Carpenter bees are fascinating insects known for their crucial role as pollinators.
These robust, heavy-bodied bees have distinct physical traits that set them apart from other bee species, such as their bright yellow, orange, or white hairs on the thorax and their shiny black abdomen.
While they are often mistaken for bumblebees, the difference in appearance between male and female carpenter bees provides an interesting topic for discussion.
Male and female carpenter bees exhibit several contrasting features which can help with their identification.
For instance, male carpenter bees have yellow faces, while females have black faces and a dense brush of black hairs on their hind legs.
Understanding the distinctions between male and female carpenter bees is essential for appreciating their unique roles in the ecosystem and their contribution to pollination.
Size and Appearance
- Carpenter bees are large, heavy-bodied bees, ranging from 0.75 to 1 inch in length.
- Both male and female carpenter bees have yellow fuzz on their thorax.
Male vs Female Carpenter Bees Appearance:
|Male Carpenter Bee
|Female Carpenter Bee
|White or yellow
Black Head vs. White Spot
- Female carpenter bees have a completely black head.
- Males have a white or yellow “spot” on their face, which helps differentiate them from females.
Behavior and Roles
Mating and Pollination
Male and female carpenter bees have different roles in pollination and mating. Male carpenter bees are known for their aggressive behavior during the mating season.
They don’t participate in pollination as much as female carpenter bees do, but they help by protecting flowers from other pollinators.
Females do most of the pollination by collecting pollen and nectar for their offspring.
An interesting pollination behavior of carpenter bees is their ability called buzz pollination, allowing them to gather pollen more effectively than other bees.
An example of their pollination capabilities can be observed in their effectiveness at pollinating plants like eggplant, tomato, and other vegetables.
Unlike other bees, carpenter bees are solitary bees. They don’t live in hives, but instead, they excavate holes in wood to create nests for their offspring.
These holes can weaken wooden structures like decks, eaves, and furniture.
Some interesting facts related to nesting habits:
- Female carpenter bees excavate holes and lay eggs
- Inside these nests, they provide a mix of pollen and nectar for their larvae
- Carpenter bees hibernate during winter and are active during spring season
Aggressiveness and Defending Territory
Carpenter bees display different levels of aggressiveness based on their gender.
Male carpenter bees:
- Are more aggressive in defending their territory
- Use dive-bombing techniques to scare off intruders
- Cannot sting, as they lack stingers
Female carpenter bees:
- Less aggressive in nature
- Are capable of stinging when threatened, but rarely do so without provocation
|Male Carpenter Bees
|Female Carpenter Bees
|None (no stingers)
|Yes, but rarely
Nesting and Damage to Wood
Wood Preference and Burrowing Techniques
Carpenter bees, especially female carpenter bees, prefer to build their nests in raw, unfinished wood or stained, weathered wood. Common wood types they are attracted to include cedar and pine.
These solitary bees create tunnels in the wood to lay their eggs and protect their larvae. Female carpenter bees can be identified by a lack of a white spot on their face, unlike male carpenter bees.
The process of excavating these tunnels involves chewing and removing small amounts of wood, causing damage to wooden structures such as decks and eaves.
The damage becomes extensive when multiple generations of carpenter bees use or expand the same nest sites over time.
Preventing and Repairing Damage
To prevent carpenter bee damage, consider taking the following measures:
- Paint or varnish exposed wood surfaces to make them less attractive.
- Inspect structures regularly and seal any cracks, crevices, or entry points.
- Use metal or plastic screens on the underside of wooden eaves and other potential nesting sites.
- Maintain and repair your wooden structures to minimize their attractiveness to carpenter bees.
To repair existing carpenter bee damage:
- Remove any larvae or pupae from the tunnels.
- Fill the tunnels with wood filler or putty.
- Sand and repaint the damaged area.
