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Everything You Need to Know About Carpenter Bees!

April 28, 2018
Carpenter bee

Can carpenter bees sting? Yes. Do carpenter bees sting? Rarely. Yes, carpenter bees do get aggressive during mating season, but the cases of them causing any damage by stinging people are quite rare.

It is the male carpenter bee which you will notice hovering around your house in the spring season when they are looking for a receptive female. They might get aggressive sometimes, but males are not equipped with stringers, therefore they cannot sting. Their female counterparts, on the other hand, are equipped with stingers, doing justice to the question – Do carpenter bees sting?

Female carpenter bees are rarely aggressive unless provoked. Therefore, if you’ve ever heard the painful cries of a person stung by a carpenter bee or been stung by one yourself, you know better not to mess with them. They can be found in various parts of America. The species of carpenter bees encountered in Pennsylvania is Xylocopa Virginica and in California is Xylocopa Californica.

Carpenter bee

As mentioned above, carpenter bees look a lot like bumblebees. Bumblebees (genus Bombus) are petite, sociable creatures which can be found near flowering plants, playing amongst themselves. On the other hand, carpenter bees (genus Xylocopa) are solitary creatures which hover over the flowers to collect pollen and nectar to feed upon. Because they appear almost the same, it is sometimes difficult to differentiate between the two.

It is important that you keep an eye on carpenter bees around your house as they dwell in tunnels and they dig in the wooden structures outside your house. Carpenter bees are an early sign of damaged decks, porches, frames and other wooden structures outside your house. A few pointers which will help you distinguish between a bumblebee and a carpenter bee are:

  • Bumblebees usually nest in the ground, preferably, abandoned rodent nests. Whereas, carpenter bees are famous for digging tunnel-like nests in wooden structures.
  • Bumblebees are fuzzy all over, whereas, carpenter bees have a shiny and hairless dorsal or upper abdomen. Bumblebees are famous for having a yellow haze or can be striped with yellow and black, which certain species of carpenter bees can also possess.
  • Bumblebees are sociable creatures which can be found chasing and playing amongst each other near flowering plants, whereas, carpenter bees are solitary creatures, which prefer to work and dwell alone, not in colonies.

No matter what, both, bumblebees and carpenter bees are excellent pollinators and are a crucial part of our diverse ecosystem. One should not take dire steps to eliminate or kill them unless absolutely necessary.

How to treat carpenter bee sting?

Carpenter bee sting

Are carpenter bees dangerous? Yes, they can be very dangerous as their sting is very sharp and as dire as that of a bumblebee. Though the effect of a sting is local, it can prove deadly for people who are allergic to the venom. The bee discharges melittin into your body which causes pain, swelling and redness. Initially, the pain is unbearable, which becomes dull with time. The stung area remains sensitive even after a few days. It may also cause slight itching.

The bad news is that because the sting of carpenter bee does not get detached after one sting like that of a honeybee, it can sting you multiple times. So, it is better to maintain a distance from them.

Even then, if you manage to get yourself stung by a carpenter bee, here are a few steps you can follow to treat the sting in time:

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  • Using a cool pack over the stung region with a cloth in between the skin and the pack will help with the pain and itching.
  • Antihistamines can be consumed to cure swelling.
  • Painkillers help in reducing pain, significantly.
  • If you are allergic to bee venom or wasps, the consequences can be a lot worse and immediate medical attention is advised in such cases.

For all the consolation we can provide if your house is infested by carpenter bees, you can only be stung by one bee once at a time because they are solitary creatures.

Where do the carpenter bees breed?

Carpenter bee breed

Carpenter bees are called so because of their ability to dig burrows inside the wood of houses and trees. They target unpainted or untreated wooden house frames and trees which are wider than 2 inches to dig a perfectly round, ½ inch wide hole. The female bees keep digging the hole deeper at different angles and form a network of burrows to lay eggs in them. To dig a burrow is a very taxing task for the bee, therefore, they are usually on a lookout for an abandoned tunnel to nest in.

The male and female carpenter bees mate during the spring season and they hibernate in their brood cells during winters. The male bee holds the responsibility to protect the burrow and eggs laid in them while their female counterparts are responsible to bring food.

