Create Your Garden

Carpenter Bee

A Carpenter bee is a large, solitary insect known for boring holes into wood to create its nest. While it is an important pollinator, its nesting habit can damage wooden structures

Carpenter Bee, Carpenter BeeS

Carpenter bees, belonging to the genus Xylocopa, are large, robust insects recognized for their tendency to burrow into wood. Unlike the misconception, they don’t eat the wood but carve out tunnels for their nests. Unlike honey bees, they don’t produce honey.

Where to Find Carpenter Bees?

These bees are found in various parts of the world, from North America to Asia. They can be found in various habitats, from forests to urban areas, anywhere they can find suitable wood for nesting. Here’s where you can typically spot them:

Wooden Structures: Carpenter bees often prefer untreated, unpainted softwoods such as pine, cedar, redwood, and cypress. Decks, fences, wooden furniture, and even the eaves and siding of houses can be prime locations for them.

Gardens and Yards: They are pollinators, so if you have flowering plants in your garden, you might see them hovering around, especially in the spring and summer when most plants are in bloom.

Dead Trees: Old tree trunks, especially those of softwood trees, can attract carpenter bees looking for nesting sites.

Wood Piles: If you store firewood or have piles of lumber in your yard, these can be potential spots where carpenter bees might decide to drill and nest.

Open Landscapes: Carpenter bees can also be found in meadows, orchards, and open woodland environments where there are plenty of flowers for nectar and pollen.

Sheds and Barns: Older wooden outbuildings are especially susceptible because they often lack the paint or treatments that deter these bees.

What Does a Carpenter Bee Look Like?

Carpenter bees are often mistaken for bumblebees due to their size and coloring, but upon closer inspection, there are distinct differences. Here’s what to look for when identifying them:

Size: Carpenter bees are robust, and they can range from medium to large, with sizes varying between 1/2 to 1 inch in length, depending on the species.

Coloring: The most common species in North America have a black, shiny abdomen, differentiating them from the hairy, often striped abdomen of bumblebees. Their upper body may have some yellow or whitish hair.

Sexual Dimorphism: Male and female have different appearances. Males often have a yellow or white face, while females have an all-black face. Males cannot sting, but females can, though they’re not typically aggressive unless threatened.

Wings: Their wings are dark-tinted and are typically transparent to semi-transparent.

Behavior: Unlike many bees, carpenter bees are solitary. They don’t live in colonies or have worker bees assisting them. Instead, each female bee drills her tunnel in wood.

Do Carpenter Bees Sting?

Yes, carpenter bees can sting. However, there are some nuances to consider:

  • Sexual Dimorphism: Only females have the capability to sting. Males, despite being more aggressive in their flying and hovering behavior, especially around their territory, do not have a stinger and therefore cannot sting. Often, the males are seen guarding the nest and might fly towards you if you approach, but they are harmless in terms of stinging.
  • Temperament: Females are generally not aggressive and will rarely sting unless they are directly provoked or handled. They are much less aggressive than some other bee species.
  • Identifying Males vs. Females: Males often have a yellow or white face, while females have a black face. This can help you differentiate between the two if you observe them closely.
  • Sting Reaction: As with any bee sting, the reaction can vary among individuals. Some people may experience minor swelling and pain, while others might have more severe allergic reactions. If someone is known to be allergic to bee stings or exhibits severe reactions, they should seek medical attention immediately.

In general, while female carpenter bees can sting, the risk is relatively low unless you are directly provoking or handling them.

Life Cycle

The life cycle of the carpenter bee is a fascinating process that takes place over the course of a year, typically spanning from one spring to the next. Here’s a detailed look at their life cycle:

Spring – Mating and Nesting:

  • As temperatures rise in early spring, adult males and females from the previous year emerge from their tunnels.
  • Males are often seen hovering around wooden structures, looking for mates. After mating, the females start preparing their nests.
  • A female will reuse an old tunnel or excavate a new one in wood. She uses her strong mandibles to drill a nearly perfect round hole and then creates a tunnel that may extend several inches or even a foot into the wood.

Late Spring to Early Summer – Egg Laying:

  • Inside the tunnel, the female constructs a series of cells. In each cell, she places a ball of pollen mixed with nectar, which serves as food for the larva.
  • She then lays an egg on top of this food source and seals off the cell with chewed wood pulp. This process is repeated until she fills the tunnel, typically laying 6-8 eggs.

Summer – Larval Development:

  • The eggs hatch within a few days, and the larvae feed on the provided pollen and nectar mixture.
  • Over the summer, the larvae go through several molting stages, growing larger each time.

