Are Carpenter Bees Dangerous? Uncovering the Truth

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Carpenter bees are large, black and yellow flying insects often mistaken for bumble bees1. Males have a white spot on their faces, while females can be identified by their black shiny abdomen2.

Carpenter bees are known for their ability to bore holes into wood to create nests. While they may appear intimidating, it’s essential to understand their true nature and the potential risks they pose to humans and wooden structures.

Are Carpenter Bees Dangerous?

In comparison to other potentially harmful insects, carpenter bees are relatively less dangerous.

They play a vital role in pollination, which benefits the environment. Yet, it’s crucial to keep an eye on their nesting activity to minimize damage to wooden structures.

These solitary bees are typically non-aggressive and rarely sting unless provoked. However, their nesting behavior can lead to structural damage, particularly in untreated or weathered wood. You may notice holes in wooden decks, railings, or eaves, indicating carpenter bee activity.

Stinging and Aggression

Carpenter bee stings can result in painful sensations and the development of red, swollen welts that may persist for several days. Notably, individuals with allergies to bee venom face the potential for more severe reactions, which could, in certain instances, pose a threat to their well-being.

Female carpenter bees exhibit defensive behavior rather than aggressive tendencies. When provoked, such as when their nesting galleries are threatened, they may deliver stings to humans and pets.

Conversely, male carpenter bees lack the capability to administer stings, although their buzzing that could be a nuisance.

Males:

  • Cannot sting3
  • May hover to intimidate3

Females:

  • Can sting, but rarely do3
  • Only attack when provoked2

Allergic Reactions and Venom

Although carpenter bee stings are rare, they can still cause pain, inflammation, and allergic reactions in some people2.

Some symptoms of a carpenter bee sting include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Redness2

In cases of allergic reactions, the symptoms may extend to:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Rapid pulse2

If you experience an allergic reaction to a carpenter bee sting, seek medical attention immediately. For common reactions, over-the-counter pain medication can help alleviate the pain and inflammation2.

Comparing bumble bee and carpenter bee

CharacteristicCarpenter BeeBumble Bee
StingRarely, female only2Yes
AggressivenessLow3Varies
ColorBlack and yellow1Black and yellow

Carpenter bees and bumble bees have similar appearances but differ in terms of their stinging tendencies and aggressiveness.

Carpenter bees are generally less dangerous due to their lower aggressiveness levels and rare stinging occurrences2.

Carpenter Bee Damage to Homes and Structures

Nesting Habits and Wood Damage

Carpenter bees are solitary insects that create nests in wooden structures such as decks, eaves, fences, and posts. These nests are formed by boring perfectly circular holes into the wood.

Female carpenter bees are responsible for these damages. Some common signs of carpenter bee infestation include:

  • Sawdust piles below holes
  • Large bees flying around
  • Fan-shaped, yellow, or moldy stains

Carpenter bees do not consume wood but instead feed on flower nectar and pollen. Contrary to termites, which consume wood for sustenance, carpenter bees create galleries within wooden structures for nesting and reproducing.

Common signs of wood damage by carpenter bees include:

  • Holes with a diameter of around 0.5 inches
  • Stains on wood surfaces from waste materials
  • Chewed wood edges around the hole entrance

Woodpeckers are also attracted to the created holes, seeking to eat the larvae of carpenter bees, causing further damage to the structure.

Preventing and Repairing Damage

Preventing and treating carpenter bee damage involves some steps, such as:

  • Paint or stain the wood: Carpenter bees are less likely to target painted or stained surfaces.
  • Use treated lumber: Choosing pressure-treated or hardwood lumber for outdoor structures can discourage carpenter bees.
  • Sealant application: Apply putty or sealants to fill any existing carpenter bee holes to prevent future infestations.
  • Pesticides/insecticides: Contact a pest control professional to apply insecticides to affected areas.

In comparison to other insects, carpenter bees do not cause substantial structural damage. However, preventive measures and timely treatments are essential to keep the issue at bay.

