Apr 08, 2023
Carpenter Bee Nest: Identification and How to Get Rid of It
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As spring and summer return to the world with their magnificent beauty and inviting warmth, certain creatures come out of the woodwork. In some cases, literally! You may have even seen a carpenter bee nest, or at least a bee, and not even known that's what it was – or what it means.
Before we dig into the topic, it should be noted that carpenter bees are beneficial to the environment, thanks to their skills in pollination. However, many folks don't want to keep them around because of the damage they may cause, particularly to softwoods like cedar and pine. Others may encourage the bees to come through the construction of a proper bee garden, complete with inviting areas for building their homes.
There are ways to encourage these earth-friendly insects to stick around without destroying your house and furniture. Let's take a look and see what options you may have.
Though they look similar to each other – and many folks mistake them for each other – carpenter bees and bumblebees are not the same species of bee. Carpenter bees belong to the Xylocopa genus, earning their common name from their method for building homes: drilling holes in natural, unfinished wood and hard plant materials such as dead wood and bamboo. The name given to the genus comes from ancient Greek and literally means "wood cutter."
Carpenter bees make up a large number of bees and the term is used generically to describe the boring insects. Additionally, you may hear them referred to as wood bees, mason bees, termite bees, big black bees, or wood boring bees. About 500 bees make up the genus, with 31 subgenera.
A few bees in the genus have slightly different nesting habits, including the subgenus Proxylocopa that digs nesting tunnels in soil that meets their needs.
Part of identification of carpenter bees nests involves identifying the bees themselves. In many cases, carpenter bees are all black or primarily black with hints of yellow or white. Often, males look different from females, as well, with the females of many species being covered with greenish-yellow fur. Many folks frequently misidentify carpenter bees as bumblebees, due to the "fuzzy" appearance of some carpenter bees. Shiny abdomens are found on carpenter bees and not bumblebees, however, with male carpenter bees showing white or yellow faces. Female bumblebees also have entirely hairy hindlegs while carpenter bees do not.
Two species of carpenter bees occur in the eastern United States: Xylocopa virginica and X. micans. Three western species include X. sonorina, X. tabaniformis orpifex, and X. californica. The X. virginica is the most widely distributed of carpenter bee species in the United States.
Unlike honeybees which build hives with the gooey, dripping honeycomb we love, a carpenter bee nest is created through the boring of holes into wood, bamboo, and other natural materials soft enough for their "drilling" skills to work properly. Eggs are laid inside the nests and then seal in the eggs with food provision for the larvae when they hatch. The seal protects the larvae until they develop enough to emerge safely.
The holes that carpenter bees bore are perfectly round, with piles of yellow, brown, or green dust typically kicked out from the holes, often still outside the tunnels. The powder comes from the wood or bamboo that the bees have drilled through, much like sawdust from a board you drill with a driver.
Softer wood is the preferred housing location for carpenter bees and the holes drilled are usually about 1/2 inch in diameter. The places chosen for drilling in for these nests are usually at least 2 feet long, allowing the multiple sub-channels that the bees drill for branching off the main tunnel and providing developmental space for many eggs.
If you spot a guardian bee buzzing around a round, small hole bored into wood somewhere, look for yellow coloration at the bottom of the hole. The yellow marks the presence of bees – the guardian confirms it.
If natural material is in abundance near your home – or makes up your home! – it's probably wise to take a gander about to see if you spot any signs of carpenter bees. They bore into wooden structures, logs, furniture, wood piles, decks, wooden fences, porches, and similar areas. Unpainted and unstained woods are the most likely choices.
Springtime welcomes flowers and with them, carpenter bees. Exact seasons will vary depending on your climate, but "springtime" is the general term given. This is when the bees will emerge, seek mates, and start building new nests. If carpenter bees have plagued you in the past, start looking out for signs of the insects’ return when the first hint of spring awakens. Continually check throughout the season to avoid damage.
Three major signs of an infestation of carpenter bees include:
While considered mostly harmless, at least to humans, carpenter bees have been known to cause some pretty severe damage. They’re not eating the wood like termites do, but the damage they cause from boring into wood may well cause severe, structural damage if they’re not caught in time.
Structural wood of houses, porches, decks, fences, and others easily become the homes of these boring insects. Which means intense damage can occur – and you well not even notice until it's too late.
Unpainted, unstained wood that is undecayed will be the primary target for the holes, though they may bore into dead wood, lumber, and other materials, if they are available and unstained.
Some folks also choose to get rid of carpenter bees because of fear, irritation, or allergies. Carpenter bees don't typically sting unless provoked or bothered, but that doesn't mean someone can't accidentally get in their way, resulting in the unwanted (or highly problematic) sting.
While carpenter bees are excellent for the environment, they’re not always a great home companion, thanks to those housing habits of their. Keeping them alive but away from the home is the preferred choice for getting rid of carpenter bees. Some natural solutions make this possible.
Inside the home, citrus leaves a fresh, clean feeling for humans. Carpenter bees, however, hate the smell of citrus sprays and will avoid the stuff like the plague. Create your own citrus spray with essential oils or purchase pre-made sprays online or at the store.
Or, if you prefer, make your own spray via boiling water, then adding citrus rind to the water. Once it has cooled, pour into a spray bottle and take it outside to spray around exposed wood, existing carpenter bee holes, and other locations that seem suspect.
Another natural deterrent for some insects, including carpenter bees, is almond oil. Grab a spray bottle and fill it with water. Next, add a few drops of almond oil (sometimes called almond essential oil – though an extract would also work). Shake thoroughly, then get to work. Spray around holes, unexposed wood, and any other locations you’ve seen the bees hovering around.
Interestingly enough, carpenter bees hate loud music and other loud noises. Obviously, you can't keep loud music on day and night, but you can crank the volume up for a while if you notice carpenter bees hanging out. You don't need to choose obnoxious music, either. Go with your favorites. Just crank it up high so the vibrations are intense enough to annoy the bees into relocating.
Okay, so finishing off wood isn't technically natural, but it does avoid the use of insecticides and doesn't have to result in the death of carpenter bees.
Since the bees won't bore into wood that has been lacquered, stained, or painted, you can help prevent the issues by adding these finishing touches to your porch, deck, and furniture, or adding a new coat of paint to the house if it's gotten a bit old.
If the natural approach simply isn't working and the damage is imminent, there are some other methods for disposing of carpenter bees around the house. Specifically, specialized sprays exist for killing and eliminating problematic insects. The issues with most of these sprays are toxic to both humans and animals, and will eliminate the bees, not just drive them away.
Make sure you keep the kids and pets away and let the sprays dissipate thoroughly before you remove debris and dead insects.
While carpenter bees are typically peaceful, if they feel threatened or become disturbed, they are likely to sting. Sprays and chemicals are particularly aggressive, as far as bees are concerned, so use precautions to protect yourself against stings when you aim to eliminate a carpenter bee nest.
Disposing of problematic carpenter bees isn't the only trick here. You’re going to need to prevent them from returning, as well. To help prevent their return:
Sometimes, DIY-ing it isn't enough, particularly if you have limitations like allergies or mobility concerns. In this case, whether the infestation is mild or extreme, it's always okay to bring in a professional to help you care for the situation. It should be noted, however, that most pros will use commercial equipment and insecticides, meaning they will eliminate the bees instead of encouraging the carpenter bees to move away from the house. You may be able to request natural deterrents instead, but there's no guarantee they’ll work with you on that. Keep this in mind as you consider your options.
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