It is important to note that carpenter bees are important pollinators and should not be harmed unless provoked or causing significant damage).
|Carpenter Bee Gender
|Ability to Sting
|Male carpenter bee
|White spot on the face
|Hover and protect the nest
|Female carpenter bee
|No white spot on the face
|Excavate tunnels, lay eggs and care for larvae
|Can sting, but rarely do unless provoked
- Female carpenter bees are responsible for wood excavation and nesting.
- Damage is caused primarily by females, who tunnel into wood to create nests.
- Preventing and repairing carpenter bee damage involves maintaining, sealing, and painting wooden structures.
- Carpenter bees are crucial pollinators and should not be harmed unless absolutely necessary.
Natural Enemies and Bee Control
Predators and Threats
There are several natural enemies of carpenter bees, with woodpeckers being a major threat. Woodpeckers are drawn to the tunneling sounds carpenter bees make and will bore into wood to reach them.
Males carpenter bees do not have the ability to sting like their female counterparts, thus making them more vulnerable.
Bumblebees, which can be mistaken for carpenter bees, are generally less of a threat due to their non-destructive nesting habits.
Here’s a comparison of carpenter bees and bumblebees:
Attracting Pollinators Without Damage
To attract beneficial pollinators without attracting carpenter bees:
- Plant open-faced flowers
- Prioritize entomophilous plants (plants that rely on insects for pollination)
- Maintain healthy trees and shrubbery
Traps and DIY Solutions
There are various ways to get rid of carpenter bees or to reduce their responsibility around your property:
- Homemade traps: A simple funnel trap can be made using a plastic bottle, cutting a hole at the bottom, and hanging it near areas of carpenter bee activity
- Wood treatment: Apply paint or varnish to wood surfaces to discourage carpenter bees from tunneling
- Plug holes: Seal any existing carpenter bee holes with steel wool or caulk to discourage further tunneling
- Low-cost solutions
- Non-toxic methods
- Environmentally friendly
- May require multiple attempts
- Traps may inadvertently capture other insects
- Maintenance is needed to ensure continued discouragement
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Female Sonoran Carpenter Bee from Hawaii
Location: Kamuela HI 96743
February 13, 2011 4:57 pm
Attached is a picture of a big black busy-but-calm nonthreatening bee that appears to be gathering pollen. Wings are bronze. Nearest I can figure from your photos is that it could be a valley carpentar bee.
Signature: Mickey Haag, Master Gardener
Thank you for your patience. Though we were unable to locate it on the Organisms of Hawaii website, we agree with you that this is a Carpenter Bee, but to the best of our knowledge, the Valley Carpenter Bee is not found on Hawaii. We have found information on the Insects of Hawaii website that its relative, the Sonoran Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa sonorina, is found on Hawaii, but the website only pictures a gold bee and often the males in this genus are golden in coloration. We found a photo listed as a female Sonoran Carpenter Bee on Wikipedia, and it is black like your individual.
I understand. I’ve used your website for several years and it’s the best. When ever we visit relatives/friends they seem to have a ‘bug’ they want me to check out. If I don’t have the answer you know you’re the site I go to.
Appreciate your limited staff. Thank you for your site, if not a direct answer to my request!
Thank you so much for your quick response and proper identification. After I emailed you, once again visited the 10-12 ft fence covered in flowering vines and hundreds of busy black bees, I saw a single golden fuzzy bee looking very much like the male valley carpenter bee pictured on your website. Thanks a million for both ID’s! Mickey
Letter 2 – Female Carpenter Bee
I’m very fond of your site. I love the beautiful photos your readers send in, and I love the way your writing both demystifies and celebrates our insect friends. I took this picture the other day in my garden. I was rather lazily weeding when I heard a very loud buzzing. This fellow (male? female?) was trying to collect from the columbine flowers, without much success since he was so big and heavy, and the flowers are on weak, nodding stems. I’m anthropomorphizing, but I swear the buzzing sounded grumpier and grumpier the more times he flopped off. I followed him (?) around with my camera for about five minutes before he stayed still long enough for me to get this pretty decent shot. I thought you might enjoy it, as well as confirm that this is indeed a bumble bee?
