Why Do Carpenter Bees Hover? Uncovering Their Mysterious Behavior

Carpenter bees are large, black and yellow insects often seen hovering around the eaves of houses or the underside of deck and porch rails during springtime. These curious creatures might have caught your attention while spending time outdoors, leading you to wonder why they hover so persistently.

There’s a good reason for this behavior: carpenter bees, like other pollinators, are on the lookout for potential mates and nesting spots. The males, in particular, display an active hovering habit as they patrol their territory, keeping an eye out for any intruders or rivals. Their hovering is also a protective response, as they’ll quickly dart after other flying insects that venture too close to their nest.

Understanding this unique characteristic of carpenter bees will not only satisfy your curiosity, but also help you better appreciate their role as pollinators in the ecosystem. As you observe these fascinating insects, it’s essential to remember they serve a valuable purpose in maintaining the delicate balance of nature.

Why Do Carpenter Bees Hover

Carpenter bees are fascinating creatures, and one of their intriguing behaviors is their tendency to hover. You might wonder why carpenter bees hover and what purpose it serves.

Male carpenter bees are territorial. They primarily hover to protect their territory and attract female carpenter bees. Hovering allows them to easily spot intruders and other male competitors. When a male carpenter bee sees an intruder, it may dart towards it to chase it away.

However, it’s important to know that male carpenter bees cannot sting. Their aggressive behavior is simply a defense mechanism, and they are generally harmless. On the other hand, female carpenter bees can sting, but they are not known to hover as much as males.

In addition to territory defense, hovering plays a role in the bees’ reproduction. Hovering male carpenter bees can easily spot a potential mate and quickly approach them. By spending more time in the air, these bees increase their chance of successfully mating.

Now, you can better understand the reasons behind the hovering behavior of carpenter bees. Despite their sometimes intimidating presence, they are vital pollinators and generally not a threat to humans. Just remember, when you see a carpenter bee hovering, it’s likely a male defending its territory or seeking a mate.

Understanding Carpenter Bees

Appearance

Carpenter bees are large insects that are often mistaken for bumblebees. They can be black, blue, green, violet, or purple, depending on the species. The most noticeable difference between carpenter bees and bumblebees is that carpenter bees have a shiny and hairless abdomen, while bumblebees have a hairy, yellowish appearance.

Life Cycle

The carpenter bee’s life cycle consists of four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Female carpenter bees lay eggs in their nests, where they hatch into larvae. The larvae then develop into pupae before finally emerging as adults. Carpenter bees have a unique life cycle, with adults usually hibernating during the winter months.

Nesting Sites

Carpenter bees are known for their preference for nesting in wood. They excavate tunnels and holes in various types of wood, such as:

  • Pine
  • Redwood
  • Cedar
  • Untreated wood
  • Weathered wood
  • Cypress
  • Fascia boards
  • Outdoor furniture
  • Eaves
  • Bamboo

It is essential to note that carpenter bees do not consume wood but rather use it as their nesting sites.

Behaviour

Carpenter bees are solitary bees and exhibit different behaviors depending on their gender. Male carpenter bees are territorial but harmless as they do not possess a sting. Female carpenter bees, on the other hand, can sting when threatened but usually spend their time foraging and caring for their offspring. These bees help pollinate flowers while they forage for nectar and pollen.

The main reason carpenter bees hover is to defend their territory and attract potential mates. Their hovering behavior might seem intimidating, but they rarely pose any real threat to humans. By understanding carpenter bees’ appearance, life cycle, nesting sites, and behavior, you can better appreciate their role as pollinators in our ecosystem and manage them accordingly around your home.

Impact of Carpenter Bees

Positive Impact

Carpenter bees play a crucial role as pollinators in the ecosystem. They transfer pollen from one flower to another, ensuring fertilization and healthy growth of many plants. Some attributes which contribute to their pollination abilities are:

  • Their large size helps them efficiently collect and transfer pollen between flowers.
  • They are attracted to a wide variety of plant species, increasing the chances of successful pollination.

In addition to their pollination services, carpenter bees help with decomposition of dead trees by drilling tunnels and making use of the wood for their nests.

Negative Impact

Unfortunately, while these bees provide benefits to the environment, their nesting habits can cause structural damage to homes and wooden structures. Their drilling activity creates an accumulation of sawdust, weakening the wood’s integrity.

