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How to Identify and Get Rid of Carpenter Bees

Carpenter Bees are important pollinators, but if they infest your home you must get rid of them.
Carpenter Bees are important pollinators, but if they infest your home you must get rid of them. | Source

How to Identify Carpenter Bees

Carpenter Bees are those big, fuzzy bees flying around your house. Several of them may hover in one spot, and they seem to be guarding something. They'll chase you, harass you, annoy you, and you’re probably worried they'll swoop in and attack every time you pass.

They might look a lot like bumblebees, but they’re not. If you look closely you'll see that carpenter bees have smooth, black abdomens where bumblebee have furry abdomens. But the most notable difference is their nesting habits.

Carpenter bees make their homes in wood, and sometimes their nests are hard to spot. When you see several large bees hovering around in the same place every day, there is probably a nest somewhere nearby. Look under decks, picnic tables, stairs, or any unfinished wood surface in the area. The hole will appear perfectly round, and perhaps half an inch across.

You may notice wood dust on the ground below the hole where the bees have excavated, and you may see a bee periodically entering and exiting the nest.

A Carpenter Bee infestation can be a problem, but the situation is not as dire as you think.

Are Carpenter Bees Dangerous?

The bees you see buzzing around apparently on guard duty are doing exactly that: These are males guarding the nest. Males are not equipped with stingers, and though they may appear aggressive to any animal or person who comes near, they pose no threat to you.

If you watch closely you’ll notice them chasing away any insects that come within their air space, and if you toss a small pebble in front of them they’ll often go after it. Yes, male carpenter bees act tough, but they're all buzz no bite.

The female, on the other hand, is a different critter. She spends most of her day out in the world, returning often to the nest. She is the bee you see going in and out throughout the day. She is capable of stinging, and can pack a wallop. However, female carpenter bees are generally docile, and unless you try to grab her or stick your finger in her nest, she isn’t likely to bother you.

It may be hard to convince someone who has a deep-seated fear of stinging insects, but there is really no reason to fear carpenter bees. They may be big, loud and annoying, but they can’t hurt you unless you do something dumb.

The real concern is the damage to the wood where they are nesting. Carpenter bees aren’t like termites or carpenter ants. They will not destroy your house, and they do not eat wood. The issue is that they nest in the same general area every generation, so if you ignore them they can drill dozens of holes in your deck or wooden furniture over the years.

One or two nests aren’t going to cause much damage, but you can see how ten or twenty nests in the same piece of furniture might cause an issue.

So, what do you do if your house is being invaded by carpenter bees?

Eastern Carpenter Bee
Eastern Carpenter Bee | Source

How to Get Rid of Carpenter Bees

If the bees have nested in a natural space, or an abandoned piece of wood you aren’t concerned about, please just leave them alone. Bees are an important part of a healthy ecosystem, and imperative in the life cycles of many flowering plants. They aren’t going to bother you, and they can even be entertaining to watch.

On the other hands, if the bees have nested in your home or some other structure that’s important to you, sadly they’ll have to go.

This was the case when my wife and I purchased our home several years ago. It was absolutely infested with carpenter bees! We have three windows in our basement, each with an unfinished piece of wood outside beneath the siding. In three small sections of wood, each about 30” x 18”, there were several dozen holes made by carpenter bees. The former owner of the home had ignored them, and they continued to expand their nesting area each season.

Here are the steps I took:

  • Step 1: The first thing I did was kill off the bees as best I could. The male guard bees flying around the nest in the daytime were easy targets with standard stinging insect killer.
  • Step 2: At night, when the females and other bees were in the nest, I sprayed inside of each hole with insect killer. For this step it's smart to use a foaming spray made especially for carpenter bees. Some experts also recommend using a powdered insecticide that the bees will track inside the nest. I repeated this every night for about a week, making sure I got the lot of them. My next step would be to seal up the holes, so I did not want to miss any of them, especially a female who might burrow further into the house.

Safety First!

Always be very careful with any insecticide. Wear gloves and eye protection and follow the directions provided by the manufacturer. Immediately clean up any areas of excess splatter, especially in places where it may be encountered by children or pets.

  • Step 3: Once the activity had died off, and I was reasonably sure I’d gotten all the bees, I sealed up the holes with Plastic Wood. Plastic Wood worked fine, but after the first couple of days I realized I must have missed a couple of bees because one or two of the buggers burrowed right through the Plastic Wood! After a brief period of ranting, I repeated the drill with the insect spray and resealed the hole.
  • Step 4: The last, and probably most important, part was to paint the wood where the damage had occurred. Carpenter bees are more prone to nesting in unfinished wood, so a couple of coats of paint dissuaded new bees from moving in.

The results were pretty good. No bees dug holes in my house for the rest of that summer. The next summer I had two or three security breaches, which I took care of by spraying, sealing and painting.

That was years ago, and I haven’t had a major problem since. I keep an eye on my deck and home, and whenever a minor issue pops up I kill, fill and paint. That puts and end to it immediately.

Carpenter Bee Traps

If you don’t want to bother with spraying and chasing bees around you might want to consider carpenter bee traps. Set them up near where the bees are nesting, and the bees will be attracted to the trap. They fly in, but they can’t fly out.

You can place them near where you have a carpenter bee problem, or be proactive and put them in places where you are worried the bees might move in. Usually people just put them where the bees are swarming.

For a lot of homeowners the swarming is the worst thing about carpenter bees. If your main concern is simply getting those darn bees away from you so you can sit on your deck in peace then carpenter bee traps are a great option, especially if you are afraid of bees. (Even though the guy on the internet tells you they are harmless!) Set up the trap at dusk when the bees aren’t active and within a few days the swarming issue should subside.

However, be aware that if the bees are boring into an important piece of property you are still going to need to take steps to repair the damage they created. The traps won’t keep more bees from coming back. Unless you repair and paint the damaged wood, you’ll always run the risk of having a carpenter bee infestation.

Learn More About Carpenter Bees

What to Do About those Pesky Bees?

If the carpenter bees aren’t bothering you, there is no reason to bother them. I never like to harm animals, but if they are trashing your house you sometimes have no choice. The best approach is prevention. Keep wooden, outdoor surfaces well-painted or stained and the bees won’t find your place so attractive.

I still have carpenter bees on my property, but they have made homes in acceptable areas. I enjoy watching them throughout the spring and summer. I keep a watchful eye on my deck and house to make sure they aren’t getting any ideas, but otherwise I let them be.

Like everything else in nature, they deserve to exist too.

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