Carpenter bees are often mistaken for bumblebees due to their similar appearance, but these buzzing insects have some distinct differences. One of those differences is their ability to sting.
As you might encounter carpenter bees around your home or garden, it’s essential to understand their stinging behavior before panic sets in.
Female carpenter bees are able to sting, but they are typically non-aggressive and only do so in rare situations, such as when they feel threatened or are handled directly.
On the other hand, male carpenter bees, despite their bold display of territorial aggression, are not able to sting at all, making their behavior more showy than dangerous.
The primary concern with carpenter bees is not their stinging ability, but rather the damage they can cause to wooden structures as they burrow holes for nesting sites.
Carpenter Bees: An Overview
Differences Between Carpenter Bees and Other Bees
Carpenter bees are distinct from other bees, such as bumble bees, in a few ways:
- Carpenter bees have a shiny, hairless, black abdomen while bumble bees have a hairy and often yellowish one1.
- Unlike other bees, carpenter bees do not build hives or colonies but drill holes in wood to lay eggs2.
Here’s a comparison table of some traits:
|Trait||Carpenter Bee||Bumble Bee|
|Abdomen||Shiny, hairless, black||Hairy, often yellowish|
|Nesting Habit||Drilling holes in wood||Building hives or colonies|
Male and Female Carpenter Bees
There are some differences between male and female carpenter bees:
- Male carpenter bees have white faces, females have black faces3.
- Males cannot sting, but females can, though they rarely do unless provoked4.
To wrap up, carpenter bees differ from other bees in their appearance and nesting habits. Male and female carpenter bees also possess unique characteristics.
Do Carpenter Bees Sting?
Do Male Carpenter Bees Sting?
Male carpenter bees do not possess stingers and are not capable of stinging. They may appear aggressive, often buzzing around people’s heads, but they don’t pose a threat in terms of stinging.
Do Female Carpenter Bees Sting?
While female carpenter bees do possess stingers, they are not naturally aggressive and rarely sting. However, if they feel threatened or are mishandled, they might sting as a form of self-defense.
Pain and Swelling Associated with Stings
If a female carpenter bee does sting, the pain and swelling experienced are usually mild. The redness, pain, and swelling at the sting site develop within a few minutes and can subside within a few hours.
The symptoms are generally less severe than those caused by other bee stings.
Treatment and Allergic Reactions
For most people, treatment for a carpenter bee sting involves simple at-home care. This may include:
- Washing the affected area with soap and water
- Applying a cold compress to reduce swelling
- Taking over-the-counter pain relievers or antihistamines
However, some individuals may experience an allergic reaction to the venom, presenting more severe symptoms like difficulty breathing, nausea, or increased heart rate.
In such cases, emergency medical attention is required, and treatments like epinephrine or oxygen administration may be necessary.
Nesting and Habitat
How Carpenter Bees Build Their Nest
Carpenter bees create nests in wood surfaces around homes, decks, and windowsills. They prefer untreated wood and often drill holes in the structure to create their nests.
They don’t build hives, as they are solitary insects. Their nesting season starts in late spring, peaking in May and June.
Examples of preferred nesting areas:
- Eaves of houses
- Wooden furniture
- Untreated wood surfaces
Burrowing and Tunneling Process
The burrowing process begins when a female carpenter bee digs a perfectly circular entrance hole into the wood. Then, she creates tunnels, known as galleries, to lay her eggs.
Males serve as guards during this time, protecting the entrance from other insects and potential threats. The sawdust created during the excavation is typically found beneath the holes.
Structural Damage Caused by Carpenter Bees
While carpenter bees are known for their pollinating abilities, they can also cause structural damage to homes and other wooden structures.
They do not eat the wood, but their tunneling can weaken and compromise the integrity of the structure.
Comparison of damage caused by carpenter bees and other insects:
|Carpenter Bee||Wood tunneling, structural damage||Painting, pest control, filling holes with putty|
|Wasp||Stings, nest damage||Pest control, soap and water, removing nests|
|Termite||Wood consumption, serious structural damage||Professional pest control, prevention methods|
Methods to control carpenter bee damage:
- Painting: Treat wooden surfaces with paint or stain to discourage nesting
- Pest control: Engage professional services for carpenter bee control
- Putty: Fill entrance holes to prevent further tunneling
Considerations when controlling carpenter bees:
- Some methods may also impact pollination
- Aggressive action may trigger a painful sting as a defense mechanism
Carpenter Bees and the Ecosystem
Role as Pollinators
Carpenter bees are essential pollinators in the ecosystem. They gather nectar and pollen from flowers to feed their larva. Some key aspects about carpenter bees as pollinators include:
- Effective in buzz pollination for eggplant, tomato, and other vegetables and flowers1.
- Use their thoracic muscles to shake pollen loose from the flower’s anthers1.
- Unlike honey bees, they don’t store honey in their nests2.