Some negative effects of carpenter bee nesting include:

  • Destruction of wooden structures, such as eaves, decks, or fences, where they prefer softwoods like pine, fir, redwood, and cedar.
  • The presence of sawdust piles below the nests, which can be an eyesore and cause potential slipping hazards.
Carpenter Bees Bumble Bees
Pollination Excellent pollinators Good Pollinators
Nesting In wood, causing damage In the ground, less harmful
Aggressiveness Females can sting; males hover but don’t sting Less aggressive; sting if threatened

It is important to consider the balance between their positive and negative impacts when dealing with carpenter bees around your property.

Coping with Carpenter Bees

Protecting Your Property

Carpenter bees, unlike other bee species, can cause damage to your wooden structures. They create tunnels in wood to lay their eggs, which can lead to wood rot and structural damage. To protect your property, consider the following steps:

  • Paint or seal exposed wood: Carpenter bees prefer to tunnel in unpainted and untreated wood. Applying paint or a sealant can deter them from targeting your property.
  • Use wood materials less attractive to carpenter bees: For example, choose hardwoods, as carpenter bees prefer softer woods for tunneling.

Coping Strategies

If you already have carpenter bees on your property, consider taking these measures to reduce their impact:

  • Fill in their tunnels: Use caulk or putty to seal the entrance holes. This can prevent further tunneling and discourage re-infestation. This should be done during the fall or winter when the bees are not active.
  • Pesticide treatment: You can apply insecticides to the entrance holes during spring or summer. Be cautious when using chemicals, as they can be harmful to non-target organisms.
  • Call a professional service: If the infestation is severe, seek the assistance of a pest control service. They have the experience and knowledge to safely manage carpenter bees on your property.
  • Plant pheromone traps: Strategically placed traps using carpenter bee-attracting pheromones can be used to capture and control their population.

Remember, carpenter bees are important pollinators, and it’s essential to strike a balance between protecting your property and preserving their ecological role. Use the above coping strategies with caution, targeting only areas with significant carpenter bee activity.

Distinguishing Carpenter Bees from Other Insects

Bees vs. Wasps

Bees and wasps are both insects, but they have some specific differences in their appearance and behavior. When trying to distinguish between them, you can focus on the following characteristics:

  • Appearance: Bees are generally fuzzier than wasps, which have smoother, shinier bodies. Wasps, like yellowjackets and hornets, have slender bodies and narrow waists1.
  • Predators: Most wasps are predators that prey on insects like caterpillars, flies, and crickets2.
  • Food: Bees depend on pollen and nectar from flowers for their food, while wasps have a more varied diet.

Carpenter Bees vs. Bumble Bees

Carpenter bees and bumble bees can be mistaken for one another due to their size and coloration. Here are some key features to tell them apart:

  • Nesting: While bumble bees build their nests in the ground and live in groups, carpenter bees choose wood structures to create their solo nests3.
  • Appearance: Carpenter bees have a shinier abdomen, while bumble bees are fuzzier with more extensive hair on their bodies4.
  • Aggression: Bumble bees are less aggressive than carpenter bees and usually sting only when their nest is threatened3.

Carpenter Bees vs. Woodpeckers

Carpenter bees might be confused with woodpeckers due to the damage they cause to wood structures. However, there are clear differences between these two animals:

  • Species: Carpenter bees are insects, while woodpeckers are birds.
  • Feeding habits: Carpenter bees do not feed on wood, but rather use it to build their nests5. Woodpeckers, on the other hand, bore holes into wood to find insects to eat.
  • Nesting: Carpenter bees create individual chambers in wood for nesting, whereas woodpeckers create larger cavities that can accommodate their entire bodies.

By keeping an eye out for these specific differences in appearance and behavior, you can confidently distinguish carpenter bees from other insects and animals.

Conclusion

Carpenter bees hover mainly due to their mating behavior and also to protect their nests from predators. These bees play a vital role as pollinators in the ecosystem, so you may want to take a careful approach when encountering them.

Males display hovering behavior to claim territories and to attract female carpenter bees. This behavior serves as a way of communication, as they release pheromones during this process. Keep in mind that male carpenter bees cannot sting, but females can when threatened.