Preventing carpenter bee damage

MethodProsCons
Paint or stain the woodDiscourages carpenter beesRequires periodic maintenance
Use treated lumberLess attractive to carpenter beesCan be more expensive
Sealant applicationPrevents future infestationsRequires meticulous hole inspection
Pesticides/insecticidesEffective in treating infestationsRequires professional assistance

Identifying Carpenter Bees

 

Carpenter bees are a distinct species of bees, often confused with bumblebees due to their similarities. Here are some key features to identify them:

  • Size: Carpenter bees are generally larger than bumblebees, ranging from 1/2 to 1 inch in length.
  • Color: They have a metallic appearance, usually with a blue-black, green, or purple sheen.
  • Abdomen: Carpenter bees have a shiny, hairless, black abdomen, whereas bumblebees have a furry, striped abdomen.

Behavior and Habitat

Carpenter bees differ in their behavior and habitat preferences compared to other bee species. A few characteristics are:

  • Solitary insects: Unlike honeybees or bumblebees, carpenter bees do not live in colonies or hives.
  • Nesting: They bore holes in wood (e.g., pine, cedar, or unpainted decks and eaves) to create nests for their larvae.
  • Pollination: While they collect nectar and pollen from flowers, they are considered less efficient pollinators than other bees.

Here’s a comparison table of carpenter bees to bumblebees:

FeatureCarpenter BeesBumblebees
AbdomenShiny, hairless, and blackFurry, with stripes
HabitatNests in woodNests in the ground
SizeLarger (1/2 to 1 inch)Smaller in general
Pollination efficiencyLowerHigher

Are Carpenter Bees Beneficial to the Ecosystem?

Carpenter bees can be considered both beneficial and harmful to the ecosystem:

Pros:

  • They are important for pollination, especially for open-faced flowers.
  • They can help control other insect populations by serving as prey for woodpeckers or other predators.

Cons:

  • They can cause structural damage to homes and buildings by boring holes in wood.
  • Their defensive mechanism (stingers) can be painful if provoked (mostly in females).

Conclusion

Understanding the nature of carpenter bees is essential in dispelling misconceptions and addressing concerns about their potential danger.

While these large insects may seem intimidating due to their nesting behaviors, they are generally non-aggressive and less harmful compared to other stinging insects.

Their role in pollination and ecosystem balance should not be overlooked, but it’s important to monitor and manage their nesting activities to prevent structural damage.

By adopting preventive measures and respecting their habitats, humans can coexist harmoniously with these fascinating creatures.

Footnotes

  1. https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/carpenter-bees 2
  2. https://site.extension.uga.edu/fannin-gilmer/2022/03/carpenter-bees-may-cause-damage-to-homes-and-wooden-structures/ 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
  3. https://extension.umd.edu/resource/carpenter-bees 2 3 4 5

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about carpenter bees. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Mating Valley Carpenter Bees

digger be mating?
Location: Superior, Az.
March 31, 2011 10:55 pm
Here is a photo I took today (March 31, 2011) in Superior, Az.
To me this looks like a digger bee mating with or riding around on a carpenter bee. They were connected the entire time they flew around the flowers in my yard.

Sexual dimorphism? What do you think?
Signature: T. Stone

Mating Valley Carpenter Bees

Dear T. Stone,
We are positively thrilled to receive your photograph that documents mating Valley Carpenter Bees,
Xylocopa varipuncta.  The species does exhibit pronounced sexual dimorphism. 

The larger black female bee has a much longer lifespan because she must provision the nest with pollen and nectar.  The smaller golden male is quite territorial and aggressive, though he is incapable of stinging. Females sting reluctantly.  Just yesterday, while working in the garden, we observed a male Valley Carpenter Bee defending his territory near the blossoming sweet peas. 

The female Valley Carpenter Bees visit the sweet peas, stealing the nectar, an action described by BugGuide:  “Due to their large size, carpenter bees cannot enter tubelike blossoms such as sage, so they slit the base of corolla, a practice known as ‘stealing the nectar’ (without pollinating the flower). (UC, Davis)”  BugGuide also notes:  “Their eggs are the largest of all insect eggs. The Valley carpenter bee egg can be 15mm long. (UC, Davis)”

Update: April 2, 2011
Since Spring is in the air, we thought we would post this little excerpt from Daniel’s book, The Curious World of Bugs:  “One can’t help but be amused at the certain awkwardness that parents might encounter when using the proverbial bees to explain the facts of life to youngsters. 

