SIZE: Carpenter bees are typically around 1 inch in length.
COLOR: Carpenter bees are often mistaken for bumble bees due to their similarity in size, and sometimes, yellow and black bands. Both can appear as solid black bees, but a carpenter bee has a hairless, black and shiny abdomen, while bumble bees are fuzzy all over.
BEHAVIOR: The key to identifying a solid black bee as a carpenter bee has to do with where you find them. Carpenter bees are sometimes known as wood bees, since they have an affinity for burrowing into, and nesting within, wood. They don’t actually eat the wood, but they do chew through it to make nests. Unfortunately, this can present a danger to your property. You’ll often see them buzzing around the eaves of your home (i.e., the overhanging edges of your roof) or wood around your property. You may also find them crawling in and out of sheds, wood piles, wooden porches and even the structure of your home.
Despite how this may seem, carpenter bees are not unreasonably aggressive. While capable of stinging multiple times without dying, they will only do so when provoked or if their nest is disturbed. Only female bees have stingers, and the carpenter females are pretty reserved about using them on people. On the other hand, males are very aggressive and will dart around and hover in front of your face if they feel you present a danger to them or their nest. This ‟stingless aggression” is little more than a scare tactic, but should serve as a warning that you’re getting too close for their comfort.
In general, these bees prefer to stay away from painted, stained or varnished wood, and wood that has bark on it. That doesn’t mean they won’t nest in trees, but will choose a barkless tree over a live, healthy tree. In the eastern portion of the United States, carpenter bees tend to nest in softwoods, such as cypress, pine, fir, redwood and cedar. In the western portion of the United States, eucalyptus, redwood and oak are preferred.
They also prefer weathered wood, bare wood, wood that isn’t painted, varnished or stained, wood with exposed cuts, wood with holes from nails or even previous bee nests. The bees see anything that makes excavation easier for them as more attractive. As they tunnel into the wood, piles of coarse sawdust will sometimes gather at the base of the hole that is used for entry and exit. These holes will be perfectly round and just big enough for you to get your finger into … not that it’s ever smart to poke your finger into bee holes, hives or nests!
While it’s not always necessary for carpenter bees, sometimes bee control methods are needed. This includes liquid bee sprays, insecticidal dusts and plugging up existing holes to prevent reuse and structural damage. These methods should always be performed by a pest management professional to ensure your home and family remain unharmed. To prevent carpenter bees:
Paint the surface of any exposed wood in and around your home.
Paint is more effective at deterring bee holes than stains or preservatives, but even the latter two are better than having bare wood.
Keep garages and other openings closed during the spring (nesting season) to keep bees out of your home.