While hovering, carpenter bees also keep an eye out for potential predators which may pose a threat to their nests. The hovering acts as both protection and surveillance for their nesting sites.

If you are worried about carpenter bees causing damage to the wood around your home, there are measures you can take. Selective use of insecticide or preventive treatments can help minimize further infestation. Always remember, maintaining a balance between keeping your home safe and protecting beneficial pollinators is essential.

Footnotes

  1. https://doh.wa.gov/community-and-environment/pests/bees-and-wasps

  2. https://extension.entm.purdue.edu/publications/E-63/E-63.html

  3. https://extension.msstate.edu/blog/what%E2%80%99s-the-difference-carpenter-bees-and-bumble-bees 2

  4. https://extension.illinois.edu/blogs/good-growing/2023-05-05-carpenter-bees-destroyers-wood-or-beneficial-pollinators

  5. https://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=22898

Reader Emails

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 – Horsefly-like Carpenter Bee and Nest

 

Subject: Possible Blue-eyed Carpenter Bee in the Woodpile
Location: Coryell County, Texas
June 3, 2014 8:11 pm
Hello! We’ve been puzzled by buzzing at our woodpile many warm spring/summer evenings for two years, and I finally captured some semi-clear photos of the insect. (I hate to tell you how many times I tried to photograph it! Had to use a flash, sorry.)
I thought it was a fly, but found this page on Bug Guide: http://bugguide.net/node/view/238002/bgpage
I also found this gorgeous photo on Flickr:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/jim_mcculloch/3003647472/in/gallery-29697818@N03-72157623044374947/
Is this a Blue-eyed carpenter bee? It was actually chewing wood, and would buzz from one area of the woodpile to another, sometimes climbing between the logs.
Thank you for helping us solve a two-year-old Mystery of the Woodpile!
Signature: Ellen

Horse Fly-like Carpenter Bee
Horsefly-like Carpenter Bee

Dear Ellen,
We agree that you have correctly identified your Carpenter Bee,
Xylocopa tabaniformis parkinsoniae, however, the common name Blue Eyed Carpenter Bee was made up by the person who posted the image to FlickR.  The scientific community carefully regulates the scientific names for insects, ensuring that like other life forms, each has a genus and species name that combine into a binomial, and the link to BugGuide that you provided also includes a subspecies name.  If we follow back to the species page on BugGuide, the common name is the Horsefly-like Carpenter Bee, and that is based on the scientific species name of “tabaniformis” and Tabanidae is the family name for Horse Flies.  The common name for the species is hyphenated, but in addition, the normal spelling of Horse Fly has been changed to Horsefly, and we find that quite curious.  We don’t know how official that name is because the only place we can find it being used is BugGuide.  So, though we agree with your identification, we cannot confirm a common name for this delightful bee.

Horsefly-like Carpenter Bee
Horsefly-like Carpenter Bee

June 3, 2014 8:22 pm
I just revisited the gorgeous Flickr photo, and realized that Blue-eyed Carpenter Bee is just what the photographer was calling the insect. He states that as far as he knows, the insect has no common name. He lives in Austin, TX.
Sorry for the mix up! The scientific name is perhaps Xylocopa tabaniformis parkinsoniae?
Thank you again!
I’ll go ahead and send a few more photos…
Signature: Ellen

Horsefly-like Carpenter Bee
Horsefly-like Carpenter Bee

Update:  June 4, 2014
Subject: Horsefly-like Carpenter Bee Leaves Us in the (Saw)dust
Location: Coryell County, Texas
June 4, 2014 12:44 pm
Hello again. I realize that I should be working and will have to make up this time later this evening, ha!, but I remembered that I had written about the buzzing from the woodpile and sawdust before. I found that post: Locust Borer On October 2, 2013 · Category: Longhorn Beetles
The locust borer was not the insect creating sawdust, so I went back to the oak firewood just now and sure enough, more sawdust. I turned the log above the sawdust over, and found our Carpenter Bee, hard at work. The log has several tunnels carved into it by the industrious bees. I’ll attach some photos. In one, you can see her (?) abdomen as she busily kicks out sawdust. She paid absolutely no attention to me whatsoever. Another photo shows the entire piece of wood, and one shows the empty tunnel entrance after she had kicked out sawdust and climbed all the way back into the tunnel to chew some more. I wonder if the long tunnel to the right of the working bee had housed larvae before? It had some sort of substance in part of it, that looked like old sawdust, perhaps, or pollen?
I also discovered and photographed a beautiful little moth that was trying hard to look like a lichen, and succeeding very well. It can be seen at the lower left part of the log.
After taking the photos, I turned the wood back over and placed it where it had been before.
So, now I suppose we should locate the woodpile farther away from the house, given the bees’ prodigious wood-chewing abilities, and I’ll see about repainting the trim on the house soon to discourage any house-chewing, and I wonder if I’ll need to check for tunnels in the wood before burning firewood next winter? Would hate to be a home wrecker!
Thanks again! Love your site, except for folks’ parasite questions but that’s part of life, too, I guess.
How you answer so diplomatically I’ll never know, but I always learn something or have a bit of a laugh when I visit What’s That Bug.
Best wishes,
Signature: Ellen