Most female honeybees are sterile workers that do not mate, the male drones are lazy freeloaders whose sole purpose is to fertilize the queen, and the queen loses her virginity to multiple partners in a short period of time in an insect orgy.  These are hardly the values that responsible parents would want to teach to their impressionable children.”


Ed. Note:  It should be noted that the above description is for the domestic Honey Bee.  Female Valley Carpenter Bees do not need to take multiple mates.  A single insemination is sufficient for her to produce her significantly smaller brood.


Question about Carpenter Bee nests
Male and female  valley carpenter bees
December 10, 2011 1:47 am

I live in highland park, CA.  And after very high winds here recently our tree in the backyard lost some large branches.  I started sawing the branches manually when I heard a distant buzzing sound and when I looked at the other end of the branch about a dozen male and female of these bees had burrowed into this branch.

I’m wondering if their presence in the tree is killing the tree which helps us all breathe.   I dont want to harm them in any way. How can I gently have them depart the tree so that they may make their home elsewhere? Thank you kindly
Signature: Rey

Greetings Rey,
Our offices are in nearby Mt. Washington.  While we are not debating what you saw, we will challenge your interpretation of what you saw.  Valley Carpenter Bees are solitary bees. 

After mating, the female excavates a tunnel in usually dead or dying wood, and then proceeds to construct a number of nursery chambers that each houses a solitary larva.  What you encountered is most likely a recently metamorphosed brood or broods that were uncovered when the tree was damaged.

  These bees are not interested in returning to any nest, though a mated female may construct a new nest in the same tree.  Any Valley Carpenter Bee colony would have to be very extensive to kill a tree, however, weakened branches may snap in another wind storm if there is a significant amount of nest excavation.

Update:  March 16, 2014
We learned today that the Valley Carpenter Bee has the largest of all insect eggs that we know about.  According to BugGuide:  “18-26 mm (Largest bees in CA)  Their eggs are the largest of all insect eggs. The Valley carpenter bee egg can be 15mm long. (UC, Davis)”

Letter 2 – Nest of a Valley Carpenter Bee

What bug would make this hole?
Hi,
I live in Southern California. Over the weekend, I noticed sawdust on a bougainvillea plant in my backyard. It runs along a concrete wall that borders my neighbors property.

The sawdust was the result of these perfectly round, pencil erasure sized holes which have been recently dug into the plant. What bug would do this? Thanks,
Chuck

Hi Chuck,
This is the nest of a Valley Carpenter Bee. The large black female bee makes and provisions the nest. The male bee is a lovely golden color. The Valley Carpenter Bee is an important native pollinating species, and the presence of this nest will not do any lasting harm to your bougainvillea.

Thank you so much for your informative reply. I am pleased your site exists. In explaining the harmlessness of this important native pollinator, you have helped me from making a grave, unnecessary mistake of adding a systemic poison to my bougainvillea the way a member of the Home Depot gardening staff suggested to protect it from “wood boring beetles”.

I’m glad I had the presence of mind to contact you but I am more pleased at your willingness to share your expertise on this subject and the timeliness of your answer. Thanks again,
Chuck
Monrovia, CA

Letter 3 – Mating Eastern Carpenter Bees

Subject: Bee lovin’!!
Location: Philadelphia, PA
April 23, 2014 4:21 pm
Dearest bugman,
Please accept this photo my friend took of two bees getting intimate on another friend’s shoulder. I think it was too sweet she allowed them to use her shoulder as a love nest.
I feel embarrassed as I do not know what kind of bees these are. Perhaps carpenter bees?
Happy Spring!
Signature: Julianna from VT

Mating Eastern Carpenter Bees
Mating Eastern Carpenter Bees

Dear Julianna,
We are positively blushing at your superlative greeting of endearment.  We find your photo quite amusing, and an interesting counterpoint to an image we posted early this morning of a male Eastern Carpenter Bee being mounted by an unknown and considerably smaller Bee

Letter 4 – CORRECTION: Carpenter Bee, NOT Metallic Sweat Bee from India

Subject: bug identification
Location: Howrah, West Bengal, India
July 25, 2015 12:10 am
Sir,
these photographs are of a type of bee I guess. They were sucking honey from sacred basil flowers. I shall be grateful if you can provide me with further details.
Regards
Signature: Sreeradha Seth

Metallic Sweat Bee
Carpenter Bee

Dear Sreeradha,
Based on its similarity to North American species including this image on BugGuide, we believe this is a Metallic Sweat Bee in the family Halictidae, but alas, we were not able to find any similar images from India on the internet.  We did uncover this technical article including species from the family found in India, but it has no illustrations.  Metallic Sweat Bees are solitary bees with each female producing her own underground nest.  Your images are beautiful.

