for everything you are doing and please keep us posted!

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