Carpenter Bee

Actual Size: ½ ” –  1”

Characteristics: Large, black and yellow; shiny hairless abdomen

Legs: 6

Antennae: Yes

Habitat: They do not live in nests. Instead, females bore holes through soft wood to lay eggs in.

Habits:

  • Male carpenter bees lack a stinger, but are very aggressive
  • Female carpenter bees do possess a stinger but seldom use it unless they are handled or provoked
  • Can be a real nuisance to homeowners because they tunnel into decks, porches, and other wood structures

Carpenter Bees in Virginia

The carpenter bee is a large, robust bee that bores tunnels into the untreated wood of structures. Generally black in color and 1/4 to 1 inch in length, these bees are often mistaken for bumblebees. Carpenter bees resemble bumblebees, but are solitary and do not build hives. The upper surface of their abdomen is bare and shiny black, while bumblebees have a hairy abdomen with at least some yellow markings. This type of stinging bee gets its name from its habit of boring into the wood like a carpenter. Carpenter bees do not actually eat wood but cause damage to structures by excavating tunnels in wood, particularly in lumber that is dry and weathered.

Carpenter Bee Nests & Habitat

Carpenter bees are not very social. They prefer to create individual nests, typically in trees, eaves, or on the sides of structures. Both male and female carpenter bees overwinter in old nest tunnels before emerging in the springtime to mate. After mating, the female will seek out a suitable piece of wood to construct their nest while the male hovers over the nesting site. The female excavates a gallery using her mandibles, furnishes her nest with “bee bread” (a mixture of pollen and regurgitated nectar), deposits an egg, and closes the cell with chewed wood pulp. This activity often results in a large amount of sawdust and pollen on the ground below the area being excavated—this is the main sign of an infestation!

Carpenter Bee Behavior & Threats

Male carpenter bees are more aggressive than females and will relentlessly defend and protect their nest. However, they lack a stinger and thus are unable to sting like the females. A female carpenter bee will only sting when provoked or threatened. If a person is stung by a carpenter bee and is allergic to bee venom, they should seek immediate medical attention.

The main concern with carpenter bees is the damage they can cause. Although carpenter bees can be helpful pollinators, they can cause significant damage to structures such as windowsills, wooden siding, decks, railings, outdoor furniture, and fences can be attacked. While the damage to wood from the excavation of individual carpenter bees may be slight, the activities of numerous bees over many years can result in considerable destruction. If you notice signs of carpenter bee activity, always contact your local bee exterminator.