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.

20 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.

  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

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