Examples of plants that directly benefit from carpenter bees’ pollination include:
Carpenter bees also help bumblebees by opening up flowers, making it easier for bumblebees to access the nectar.
Interaction with Other Insects
These bees contribute to a healthy ecosystem by interacting with other insects:
- Carpenter bees may serve as a food source for predatory insects or animals.
- Their activity assists in the dispersal of regurgitated nectar, benefiting other nectar-seeking insects.
Below is a comparison table of carpenter bees, bumblebees, and honeybees to better understand their distinct characteristics:
|Appearance||Shiny, black abdomens3||Hairy, yellow abdomens2||Stripes on the abdomen2|
|Nesting||In wood tunnels3||In soil or dead leaves2||In waxy hives2|
|Behavior||Solitary, don’t form colonies2||Social, form colonies2||Social, form colonies2|
In summary, carpenter bees play an essential role in pollinating various plants within the ecosystem and interact positively with other insects such as bumblebees. Their presence helps maintain a thriving environment for various species.
Controlling and Preventing Carpenter Bee Infestations
Carpenter bees can cause damage to wooden structures around your home. Here are some eco-friendly DIY methods to control and prevent infestations:
- Seal holes: Seal any existing holes that carpenter bees have created to prevent new bees from occupying them. You can use wood filler, steel wool, or a combination of both.
- Paint or varnish: Apply paint or varnish to exposed wood surfaces, as carpenter bees prefer untreated wood. This can help deter them from nesting in your home.
- Use insecticides: Apply a pesticide specifically meant for carpenter bees to the entrance of their nest. However, use caution, as chemicals can harm other beneficial insects.
Professional Pest Control
If you’re unable to manage a carpenter bee infestation on your own or prefer a more thorough solution, hiring a professional pest control company is a good option.
They can provide a variety of effective techniques and have the knowledge to safely handle insecticides.
- Expertise in handling severe infestations
- Access to advanced tools and methods
- Tailored solutions for your specific situation
- Can be more expensive than DIY methods
- May use stronger chemicals compared to eco-friendly DIY options
The primary concern with these bees is the structural damage they can cause by burrowing into wood. Despite this, they play a vital role in ecosystems as effective pollinators.
Controlling their population around homes is essential, but it’s equally important to consider eco-friendly methods and the preservation of their ecological role.
- https://extension.entm.purdue.edu/publications/E-252/E-252.html ↩ ↩2 ↩3
- https://extension.umd.edu/resource/carpenter-bees ↩ ↩2 ↩3 ↩4 ↩5 ↩6 ↩7 ↩8 ↩9
- https://extension.msstate.edu/blog/what%E2%80%99s-the-difference-carpenter-bees-and-bumble-bees ↩ ↩2 ↩3
- https://extension.missouri.edu/publications/g7424 ↩
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 – Carpenter Bee
I am scratching all over after seeing the pictures of the bugs on your site… 😉 My boys caught a bug today and put it in a jar (boys will be boys) and asked me what it was. Now, I am no bug woman so I found you on the web…. It’s got three pairs of fuzzy black legs, Two wings that are a shiny blueish-green.
Its body is in three parts. It’s got two mandibles (is that what those things on the mouth are called??). It looks like a giant fuzzy spider/bee!! I am reading this and I can’t
believe it!!! Well, I hope I have given enough info for you to start identifying this thing in a jar right next to me!!!!!! (eeek!)
Might be a Carpenter Bee. All insects have
six legs and three body parts, so that is a general description. Bees are often hairy, so your guess might be correct.
Thanks, I don’t think it’s a carpenter bee cause it is much bigger (2.5 to 3 cm). The body (the third part) is like a shiny black slinky and is fuzzy on the edges. I tried to take pictures of it, here is one : Boy, what a mommy will do for her boys, and thank god there are people who have the info!!
Hi again Cynthia,
We are fairly sure that is a Carpenter Bee. Don’t know where you are writing from or what the species is.
Letter 2 – Carpenter Bee?
Big delimma here. We live in Las Vegas, NV close to the Red Rock Mountains, which is just high desert and red rock, but in the warmer months, we get these GIANT , solid black flying bugs that make a buzzing noise while in flight, they are about the size of a baby humming bird, and they have very round full bodies.
We are at a complete loss as to what family these monsters belong to. Could they be some sort of giant fly, bee, or buzzard? We have actually been chased (or so it seemed at the time) by these things.
Please give some sort of clue as to where we might be able to even start to identify these awful things. Because of these and their size, my poor children are afraid to go out doors to play. Please email back
as soon as humanly possible.
Thank you so very much
My first guess would be a Carpenter Bee. the females are black and buzz. They burrow into telephone poles to nest. While large and loud, they are not aggressive and rarely sting.
Letter 3 – Carpenter Bee
Tue, Apr 21, 2009 at 7:03 PM
This is mid-April in Concord, CA. These guys seem to stake out a territory. This one hovers near the potted Asparagus Fern and the geraniums. Another hovers around the white Lilac. They chase others of the same species and then come back to their hover spot.