Late Summer to Early Fall – Pupation:

  • By the end of the summer, the larvae have consumed all of their food and start the pupation process. During this stage, they transform into adult bees.

Fall to Winter – Overwintering:

  • The newly emerged adult bees remain in their tunnels throughout the winter, going into a dormant state.
  • They are protected from the cold and predators within these tunnels.

Next Spring – Emergence and Repeat:

  • As spring arrives and temperatures rise, the cycle begins anew with the adult bees emerging, mating, and starting the process over again.

The carpenter bee’s life cycle is tied closely to the seasons, with each stage having its purpose, ensuring the survival and propagation of the species.

Carpenter bee, Sage, Salvia
Carpenter bee (xylocopa violacea) feeding on scarlet flowering sage

Are Carpenter Bees Endangered?

Carpenter bees are not considered endangered. However, like many bee species, they face threats from habitat loss and pesticides.

Beneficial Insect or Pest?

Carpenter bees, despite sometimes being viewed as pests due to their wood-boring habits, are beneficial insects in several significant ways:

Pollinators: The primary advantage of carpenter bees is their role as pollinators. They help in the fertilization of many flowering plants by transferring pollen from one flower to another, aiding in the production of fruits and seeds. Their method of collecting pollen often results in “buzz pollination.” Some plants require this kind of vigorous shaking to release their pollen, and carpenter bees are experts at it. This behavior is especially vital for certain crops like tomatoes.

Biodiversity: Carpenter bees contribute to the biodiversity of an ecosystem. They are a part of the food web, serving as prey for various predators, including birds and certain insect predators.

Natural Wood Recycling: While their tunneling can be problematic for homeowners, it’s a natural process that helps in the decomposition of dead or decaying wood in natural habitats. This action can facilitate the recycling of nutrients in forest ecosystems.

Beneficial for Certain Crops: Their pollination services can be especially valuable for specific agricultural crops, ensuring fruitful yields and aiding in food production.

While the potential damage to wooden structures cannot be overlooked, it’s essential to consider the broader ecological benefits provided by carpenter bees. If their presence is problematic, homeowners can take preventive measures to protect wood without resorting to extermination, thus allowing these beneficial insects to continue playing their critical ecological roles.

What are Carpenter Bees Attracted to?

Carpenter bees are attracted to certain factors in their environment. Here are the main attractants for these bees:

Untreated Wood: Carpenter bees prefer bare, unpainted, or weathered softwoods. They are especially attracted to softwoods like pine, cedar, redwood, and cypress. These are their preferred nesting materials. Treating wood with paint, stain, or sealants can make it less attractive to them.

Flowers: Like other bees, they are nectar and pollen feeders. They are attracted to flowering plants, especially those that produce abundant nectar. They are drawn to a variety of open and flat-faced blossoms like daylilies, zinnias, salvia, bee balm, asters, lavender, and oregano. Passion flowers, in particular, rely heavily on these bees for pollination.

Existing Nest Holes: Carpenter bees can be attracted to structures where others have previously nested. They often reuse old tunnels or create new ones adjacent to existing ones.

Solitary Environment: Unlike honey bees that live in colonies, carpenter bees are solitary. They are more likely to be attracted to areas that aren’t overcrowded with other insect species.

Scent Marks: Female carpenter bees might leave behind a scent in the nesting holes, attracting males to the area.

Structures with Overhangs: Carpenter bees prefer locations that provide some shelter from the elements, such as the underside of a deck, eaves of a house, or garden sheds.

What Damage Do Carpenter Bees Cause?

Carpenter bees are known for the damage they cause to wooden structures. While they don’t consume wood as food, they excavate tunnels for nesting sites. Here are the main types of damage caused by these bees:

Tunneling in Wood: Female carpenter bees bore into wood to lay their eggs. These tunnels, or galleries, can be quite extensive, often extending several inches or even feet. Over time, if multiple bees utilize the same piece of wood, their combined tunnels can compromise the structural integrity of the wood.

Entrance Holes: The entrance to the carpenter bee’s nest is a nearly perfect round hole, about the size of a dime. These holes are not only unsightly but can also be an entry point for water, leading to rot and other types of damage.

Staining: As carpenter bees enter and exit their nests, they often leave behind yellowish-brown waste stains below the entrance hole, marring the appearance of the wood.

Attraction of Woodpeckers: Woodpeckers eat carpenter bee larvae. If they detect the presence of larvae inside the wood, they might peck large holes in the structure to extract and consume the larvae, exacerbating the damage.