Horsefly-Like Carpenter Bee
Nest of a Horsefly-Like Carpenter Bee

 Hi Ellen,
We are very happy you wrote in and clarified the mystery of the holes in the wood from the Locust Borer sighting last year as well as connecting it to the more recent Horsefly-Like Carpenter Bee sighting.  We suppose this means you will be inspecting the wood carefully before tossing it on the fire to ensure that any logs with nests are saved until the Bees emerge.  Providing habitat for local pollinating insects insects helps to ensure that the plants in your yard will be fruitful.  We are also happy you find our responses amusing.  In selecting which of the many identification requests we receive each day to post, we try to have a nice balance between gorgeous images, exotic locations, common sightings, seasonal occurances and the absurd.

Letter 2 – Locust Borer and Nest of a Horsefly-Like Carpenter Bee

 

Subject: Maybe a Borer?
Location: Coryell County, Texas
October 1, 2013 6:28 pm
This visitor flew off within moments of landing, so I wasn’t able to get a really good photo, sorry. Is it a Borer, perhaps the Black Locust Borer? I looked this insect up on Bug Guide and your website, and I found the Locust Borer on your website from September 10, 2013.
According to notes I read, the male have longer antennae than the females, so this may be a male?
Its colors were alarming, and I didn’t actually want to get too close, although it’s probably harmless to humans, if not to trees. Its wasp mimicry worked on me!
Would this explain the buzzing-wing sounds and sawdust found near our oak firewood? We’ve tried to spot the buzzing-sound -and-sawdust-maker, but whatever it is, it’s a crafty insect and good at hiding.
Thanks!
Signature: Ellen

Locust Borer
Locust Borer

Hi Ellen,
While we don’t know what is buzzing and creating sawdust around the oak logs, you are correct that this is a Locust Borer,
Megacyllene robiniae, a species that appears in the autumn.  The adults are fond of goldenrod.  They are excellent mimics of stinging Yellowjackets and males do have longer antennae.

Update:  June 4, 2014
Subject: Horsefly-like Carpenter Bee Leaves Us in the (Saw)dust
Location: Coryell County, Texas
June 4, 2014 12:44 pm
Hello again. I realize that I should be working and will have to make up this time later this evening, ha!, but I remembered that I had written about the buzzing from the woodpile and sawdust before. I found that post: Locust Borer On October 2, 2013 · Category: Longhorn Beetles
The locust borer was not the insect creating sawdust, so I went back to the oak firewood just now and sure enough, more sawdust. I turned the log above the sawdust over, and found our Carpenter Bee, hard at work. The log has several tunnels carved into it by the industrious bees. I’ll attach some photos. In one, you can see her (?) abdomen as she busily kicks out sawdust. She paid absolutely no attention to me whatsoever. Another photo shows the entire piece of wood, and one shows the empty tunnel entrance after she had kicked out sawdust and climbed all the way back into the tunnel to chew some more. I wonder if the long tunnel to the right of the working bee had housed larvae before? It had some sort of substance in part of it, that looked like old sawdust, perhaps, or pollen?
I also discovered and photographed a beautiful little moth that was trying hard to look like a lichen, and succeeding very well. It can be seen at the lower left part of the log.
After taking the photos, I turned the wood back over and placed it where it had been before.
So, now I suppose we should locate the woodpile farther away from the house, given the bees’ prodigious wood-chewing abilities, and I’ll see about repainting the trim on the house soon to discourage any house-chewing, and I wonder if I’ll need to check for tunnels in the wood before burning firewood next winter? Would hate to be a home wrecker!
Thanks again! Love your site, except for folks’ parasite questions but that’s part of life, too, I guess.
How you answer so diplomatically I’ll never know, but I always learn something or have a bit of a laugh when I visit What’s That Bug.
Best wishes,
Signature: Ellen

Horsefly-Like Carpenter Bee
Nest of a Horsefly-Like Carpenter Bee

Hi Ellen,
We are so happy you wrote in after solving the mystery.

