Carpenter Bees Identification: All You Need To Know

Carpenter bees are a type of bee found in the US. They are so named because they excavate tunnels in sound wood, damaging structures over time. The only species of economic importance is Xylocopa virginica (L.), and males have white faces while females have black faces.

Unlike bumblebees, carpenter bees have a shiny black abdomen and black and yellow stripes. Carpenter bees are very aggressive and can be quite territorial. They are not aggressive, but they will sting if they feel threatened.

Continue reading this article of carpenter bees to know more about these pests.

Carpenter Bees Identification: Bee Facts

Macro of violet carpenter bee (Xylocopa violacea) from above on bark of pine tree

Carpenter bees are a type of bee known for drilling circular entrance holes in wood to create tunnels. But they don’t eat wood. Still, it can cause significant damage to structures. They are similar to bumblebees but lack yellow markings on their abdomens.

Carpenter bees go by many common names, but they all have the same physical features. These physical features may vary slightly depending on the species, but six different types of carpenter bees exist.

Carpenter bees are black and yellow or black and white, and they have a shiny abdomen. They are about 1/2 inch long, and they can be mistaken for bumblebees.

Eastern Carpenter Bees look like bumblebees, but they have a black and yellow thorax. They are the same size as bumblebees. Carpenter bees have smooth, shiny abdomens.

Carpenter bees are distinguishable by their black and yellow stripes. These bees build their nests in trees or buildings with exposed wood, chewing the wood to make small indentations to lay their eggs.

The Behavior of Carpenter Bees (Carpenter Bee Holes and Tunnel)

Close up macro Carpenter bee making a nest on the dried bamboo, carpenter bee sweeping small sliver outside the nest.

Carpenter bees are most often noticed as they bore into wood and create tunnels for their nesting sites. They will select softwoods materials such as redwood, cedar, cypress, and pine to drill into. The bees will then lay their eggs inside the tunnel homes created, and the larvae will feed on the wood.

Carpenter bees are attracted to certain types of wood, but the harder woods are less attractive to them. In nature, they will choose dead trees or fallen logs. But in urban areas, they will substitute nicely on decks, siding, rafters, window trim, fascia, wooden furniture, and pole barns.

When a female carpenter bee selects nesting sites, it will bore a hole into the wood. The hole is about ½ inch across, and the tunnel is about 6-8 inches long. You may also find sawdust and frass around the entrances of their nests.

Interestingly, carpenter bees will emerge again in April and May to repeat this cycle. There is only one generation of carpenter bees per year. Carpenter bees will lay eggs into pollen balls before sealing them off.

The pollen ball is the provisioning of the cells that they will lay an egg into before sealing it off. Once the carpenter bees’ egg hatches, the larva will feed on its provisions inside the pollen ball.

Types of carpenter bees

Southern Carpenter Bee – Xylocopa Micans

A detailed macro image of a Carpenter Bee perched on a vibrant yellow flower. An up close view of this bee's eyes, wings, legs, and fuzzy black and yellow body.

The Xylocopa Micans is a carpenter bee species commonly found in the southern portions of Virginia and Florida. They are also commonly referred to as South Carpenter Bees.

These bees get their name from their habit of building their nests in rotting wood, where they then lay their eggs. Additionally, these bees take nectar and pollen from a variety of flowers.

Mican carpenter bees are carpenter bees that only live for about one year. Unlike other carpenter bees, they spend the winter months living in and building their nests. It gives them a head start on reproducing early in the spring.

Eastern Carpenter Bee – Xylocopa virginica

Eastern Carpenter Bee - Xylocopa virginica

The Eastern Carpenter Bee, or Xylocopa virginica, can be found in the United States and Canada. These bees are important for pollination and are considered mican species. Females are the dominant sex and are responsible for reproduction, foraging, and nest construction.

Males exist solely to mate with females and do not participate in other activities. Virginica have black, metallic bodies with a purple tint; males have white spots on their faces.

The eastern carpenter bee is a species of carpenter bee that prefers to nest in timbers such as pine or cedarwood.

Females are slightly larger than the secondary males and have a unique characteristic- they collect nectar with special maxillae. There are three subspecies of virginica, including virginica texana, krombeni, and virginica virginica.

