If you've ever been head-butted by a husky, stocky-looking bee with an attitude, chances are that it was a male carpenter bee. That's how they defend their females and their nesting areas. It can be pretty scary unless you know that it's just a show. They can't hurt you. They just want you to think that they can.
Both male and female carpenter bees look a lot like bumble bees and are roughly the same size. They can easily be told apart, however, because the hairs on a bumble bee's abdomen are much longer and look furry to the naked eye, whereas a carpenter bee's abdomen looks shiny.
Carpenter bees are true bees, and like other bees, they're primarily beneficial insects. They are tireless pollinators of many garden flowers and agricultural crops, and are the primary pollinators of some plants. They're also very polite in some ways: The males completely lack stingers, which is why they head-butt people. That's the limit of their combat abilities. They cannot sting.
Female carpenter bees have stingers, but rarely use them. You have to practically sit on a female carpenter bee before she'll sting. Even then, it's a wimpy sting compared to those of some other stinging insects like honey bees, wasps, or hornets. Our techs don't even bother suiting up for carpenter bee work. Even when working up close to them to control them, the chances of getting stung are slim.
At this point, you may rightfully be wondering why anyone would want to exterminate such gentle and helpful creatures as carpenter bees. The answer is simple: Carpenter bees drill holes. The female drill holes in any convenient piece of coniferous wood such as pine, spruce, or fir, as well as some deciduous woods like poplar and aspen. They drill perfectly-round holes in houses, sheds, barns, siding, wooden decks, fences, backyard swing sets, patio furniture, and pretty much anything else made of wood.
In nature, carpenter bees drill holes into dead trees; and if they stuck to dead trees, chances are that no one would bother them. The problem is that for all their good points, carpenter bees don't make much of a distinction between a dead tree, your house, or any other piece of dead wood. It's all the same to them. If it's made of wood, they'll drill holes in it.
In addition to drilling holes, carpenter bees also leave ugly stains composed of wax, frass (sawdust), and fecal material. These stains are unsightly and can be very difficult to remove. They're also hard to paint over because the wax penetrates into the wood and can cause some paints not to adhere properly. They also leave piles of sawdust under the holes that they're drilling. In fact, the first sign of a carpenter bee problem that many folks notice are the piles of sawdust. If you see a pile of sawdust on your deck, look up under the rail. Ten to one, there will be a carpenter bee hole right above the pile.
So why do carpenter bees drill holes? It's not for the sheer joy of it, and it's not because they like annoying us. Female carpenter bees drill holes in which to lay their eggs. Once they penetrate the surface to a depth of about 3/8 of an inch, they make an abrupt turn in the direction of the grain and excavate a tunnel inside the wood. The tunnels can range in length from a few inches to a few feet.
Once the tunnel is drilled to the bee's satisfaction, she will start laying eggs in it in single rows, each egg separated from the adjacent ones by bits of wax. By some mechanism that we don't quite understand, the eggs will hatch in reverse order: The ones laid most recently and therefore nearest the exit hole will hatch first, and the ones deepest in the tunnel will hatch last.
As the years go by, the same carpenter bee (as well as her daughters) may reuse the same nest and even build extensions in the form of deeper tunnels that branch off the main one. Over the course of a few years, the wood can be destroyed by the combination of drilling and pathogens that the drilling allowed into the wood.
Male carpenter bees don't drill holes. As mentioned earlier, their place in this drama is to head-butt people who get too close to the nest.
Carpenter bee removal and damage repair is challenging, specialized work that requires great skill and specialized equipment. The Augusta office of Rid-A-Critter specializes in providing carpenter bee removal and damage repair throughout the great Augusta area. In addition to fixing the visible holes, we also exclude the bees by sealing or screening them out. This reduces the likelihood of their starting the process all over again on the unpainted sides of the trim. We've had great success with this approach.
If you're experiencing a problem with carpenter bees, please give us a call for a no-obligation consultation.
Carpenter Bee Control Gallery
Here are some pictures of carpenter bee work we've done in and around the Augusta, Georgia area.
Carpenter bee holes in a fence in Augusta
Carpenter bee holes in the wood of a house
Carpenter bees gathering nectar from flowers
Before and after carpenter bee control job
Carpenter bee damage to rafters in Augusta
Carpenter bee and woodpecker damage
Carpenter bee stains under the eaves of a house
Carpenter bee control job at a log cabin
Carpenter bee drilling a hole in a deck railing
Carpenter bee debris on siding in Stockbridge
Carpenter bee holes in the wood of a house
Carpenter bees often build nests in high places
Carpenter bee hole in a railing
Carpenter bee frass (sawdust) from a single hole
Do-it-yourself carpenter bee control attempt
Installing screening to keep carpenter bees out
Close up of a carpenter bee