 

Letter 3 – Male Carpenter Bee

 

Another bug to identify. Sorry. But its super weird!
I was in Acapulco in mid-November. There were a bunch of these guys flying around our house. They are fairly large, about 1.5 inches long. They make a loud noise when they fly around. There were a couple of dark colored ones and this copper colored one. They hung out in the palm tree thatch on the roof of the patio. I asked the houseman about them and he said that they nest or eat the thatch. He also said that they were called ‘abehoron'(sp?) if that helps.
Brian

Hi Brian,
This is a male Carpenter Bee, possibly the Valley Carpenter Bee. Female Valley Carpenter Bees are the dark insects. The female builds a nest by tunneling into wood. She then provisions the nest with pollen and nectar and lays eggs. The adults feed on pollen and nectar. There was probably a nest in the wood supporting the thatch.

Letter 4 – Green Lynx Spider eats Carpenter Bee

 

Green Lynx with Bee
Wed, Feb 25, 2009 at 10:42 AM
I found this photo from last August on my camera. Taken near Charlotte, NC.
This is a Green Lynx eating what I think is a Carpenter Bee.
It must be their favorite catch as there already is a picture of this on your site.
Great site,
Bob
Cornelius , NC, USA

Green Lynx eats Carpenter Bee
Green Lynx eats Carpenter Bee

Hi Bob,
Maybe you never had a chance to print your photo of a healthy female Green Lynx Spider feeding on a Carpenter Bee, but at least it is now online for the world to view.  Green Lynx spiders often wait for prey by perching on blossoms, so they eat many pollinating insects.

Letter 5 – #9991: Galapagos Carpenter Bee eaten by Lava Lizard

 

Galapagos Carpenter Bee
May 11, 2010
When I saw your posts about the Valley Carpenter Bee and the similar carpenter bee from Guam, I knew you’d want to see this Galapagos Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa darwinii). My husband Tom captured the last moments of this male carpenter bee being eaten by a lava lizard! The Galapagos Carpenter Bees are dimorphic also, with black females and golden brown males. Our guide said we were very lucky to see the males, since they don’t stick around very long. This photo was taken on January 23, 2010.
Mary
Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Galapagos Carpenter Bee eaten by Lava Lizard

Dear Mary,
What an awesome Food Chain image you have submitted.  It is also nice to get an image of a species closely related to our Southern California Valley Carpenter Bee.  The males have a much shorter life span than the females because the females may take up to several months to gather enough pollen to provision a nest for approximately six offspring.

Authors

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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7 thoughts on “Why Do Carpenter Bees Hover? Uncovering Their Mysterious Behavior”

  1. Dear Mary,
    I am a biologist studying the Galapagos Carpenter Bee. I find your husband’s photo on the Carpenter Bee eaten by the Lava Lizard to be very interesting. I would like to contact you and your husband (if possible by email) in order to have more information on your observations.
    Thanks
    Diego

    Reply
    • Hi Diego,
      Your comment is approved on our site, but the original posting is several years old. We are not certain if Mary will check on any updates. Let us know if there is anything we can do to facilitate.

      Reply
  2. Thank you! I had thought that the Horsefly-like Carpenter Bee was just a description and not an actual name.
    This bee is pretty big, perhaps over half an inch long. I’ll watch the spots that the bee was busiest with, and perhaps will see larvae emerge sometime.
    Thank you again. Love your website!
    Ellen

    Reply
  3. Thank you! I had thought that the Horsefly-like Carpenter Bee was just a description and not an actual name.
    This bee is pretty big, perhaps over half an inch long. I’ll watch the spots that the bee was busiest with, and perhaps will see larvae emerge sometime.
    Thank you again. Love your website!
    Ellen

    Reply

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