Des Plaines, IL
Thank you so much for your sweet letter. There is nothing wrong with a little anthromorphization. Fabre, one of the pioneering insect authors of the 19th Century, was a master of anthromorphization. Your columbines are quite lovely. It is one of our favorite flowers. We thought this was a Bumble Bee, but Eric Eaton set us straight: “the bumble bee is actually a female carpenter bee, Xylocopa virginica.”
Letter 3 – Female Valley Carpenter Bee
Location: Mount Washington, Los Angeles, CA
We photographed the female Valley Carpenter Bee covered in pollen as she gathered nectar from our sweet peas. When she is gathering the pollen from the sweet peas, the blossoms pistel pushes up through the petals and caresses the bee, and is fertilized by the pollen trapped on the bees fuzzy body.
Letter 4 – Female Valley Carpenter Bee
large, the size of a hummingbird, black, flying, fat
July 10, 2010
I was watering plants and this large bug lands on one of the flowers. I thought it was a hummingbird at first glance, but then it looked too insect-like. It’s large and black, smooth (not hairy), and has fast-moving wings
Curious and Confused
Dear Curious and Confused,
This is a Carpenter Bee, and based on your California location, we suspect it is a female Valley Carpenter Bee.
Letter 5 – Female Carpenter Bee found in Mexico
Subject: Black ?wasp ?beetle ?bee
Location: Merida, Yucatan, Mexico
April 7, 2015 7:47 am
I found this bug in my pool. It is about 35mm long and entirely black. the abdomen is hard shinny black. I can not find an image at the many bug related ID sites and was hoping you could help!
Signature: Jeffrey Scherer
This is a female Carpenter Bee, probably a Valley Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa varipuncta. Females are capable of stinging, but they are not aggressive bees.
Letter 6 – Female Valley Carpenter Bee with stunted wings
Subject: Immature black bug with undeveloped wings
Location: Northridge, CA
August 18, 2015 9:11 pm
While working in the yard putting down mulch I came across this bug. We have a ton of Figeater Beetles, so I thought it might be an immature Figeater Beetle, but then noticed that it’s face is more like a carpenter bee. So in short I have no idea what this bug is 🙂
I live in Northridge, CA. It was hanging out in the bark mulch. It is currently summer and hot.
Thanks so much,
Our offices are near downtown Los Angeles and though we are probably ten degrees cooler than you are in Northridge, we too are suffering in the heat. We commend you on your recognition, because this is a female Valley Carpenter Bee, but we are uncertain what is going on with her stunted wings.
We would like to think that she just completed metamorphosis and her wings eventually expanded, but we fear that some irregularity caused the stunting. Perhaps she underwent some trauma that prevented the wings from fully developing.
I just wanted to send a thank you! That was so great to learn. I also made a small donation to the site as a thank you. Always love going to the site to figure out who is living in my yard or house with me 😀
Letter 7 – Female Carpenter Bee
Subject: It’s not a horsefly
Location: Palm Desert, California
February 24, 2016 11:03 pm
I found this on my porch in Palm Desert, California earlier today. I have seen hundreds of horseflies and this was much much bigger and the legs are thicker. It’s not a roach. Almost looks like a cross between a horsefly and a cockroach ! Any idea???
This is a female Carpenter Bee in the genus Xylocopa, most likely a Valley Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa varipuncta. Interestingly, another member of the genus with clearer wings and a striped abdomen, Xylocopa tabaniformis, is known as the Horsefly-like Carpenter Bee, but according to BugGuide, it is only reported from Texas.
The Valley Carpenter Bee is a species with pronounced sexual dimorphism, meaning males and females are very different in appearance. Females are black and males are golden. We we in the garden at dusk last night and heard a loud buzzing.
We saw our first male Valley Carpenter Bee of the year. Males are short lived and seem to appear only in spring. Females that need to tunnel a nest in dead wood and then provision the nest with pollen for the larvae have a much longer life span.
