Carpenter bees are often mistaken for bumblebees which are also large, hairy and distinctive with their black and yellow coloring. The difference may be hard to see since we usually don’t want to get too close to a bee, but their “tail” is actually black and shiny, a trait that differs from their doppelgänger, the bumblebee. Another difference? While the workers in a bumblebee colony will sting if provoked, it’s rare to be stung by a carpenter bee. Anyway, as you may have guessed by their name, it’s not their sting you have to worry about. The well-being of your house is another story, however, but not for the reason you might think.

How Carpenter Bees Damage Wood

Carpenter bees often live by themselves in nests inside wood. Using their strong jaws, they’ll tunnel into a tree limb, a beam, your deck, a porch railing, or any other wooden structure they find handy. Rather than eating the wood they bore through, they use the particles to construct individual cells. (They actually feed on pollen and nectar just like honeybees.)

If you spot a large bee going in or coming out of a round hole about a half-inch in diameter, and notice a bit of course sawdust, you can be certain that carpenter bees have invaded your home. Why not just one bee, if they live alone? Because they like to live near—just not with—each other!

The tunnels and nests of carpenter bees are not really a cause of much damage to the integrity of the wood they invade unless the behavior is repeated over and over through the years. Rather, they open the door for other forms of damage, such as invasion by carpenter ants, damage by woodpeckers who probe the tunnels for larvae to eat, and different wood-decaying types of fungi.

Life Cycle of a Carpenter Bee

After mating in the spring, a male carpenter bee dies, but the female begins expanding the nest to get it ready for the eggs she’ll soon lay. She’ll make several new cells (rooms) in the nest, regurgitate some pollen and nectar in each, and then lay her eggs in each of the cells. The eggs take only a matter of days to hatch, at which point they’ll start feeding on the food left by their mother, and will live their separate spaces within the nest until they reach maturity, a process that takes only 5-7 weeks. All carpenter bees hibernate during the winter, and become active again in the spring. Their lifespan is about one year.

Professional Help to Rid Your Home of Carpenter Bees

It’s tricky to try ridding the nests of carpenter bees on your own, since you can easily over-spray the nest, causing the bees and/or larvae to die inside the wood, leaving behind a decaying mess.

A professional will first identify the species of carpenter bee (there are approximately 500 different species) to make sure he or she uses the proper methods to rid the nests of all inhabitants.

When the bees return to their nests (usually at dusk), the pest professional will spray the correct amount and type of pesticide inside the opening of the nest. He’ll use a dust-type pesticide so that the bee is covered, but is still able to exit the nest the next morning. When the bee cleans itself, it will ingest the pesticide and die as a result. He’ll follow-up in the spring before nesting begins with a second treatment — this time using a liquid pesticide to prevent new bees from entering to nest.

In the Des Moines region (including Ankeny, Ames, Urbandale, Johnston, West Des Moines, Clive, Indianola and other surrounding cities) Miller Pest & Termite has been the “go-to” source of pest control for both residents and businesses for more than 15 years. We’re rated A+ by the Better Business Bureau and are an Angie’s List Super-Service Award winner. Contact Miller Pest and Termite (Miller the Killer) today for a free inspection and rid your home of carpenter bees or other common pests once and for all!