Reinfestation: Carpenter bees often return to the same areas year after year. Old tunnels may be expanded or reused, and new tunnels can be created close to existing ones. Over time, the cumulative damage can be considerable.

Decreased Property Value: Visible damage from carpenter bee activity can decrease the aesthetic value of wooden structures like decks, fences, or eaves, potentially lowering property value.

Potential for Rot: The holes made by carpenter bees can allow water to enter the wood, leading to conditions favorable for wood rot and mold.

It’s worth noting that while carpenter bees do cause damage, they are not as destructive as termites. Their damage is often localized, and with early intervention, it can be managed and controlled. If you notice carpenter bee activity, there are various treatment and prevention measures you can take to protect your wooden structures.

How to Get Rid of Carpenter Bees?

Carpenter bees can be a nuisance, especially if they’re tunneling into your home or outdoor wooden structures. Here are steps you can take to get rid of carpenter bees and prevent their return:

Identify the Holes: Look for the entrance holes of the carpenter bees. These will typically be round, smooth, and about the size of a dime.

Dust Insecticide: Use an insecticidal dust such as boric acid, diatomaceous earth, or commercially available insecticidal powders specifically designed for bees and wasps. Using a duster, puff the insecticide into the holes. The bees will get coated with the dust when they leave or enter, effectively killing them.

Aerosol Sprays: There are several sprays available that are designed to kill carpenter bees on contact. Spray directly into the holes to kill any bees inside.

Plug the Holes: After a day or two of applying insecticide, plug the entrance holes to prevent re-infestation. You can use wooden dowels, wood putty, or caulk. Sealing the holes also prevents other pests, like wasps, from using the tunnels.

Preventive Measures: Paint or stain exposed wood, especially softwoods, which carpenter bees prefer. Bees are less likely to attack painted or stained wood compared to unfinished wood. If feasible, consider replacing softwood surfaces with hardwoods, as carpenter bees prefer softwoods such as cedar, pine, and fir. Use bee-repellent sprays or essential oils like citrus, almond, or tea tree around areas where carpenter bees are active.

Carpenter Bee Traps: Commercially available or DIY carpenter bee traps can be effective. These traps mimic the entrance of a carpenter bee hole, and once inside, the bees cannot escape and eventually die.

Natural Predators: Birds, especially woodpeckers, are natural predators of carpenter bees. However, encouraging woodpeckers can lead to more wood damage as they peck at the wood to get to the bee larvae.

Regular Inspection: Regularly inspect your home and property, especially wooden structures, for signs of carpenter bee activity. Addressing a carpenter bee problem early on can prevent extensive damage.

Professional Help: If the infestation is extensive or if you’re unsure about handling chemicals or insecticides, consider hiring a pest control professional to treat your home.

Safety First: Always wear protective clothing, including gloves and safety glasses, when treating for carpenter bees. Also, ensure that pets and children are kept away from treated areas until it’s safe.

Remember, carpenter bees play a role in pollination, so it’s a good idea to avoid killing them if they aren’t causing damage to your property. If they’re merely buzzing around your garden and not boring into wood, consider letting them be.

Discover Other Bees

Mason Bee
Honey Bee
While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.

Related Items

Please Login to Proceed

You Have Reached The Free Limit, Please Subscribe to Proceed

Subscribe to Gardenia

To create additional collections, you must be a paid member of Gardenia
  • Add as many plants as you wish
  • Create and save up to 25 garden collections
Become a Member

Plant Added Successfully

You have Reached Your Limit

To add more plants, you must be a paid member of our site Become a Member

Update Your Credit
Card Information


Create a New Collection

Sign Up to Our Newsletter

    You have been subscribed successfully


    Create a membership account to save your garden designs and to view them on any device.

    Becoming a contributing member of Gardenia is easy and can be done in just a few minutes. If you provide us with your name, email address and the payment of a modest $25 annual membership fee, you will become a full member, enabling you to design and save up to 25 of your garden design ideas.

    Join now and start creating your dream garden!


    Create a membership account to save your garden designs and to view them on any device.

    Becoming a contributing member of Gardenia is easy and can be done in just a few minutes. If you provide us with your name, email address and the payment of a modest $25 annual membership fee, you will become a full member, enabling you to design and save up to 25 of your garden design ideas.

    Join now and start creating your dream garden!

    Find your Hardiness Zone

    Find your Heat Zone

    Find your Climate Zone