Thank you!!! About 15 people told me it was a horsefly and I knew it wasn’t! Yay I win! Thanks to you!! I appreciate it!
Letter 8 – Female Valley Carpenter Bee
Subject: Femae Carpenter Bee
Location: South Pasadena
April 19, 2016 9:25 pm
I believe this is a female carpenter bee? Photo was taken on a 90 -ish degree day, today, in mid April in LA., in a parking lot.
She was very happy to stay on my hand and I had a hard time getting her to climb onto any plants. I wanted to do more than just say hi but didn’t know what else she would like. Thanks!
You are correct that this is a female Valley Carpenter Bee. It was very kind and fearless of you to move her from the pavement to the foliage. People like you make South Pasadena a wonderful place, and because of your kindness, we are tagging this posting with the Bug Humanitarian Award. We are your neighbor across the freeway in Mount Washington.
Letter 9 – Female Valley Carpenter Bee
Subject: Large black ??
Location: San Diego CA, coastal
January 27, 2017 4:18 pm
Hi, What do I have crawling in my succulent outdoors? I splashed water and accidentally knocked back this huuge bee-like creature. Now it is moving as if blind, slowly reaching out to feel for something to move to (although maybe it also did that before I saw it).
It is nearly 1.5 inches long, 6 black fuzzy legs, everything black except iridescent wings with magenta color. So big. Struggling–it is late January. My pics aren’t showing the full length.
Signature: Bug Watcher of My Yard
Dear Bug Watcher,
This is a female Valley Carpenter Bee, a species that nests in dead branches, telephone poles and other places where a gallery can be burrowed into wood. They sometimes nest in exposed house beams.
THANK YOU so much for this information AND the work you do!
Letter 10 – Female Valley Carpenter Bee
Subject: What is this insect?
Geographic location of the bug: Corona, CA
Time: 11:08 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Is this a female Carpenter Bee? I found it in my side yard.
How you want your letter signed: Carrie in Corona
Male Valley Carpenter Bees, like other male bees and wasps, are not capable of stinging since the stinger of wasps and bees is a modified ovipositor, an organ used by the female to lay eggs.
Female Valley Carpenter Bees are not aggressive, and though they are capable of stinging, they rarely do so.
Letter 11 – Female Valley Carpenter Bee found indoors
Subject: Scary Black Bug that Lives in our little boys Restroom
Geographic location of the bug: San Gabriel Valley -California
Time: 10:03 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: We found a large black bug w/wings in my little boys bathroom. Came out of nowhere. My 3 year old and 7 year refuse to ever go back in the bathroom ever again.
They think there may be “millions” living in the walls of the restroom. Help! Help me educate them and end the fear of the the “scary black bug”…
How you want your letter signed: Frustrated Mommy
Dear Frustrated Mommy,
Your request did not indicate if your found this female Valley Carpenter Bee in its present state, dead, or if it was a live flying creature when it was discovered and when it scared your boys. We suspect the latter and we won’t lecture you on Unnecessary Carnage.
We suspect this individual found its way into the house, became disoriented, and then in the loud manner in which this species flies, it proceeded to fly clumsily indoors, buzzing loudly the entire time, and to youngsters who are often taught to fear the unknown, that experience must have been truly terrifying.
Valley Carpenter Bees are not an aggressive species, and females rarely sting. Furthermore, this is a solitary Bee meaning there is not a nest with”‘millions’ living in the walls of the restroom.”
This species has begun flying in Southern California and Daniel began seeing females a few weeks ago, and the sexually dimorphic golden colored males which appear to be a different species, began appearing about a week ago. Male Valley Carpenter Bees lack stingers and are incapable of stinging.
The female Valley Carpenter excavates a tunnel in dead wood, with tree stumps and telephone poles being common nest sites. Assure your youngsters that they can use their restroom assured that there is no colony in the walls and that this luckless female Valley Carpenter Bee accidentally entered your home.