Carpenter bees derive their name from their innate habit of burrowing into hard plant material mostly bamboo and deadwood. They will thus take over any unprotected piece of wood and build several nests inside it. Man and bees, in general, are not friends and that is why every time we see a hive, we do our best to stay away from it. Besides, most bee species are protective of their hives homes and that includes the carpenter bees.
And given the fact that there is a large variety of bee species, it is normal to be curious and wonder whether the carpenter bee sting or bite. Well, the short answer is that carpenter bees do sting. The female carpenter bee will deal with you and deliver a very painful sting, once you try to bother them in their burrows, but if you don’t bother with them, then you are safe.
And mind your carpenter bees are not barbed stingers and can, therefore, deliver a couple of stings without necessarily dying. A factor that works differently for the honey bees, which die after delivering a sting, this is because the stinger is barbed and when it gets stuck on its prey, the desperate attempts to free itself by removing the stinger rips from its body of the digestive tract, muscles, and nerves.
Carpenter bees also have the male species within their family that have not been equipped with stingers, so they don’t sting. Identifying the carpenter bee is not an easy task either, as they are easily confused with the bumblebees, because of their resemblance in size and shape. What, therefore, distinguishes them from the bumblebees is the lack of hair on their upper abdomen that has a rather shiny blue-black, purple metallic or green sheen.
The male carpenter bee, on the other hand, features orange to yellow color.
Just because they love to make their homes inside wood doesn’t mean that the carpenter bees feed on wood. On the contrary, the carpenter bee feed on pollen and flower nectar, but they do dig holes in wood for their young ones. And while at this the male bees will stay in patrol of the territory to keep away predators and fertilize the female carpenter bees.
You must be wondering how the male carpenter bees keep intruders out of their territories, yet they can’t sting? Well, bees, in general, have been designed to respond to outside aggression by using their stinger, but for the male carpenter bees, they have had to come up with alternative means of manning up and will aggressively and annoyingly dart around their intruder to scare them away.
Since the nesting job is done by the female carpenter bee, it is the one that will search around for a suitable home for its young ones. They thus love weathered, stained, unfinished or raw wood, also if you leave nail holes on the surface of the above types of wood then you are calling the carpenter bee because you have made their burrowing job easier, by giving them a head start with the nail hole.
Splinters and cracks on the wood are also a welcome sign for the carpenter bees, other probable places that the bees are likely to make their homes is in the picnic tables, decks, doors, and fence posts that have been planted close to flower beds and gardens. They also don’t nest on wood that has obvious decay characteristics and don't deceive yourself by pressure-treating wood thinking that you will keep them off because you won’t.
Softwoods such as cypress, cedar, and redwood are also not immune from the bee; others include the pecan, Douglas fir, mulberry, and ash. So to keep the bee off your precious piece or pieces of wood; use paint or varnish on them before the spring season, to keep them at bay. Insecticides can also be adopted for areas that are susceptible to attack.
Female carpenter bees will either dig their own nests or reuse a pre-existing nest tunnel. When making their home, the bee will first make a perfect circular entry hole and create a nest that is parallel to the grains of the wood. They do make their nests longer, for reuse by the successive generation; the successors always try to be more innovative by improving the inherited nests and this they do by excavating wood from the end of the tunnel.
When the female is satisfied with the home that it has just created for its young ones, it then starts to stock food. And here it will gather bee bread (nectar & flower pollen), and put it at the end of the tunnel, then lay an egg at the food mass, they will then use saliva and wood pulp to seal the brood cell. The above process will be repeated, with each cell well equipped with food and a single egg.
The bee larvae will the hatch in the nest cells and feed on the pre-stored nectar and pollen, this stage normally takes place during summer. The larvae then enter the pupal stage when it is through with the feed; it is at this stage that it transforms into an adult. They will then have to chew their way out in late summer after full transformation into adulthood.
Well, as the old adage goes, “prevention is better than cure,” it would be best if you first avoided the problem with carpenter bees by painting wood surfaces. Also, ensure that prior to painting holes and cracks, they have been filled with putty. You could also preserve your wood with metallic salts, or use nonwood surfaces and coatings to keep the bees away.
But if the bees have already established the nests that are normally pretty hard to reach from the outside, then the only option that you are left with is to get rid of the wood completely and replace it with a treated or protected one. But if the wood is still usable and you want to keep it then you will have to employ the use of pesticides.
The latter can be applied to the entrances so that the bees will take them to the interior of the nest that where you can barely reach thus spread the lethal dose. Also ensure that as you use the pesticides, there is no viable option nearby for the bees to begin all over. And don’t use chemicals around the area that the bees have infested in the hope of scaring them away because it won’t work.
You also need to be very tactful on how you use the chemical and here you should note the periods that the bees become active like in the spring, or when the new adults come out of their breeding cells in late summer. Carpenter bees can be quite persistent if you don’t take stern measures in subduing them.
So once you finish creating the tunnels with pesticides caulk and repaint them or else the bees with their cleverness will re-emerge by chewing through the untreated areas. Lastly, be sure to cover the whole wood surface and any other surrounding wood surface with paint or pesticide before they make a comeback.
Carpenter bees feed on pollen and nectar from the flowering plants thus good in pollination; bees, in general, are needed for the survival of the human and animal race. Why? You may wonder, well have you ever heard that without bees man will be extinct, well here is one of the simple reasons; bees are the reason behind the pollination of flowers, fruits, and vegetables.
And this they do by transporting pollen from plant to plant, as they collect nectar for their hives. This is, however, not to say that the entire food production is dependent on bees because other insects and birds also do the same job. However, the industriousness of the bees is what contributes to one-third of the food that we consume on a daily basis. The above is mainly achieved by the honey bee’s failure to which most of the food-producing plants and crops would be dead.
Carpenter bees have natural predators and this are the woodpeckers and other bird species. Male carpenter bees protect their mating rights by chasing off other bees that may try to come close to their territory. Carpenter bees just like humans go into their burrows to rest at night because they are barely able to make a harvest of pollen and nectar in pitch darkness.
The female carpenter bee has been found to outlive the male that rarely lives past one year. However, you should know that if they start nesting in a block of wood around your home, the problem gets worse with time and even the annual deaths of the male bees won’t make a difference.
Our last point goes to the environmentalists that would want to save a dying bee and don’t exactly know how to do it. Well, if you spot a bee that seems weak and wish to help it, all you need to do is give it a mixture of granulated sugar and water. When you have prepared the solution, place it close to the bee.