Metallic Sweat Bee
Carpenter Bee

Correction:  June 22, 2016
We just approved the following comment from Akshay.

The bee in this photograph isn’t of the Halictidae family, but actually belongs to family Apidae.
More specifically, it’s a small carpenter bee, i.e. genus Ceratina:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ceratina

Metallic Sweat Bee
Carpenter Bee

Letter 5 – Possibly Eastern Carpenter Bees

Subject:  Some sort of bee?
Geographic location of the bug:  Rocky River, Ohio
Date: 05/11/2019
Time: 08:52 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Some sort of bee sits on the same screen each spring and then seems to die. This year there are two. Do you know what kind of bug this is. Looks like a big bee.
How you want your letter signed:  Michelle

Possibly Eastern Carpenter Bees

Dear Michelle,
There is not enough detail in your image to be certain, but based on your description that they are big, and based on the fact that our editorial staff is currently just outside of Youngstown, Ohio and we have witnessed male Eastern Carpenter Bees on the wing right now, we suspect your visitors are also Eastern Carpenter Bees.

I didn’t want to get too close! I think you are right about being a carpenter bee. They never leave the screen though. Lazy carpenter bee maybe? Haha
Thanks for your input and prompt response. We have a big garden so maybe they are just waiting.

Letter 6 – Mating Eastern Carpenter Bees

Subject:  Pollen Thief
Geographic location of the bug:  Spartanburg SC
Date: 03/23/2020
Time: 08:40 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Good Morning,
Spring has sprung here in the Carolinas. I was watching the bees on a holly bush when I saw two bees, one much smaller than the other. The smaller bee got on the back of the larger bee, shook him like crazy and stole the pollen from his legs! Is this common in the bee world?
How you want your letter signed:  Mike Healy

Mating Eastern Carpenter Bees

Dear Mike,
This looks to us like a pair of mating Eastern Carpenter Bees,
Xylocopa virginica, and the male, who is on top, has a white face.  We do not think pollen thievery was on his mind.  According to BugGuide:  “Adults take nectar from many flowers, often biting into base of flower to “rob” it without pollinating (but seen to pollinate Passiflora incarnata quite effectively–pollen is deposited on thorax).”

Dear Daniel,
Thank you so much for the ID on my bees. Little did I know that I was interrupting an intimate moment! My son was morning the grass and the larger females were everywhere that there was a flower of any kind. Do three Carpenter bees sting?

My son was terrified by then but they really didn’t seem to care about me, walking right up to them. I do remember from my childhood in CT, that there was a best of Carpenters in the garage and they would dive bomb us.
The picture that I took was that of the bees in a Holly bush. There were hundreds of them.
Thanks again for the education. I love What’s that bug!
Mike Healy

Hi Mike,
Male Carpenter Bees are incapable of stinging, and females are not aggressive and rarely sting.

Authors

  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts
Tags: Carpenter Bee

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2 Comments. Leave new

  • Hi folks,
    I’m an amateur entomologist from India and I photograph various pollinating insects, especially bees. I came across this page while looking for metallic green bees on Google and noticed that this was one of the top hits.

    The bee in this photograph isn’t of the Halictidae family, but actually belongs to family Apidae.
    More specifically, it’s a small carpenter bee, i.e. genus Ceratina:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ceratina

    Small carpenter bees are easily mistaken for halictids, but like the Wikipedia entry says, the giveaway (especially in the first photograph) is the really long glossa. The other difference is a smaller jugal lobe on the hindwing, although this is obviously a more difficult metric to measure if you only have photographs and not specimens.

    Cheers,

    Akshay.

    Reply

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