Horsefly-like Carpenter Bee- Xylocopa Tabaniformis

Horsefly-like Carpenter Bee- Xylocopa Tabaniformis

The Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa tabaniformis, is commonly found in Oregon, Nevada, and Utah. Xylocopa Tabaniformis, or the horsefly-like carpenter bee, build their nest in native dead softwoods such as cottonwood, coffee plants, Douglas fir, incense cedar,

Mexican pine, and giant redwood. These bees emerge in late winter to early spring to mate.

California Carpenter Bee – Xylocopa Californica

California Carpenter Bee - Xylocopa Californica

The California Carpenter Bee is another carpenter bee in the subgenus Virginica. They are very similar in appearance to Xylocopa californica, another species of carpenter bee. The main difference between the two species is that X. California nests in hardwoods while X. virginica nests in soft, dry softwoods.

The California Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa Californica, is a species of carpenter bee that has been found in the southwestern United States. The states where they have been found include California: Southern California, Nevada, and Utah.

Valley Carpenter Bee – Xylocopa Varipuncta

Valley Carpenter Bee - Xylocopa Varipuncta

The Valley Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa Varipuncta, is found in the western parts of the United States. The males are a beautiful golden brown color and are fuzzy. At the same time, the females look very standard.

Interestingly, the valley carpenter bee is unique in that it can withstand both high and low temperatures by thermoregulating. When young adult bees hibernate in nests, they emerge in the spring. These species of bee typically nests in rotting or decaying wood.

Young adult males and females are the ones who are mainly responsible for finding a nesting site.

Sonoria – Xylocopa Sonorina

The Sonoria – Xylocopa Sonorina, more commonly known as the Sonoran carpenter bee. It is a species of bee found in North America and the southwestern United States. The larvae take about six weeks to mature, and then they will overwinter in cells near the soil’s surface.

It is a large and hairy bee that can easily identify its black and yellow markings. It is a species of carpenter bee that prefers to nest in dry wood that is not decaying or rotting. 

Do Carpenter Bees Sting?

carpenter bee, Xylocopa, Xylocopa violacea, violet carpenter bee, Echium vulgare, blueweed, vipers bugloss, hymenoptera

Carpenter bees are known for their gentle nature, but contrary to popular belief, they can sting. They are not aggressive and only sting humans if they feel threatened. Their primary duty is to protect the next generation of bees, so they will attack anything that comes near their nests.

Interestingly, male carpenter bees do not have stingers. The males’ primary purpose is to mate with the female bees. Female bees will only sting humans if they feel provoked. So, if you are near a carpenter beehive, be sure to give them plenty of space and avoid antagonizing them!

Carpenter Bee sting treatment

If a carpenter bee stings you, the first thing you should do is scrape off the stinger and let fresh air get to the site. Apply an ice pack to cool the area down and take pain medication as needed.

In general, most reactions to a carpenter bee sting are not very severe. However, if the reaction is more severe and you have difficulty breathing, you should perform CPR immediately. 

Although carpenter bees are not aggressive, they can sting if they feel threatened. To help relieve the symptoms, use these solutions:

  • Epinephrine to reduce your body’s allergic response.
  • Intravenous antihistamines reduce inflammation in your airway so you can breathe independently.
  • Use an albuterol inhaler to relieve symptoms of difficult breathing.

Signs of a Carpenter Bees Infestation

A few signs will indicate you have a carpenter bee infestation. One of the most common is seeing holes in wood that have been bored by the bees. You may also see the bees themselves hovering around, particularly near wooden structures.

Carpenter bees prefer to nest in bare trees or wood, so if you notice your home has begun to show damage, it is likely due to an infestation. 

A few signs can indicate you have a carpenter bees infestation:

  1. If you see large amounts of sawdust around the eaves or roof of your house, carpenter bees are likely nesting there.
  2. Check the broken screens, cracks, and crevices around your home.

Damage Caused By Carpenter Bees

worn or weathered wood with moss and lichen growing on it and carpenter bee holes

Carpenter bees are often mistaken for bumblebees. They are solitary and do not have a queen like bumblebees. Carpenter bees get their name because they build their nests in wood. They can cause damage to wood if they nest in it for an extended time.

Males lack a stinger and cannot sting. Carpenter bees are gentle creatures that will not attack humans unless they feel threatened. Despite their appearance, carpenter bees are harmless and will not sting.

Carpenter bees get their name because they burrow into wood to make their nests. They are often confused with bumblebees, which can sting.