They are there all day, day after day. They are quite bumblebee like, in that they are black with yellow thorax and shiny black abdomen. They make a buzzing sound and they don’t seem at all aggressive or concerned about human presence. There are citrus trees in bloom on the property, though not sure these are active in those flowers.
Concord, CA 94520
Your photo resembles a Carpenter Bee and the behavior you describe is similar to the behavior we have witnessed in male Valley Carpenter Bees staking out territory and hoping to attract mates, but male Valley Carpenter Bees are an overall lovely golden color. We consulted BugGuide, and we believe your specimens are a related species, Xylocopa tabaniformis.
Letter 4 – Carpenter Bee
Gigantic Bumblebee looking insect
Location: Greensboro, NC (north central piedmont region)
March 18, 2011 4:18 pm
There are these gigantic insects in my backyard. They look like HUGE bumblebees, except not really fuzzy (as best I can tell, I’m kind of scared to get too close). There are no flowers around my backyard or my neighbors. I usually see one to three at a time and they like to just hover in mid-air.
They don’t seem to be vicious, my dogs have snapped at them and they ignore them (and are smart enough to know exactly how high to hover to stay out of reach!). But they are huge and I’m allergic to bees … so while they don’t seem interested in stinging me, I’d like to know what the heck they are so I can be prepared.
I’m trying to get a picture, but it won’t stay still long enough, so the attached picture is probably not helpful at all! I figured I’d ask anyway, a description follows. (If I can get a good picture, I will re-submit, but I’ve been trying for a few days with no luck).
It’s significantly larger than a regular bee; probably around the size of a quarter (not as wide, but certainly as long). It’s black and yellow, striped towards the head, solid black at the end, the underside is kind of shiny (although it doesn’t really look fuzzy like a bumblebee towards the head, either), and it likes to dart and then hover for a few seconds before ”leisurely” flying a little bit, hovering, then eventually darting off.
It’s a little longer and thinner than a bumbleebee, but still kind of bulbous-looking. Please help, I’m scared to go in my backyard until I know what it is!! Please let me know if i can send more info, as well (I will try to get a better picture)
Signature: Scared of my backyard!
We are relatively certain based on your photo and your excellent description that this is a Carpenter Bee, probably an Eastern Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa virginica, which you may read about on BugGuide. Though we try to avoid linking to Wikipedia, it does contain this information:
“Carpenter bees are not solitary bees, but are not truly social either. The weak form of sociality they exhibit, with one female doing the majority of the work, and caring for her sisters, may be a transitional step in the evolution of sociality. However they tend to be gregarious, and often several will nest near each other. Male eastern carpenter bees are curious and will investigate anyone, including humans, that comes near their nests.
The curiosity is often interpreted as aggressiveness; however, the males are only aggressive to other male carpenter bees. They do not have stingers and cannot cause any real harm. The female carpenter bees tend to be busy with floral visitation and nest provisioning, but have the ability to cause a painful sting if captured.
Males spend many hours guarding their territory against other males, hovering about the nests for hours on sunny days. They sometimes attempt to mate with other insects or small birds. An interesting trick to use to ‘move’ a male carpenter bee out of the way is to pick up a small pebble (roughly the size of the bee), then toss it past the bee.
They will attempt to chase it, distracting them for a few moments, long enough for a human to get by. However, since they cannot sting, and rarely accord any attention to humans, this is unnecessary. Carpenter bees are strong fliers, capable of returning to their nests from some miles away, but not very agile.
They tend to be clumsy, frequently almost crashing into the side of a wall or various trees and plants. On occasions, the bees will fly into old windows made of acrylic glass, as UV light can pass through it and the bee sees it as open. Carpenter bees are not aggressive.
Often, a carpenter bee preoccupied with something will not sting or flee when approached closely or even touched by a human, but merely raise one or two of its legs in the air instead.”
Letter 5 – Carpenter Bee
Request: Carpenter Bee?
Location: San Antonio, TX Medical Center
July 19, 2011 3:12 pm
Watching and takikng pics of flowers, trees, plants, bugs and other interesting stuff. Was watching a planting of Esperanzas (Tecoma Stans) noting lots of bee activity, then noticed blossoms sort of randomly dropping off. No wind.
Got a pic of this bee, do not know if male or female, burrowing into the base of the flowers, I assume extracting nectar, sort of poking in the back door instead of pollinating through the front. Have never seen one this ”metallic” before.
HAd much fun stepping around the shrubs trying not to disturb the bees, to get a good shot and also before the UTHSCA Police (Univ Tx Health Science Center San Antonio) ran me off. They plant many interesting drought tolerant flowering plants there an I am usually able to come away from my doc appt with some nice pics.
This is a Carpenter Bee, and we have watched Valley Carpenter Bees feeding in a similar manner from sweet pea blossoms in our own garden.
Identification courtesy of John Ascher
April 22, 2012