Monday, March 19, 2012

Getting rid of carpenter bees

Yesterday, I was at my sister's house and the weather was perfect. It was so warm and nice and we watched as some friendly (to us), bug-eating lizards were sunning themselves. Then we were buzzed by one of the most invasive pests around -- carpenter bees.

These pests seek out wood to drill and burrow into to create a catacomb of perfectly round holes, then set up housekeeping and lay eggs that hatch young that burrow more wood. This cycle causes major damage and costly repairs. Can you tell that I despise this pest? Not  only because they are pesky and destructive but also because they get so close to you and hover.

They are often confused with bumble bees but they are not the same at all. They are like the evil twin of a bumble bee. Bumble bees are very helpful because they fly around spreading pollen from flower to flower -- just the thing we need in the garden. Though bumblebees will also buzz you, they at least serve a useful purpose in nature.

To identify them, the carpenter bee has a white spot on his head while the bumble bee's head is all black. Bumble bees are more hairy while carpenter bees have a slick underbelly. Bumble bees don't drill holes in your house, either. They are too busy pollinating flowers.

I found this Wikipedia image, above of carpenter bee damage. They are very destructive insects.

My sister told me how she had read that a grandmother took care of her carpenter bee problem by putting a bounty on carpenter bees. She told the the grandkids she would pay them for every carpenter bee they would knock down with a tennis racquet. They enthusiastically took her challenge and knocked down bees by the dozens. She was happy to pay her grandchildren and the next year -- no carpenter bees.

My sister and I decided to try this and she grabbed an old badminton racquet. We started swatting and before we knew it, we had downed five of the hated insects. I really think it will work to rid us of our pests and help us take our frustrations out on something that is really causing problems. It is kind of fun.

Just don't go after your bumble bees. They are probably more aggressive than the carpenter bees and they do sting (the male carpenter bees don't sting and they are usually the ones that hover). I am thinking a badminton raquet is best, too, since they are lighter that a tennis raquet. I would hate to get tennis elbow from swatting carpenter bees!


  1. I did not know about the carpenter bee! Now I'll be eager to see some bees so I can learn to distinguish between the two!

  2. Great column, Deberah - we have quite a few of these pesky carpenter bees. Thank you for the information - we will try it out, Joanie

  3. Before teaching another generation to hate/kill our valuable native pollinators, please consider some more information about carpenter bees: Carpenter bees don't sting unless very much provoked and are considered great pollinators. White spots only on males, I believe, in one of the species (for ID). They can cause damage if there are many generations of tunnels in one single area - otherwise, not often structural problems. Please reconsider and educate your readers and your families about the benefits of our native pollinators. Thank you

    A couple of the many resources out there:

    An Excerpt below from:

    There are a number of natives species of the carpenter bee in the U. S. with X. virginica, in the eastern U. S. most common. Only the female carpenter bee is capable of stinging, but rarely does so unless handled or severely agitated.

    Unlike the bumble bee that typically builds colonies in the ground, the carpenter bee is a solitary bee preferring to live and nest alone in wood tunnels. Carpenter bees do not consume wood, but their tunneling can be destructive to softwoods and hardwoods alike. Under normal conditions they are not very destructive; however, if several generations of carpenter bees have been tunneling in the same area, extensive damage is possible.

    Weathered woods are a common target of carpenter bees; thus, they are often found tunneling into fence posts, lawn furniture, the roof and eaves of buildings, decks, window shutters, wood shingles and siding.

    To deter this behavior, keep exposed wood surfaces, including nail holes and saw cuts, coated with polyurethane or oil-base paint. Consider using non-wood building materials, such as vinyl siding, to avoid possible damage by carpenter bees. If tunnel entrances are found in buildings, seal tunnel entrances immediately with caulk.

    1. I understand your position and I agree with having carpenter bees in the woods or garden. I also have been quite kind to insects in my garden by staying away from chemical fertilizers and poisons giving up some of my harvest to pests rather than endanger the beneficial insects--sometimes a hard thing when infestations of bugs like squash vine borers decimate a crop.

      I do however draw the line when a carpenter bee invades my home or damages property. I have witnessed carpenter bees boring holes in some places where they are not supposed to burrow--like painted or treated wood and it is this damage I discourage. If they were endangered I would probably feel worse about my behavior.

      I also have a problem with squirrels when they gnaw holes in my home and get into my attic and bird feeders. I have been known to transport them to areas when they can do no more damage to my property.

      I am not trying to change your mindset but I know it takes constant work to protect from insect and animal damage, even in rural areas.

      Thank you for your comment. You have a valid point and I appreciate it.

  4. Carpenter bees are dangerous like carpenter ants. Both spices destroy wood. Some times it become very hard to get rid of carpenter bee. Thanks for this useful article.