Control of Carpenter Bees

Carpenter bees are a common pest that can cause a lot of damage to wood. They can be difficult to get rid of, but there are some steps you can take to help control them. 

  • The best preventative control is to use hardwoods that are less attractive to carpenter bees or make woods less attractive by painting or pressure treating.
  • A few liquid pesticide sprays contain carbaryl (Sevin) or synthetic pyrethroids (e.g., cyfluthrin or permethrin) to get rid of carpenter bees. When the bees land on or bore into the treated wood surface, they will die.
  • Once the holes are drilled, an insecticide powder or dust (carbaryl, boric acid, or diatomaceous earth) can be puffed into the tunnel opening.
  • If they are killed with an aerosol spray labeled for wasp or bee control, it is important to allow the bees to enter the tunnels before spraying. The holes should be plugged with a dowel, caulking, and repainted so that the bees do not use them again in the future.
  • It would help if you kept all the doors closed in your house at all times as they can easily fly in and out.
  • Use silicone-based caulk to fix any tears in your screens to prevent them from getting inside.

Who are the natural predators of carpenter bees?

The natural predators of carpenter bees vary depending on where you live. In general, woodpeckers are the main predator of carpenter bees. Other animals that eat carpenter bees include birds, mammals, and insects.

Do carpenter bees eat wood?

A carpenter bee burrowing into a wooden deck

Carpenter bees and termites are two different types of insects often mistaken for each other. Carpenter bees create nesting chambers in wood, while termites do not eat wood.

Termites instead consume the cellulose in wood, breaking down into a nutrient-rich slurry. Carpenter bee tunnels into the wood to make nests while leaving telltale signs like round holes and sawdust.

Are carpenter bees blind?

Carpenter bees are mostly blind and get their name because they like burrow into wood. They are also known as solitary bees because they don’t interact with other bees.

Do carpenter bees hibernate?

Carpenter bees typically hibernate over winter, although the length of time they spend in hibernation can vary depending on the climate. They will typically seek out abandoned nest tunnels where they can hunker down and stay warm.

In the spring, they will emerge from hibernation and feed on nectar. Carpenter bees are solitary insects and do not live in colonies.

Where do carpenter bees go in the winter?

Carpenter bees are a type of bee that is found in North America. They are different from other bees because they do not form colonies. Instead, they live in individual nests.

Carpenter bees survive the winter by hibernating in abandoned nest tunnels. They feed on nectar, mate and build galleries during warmer months, and reuse existing galleries or excavate new galleries.

Adult carpenter bees stay in abandoned nest tunnels where they store little pollen to survive the colder temperatures.

Where do carpenter bees nest?

Carpenter bees are attracted to unpainted, weathered, and softwood. They typically nest in eaves, rafters, fascia boards, siding, wooden shake roofs, and decks. Carpenter bees are less likely to attack harder woods like pressure-treated or painted wood.

How do carpenter bees mate?

Carpenter bees mate uniquely. Unlike most other species of bees, carpenter bees have only one mated individual per nest.

Mating is often accompanied by a bobbing dance that involves about a dozen males and only a few females. Occasionally, the couple will face each other and hover for a few minutes before mating.

Conclusion

Carpenter bees are a type of bee known for burrowing into wood. They are typically about 1/2 to 1 inch in size. Their abdomens are bare and shiny, different from bumblebees who have hairy abdomens.

In conclusion, carpenter bees are important pollinators. They prefer to nest in unpainted or unfinished wood. They are not a structural pest since they do not spread throughout the entire structure.

FAQs

How many Carpenter Bees in a Nest?

These nests can be sociable or solitary, with two to five females.

Do birds eat carpenter bees?

Carpenter bees have a limited number of natural predators. Woodpeckers, as well as other birds like shrikes and bee-eaters, are the principal predators. Carpenter bees are also eaten by a few animals, such as ratels.

Why Do Carpenter Bees Drill Holes?

Female carpenter bees carve circular holes in wood to create distinct galleries to lay eggs and protect their developing larvae. Although certain species like hardwood, they prefer to create their galleries out of soft, unpainted, and old wood.

What does a wood bee look like?

Carpenter bees resemble bumblebees, but their abdomens lack yellow markings. Carpenter bee abdomens are smooth and glossy, but bumblebee abdomens are hairy and yellow.