Life-cycle of a carpenter bee

Carpenter bee l9fe cycle

Life-cycle of this one of a kind species begins as an egg. An adult female can lay up to 10 eggs in her lifetime. Carpenter bees mate during the spring season. They enlarge and prepare their burrows by forming a network of burrows to lay their eggs in.

The network of chambers prepared in the burrow by the bees facilitate the breeding of larvae. It is the stage when bees come out of the eggs. The nutrition of the larvae is taken care of by female bees.The larva then goes through a metamorphosis stage which is required for its transformation into a bee. It does not form a cocoon because it is protected by the brood cell.

Finally, the pupa transforms into an adult carpenter bee.

The above cycle takes seven weeks to complete from an egg to an adult bee with mandibles, which are used by them to dig burrows.

The carpenter bees do not die in the winters, they go into their burrows for hibernation and become active again in the coming spring. Life-span of carpenter bees is usually one year.

What do carpenter bees feed upon?

Carpenter bee feed

Female carpenter bees usually hop from flower to flower in order to collect nectar and pollens. They prepare “bee bread” by mixing pollens with regurgitated nectar, which larvae and the bees feed upon.

Are carpenter bees beneficial to the environment?

Do carpenter bees sting? Yes. But like any other species of bees which hover in our surroundings, carpenter bees are also a crucial part of this huge biosphere. Carpenter bees help in pollination by hopping from plant to plant and flower to flower, in order to collect nectar and pollens to feed upon. They prepare their food with pollens as well, therefore, they are a crucial agent for cross-pollination as well.

How to prevent them from nesting in your house?

Carpenter bee

Now you know that the answer to ‘Do carpenter bees sting?’ is yes, then why not take some precautions today rather than dealing with consequences later. A few easy ways to prevent the carpenter bees from nesting in your home’s woods are:

  • Paint and varnish the wood outside of your house with polyurethane coating, which repels bees.
  • Use pressure treated woods and lumber because it tends to be dense and hence, difficult for the bees to excavate.
  • Installing birdhouses and wooden posts made up of soft woods like Cedar, Redwood, Pine and Cypress will also do the trick. As these will be easily available for nesting amongst flowering plants, carpenter bees will not look further for a nesting space.
  • Siding the woodwork or frames with plastic or vinyl coating will keep them at bay.
  • Another simple measure for prevention you can take is to keep the garage doors and other such openings shut during the mating season, i.e., spring.
  • Keeping surroundings clean and attractants away is one non-fallible way to prevent bees from nesting in your premise. Keep dustbins clean and away from your house, avoid consuming sugary drinks and eatables outdoors, and keeping the yard clean.

These measures will go a long way in helping you deter the carpenter bees from nesting in your home.

Can they cause damage to your house?

Carpenter bee

Nowadays, homeowners concern is not limited to do carpenter bees sting, they are also worried about the damage they can cause to the wood in their house. Yes, if bigger carpenter bees choose to nest in your house’s wood, they can leave it hollow and hollow wood, when comes in contact with moisture, rots easily.

A relief for homeowners, in this case, is that a female carpenter bee can only lay about 10 eggs in her lifetime. Therefore, there is little to worry about a big network of burrows or colonies forming in your home. Then again, if a group of carpenter bees decide to nest inside the wood at your house, you might want to fill in the holes before the damage becomes irreversible.

How can you protect yourself and your home from damage?

Don’t lose hope if carpenter bees have managed to infest your home because, with some work, you can get rid of them. Steps you can take to disinfest your house from carpenter bees are:

  • Locate the nest. To get rid of the burrows, you need to find them first. They dig nearly perfect round burrows which are a ½ inch wide into the wood which is wider than 2 inches. They often eliminate the waste before stepping into the burrow, therefore, if you can see the traces of yellow waste on the edges of a hole, it is definitely a nest.
  • Apply the insecticidal dust on burrow openings. Insecticidal dust is a dry powder-like contact insecticide which is used to treat the bugs and insects. When pests come in contact with the insecticidal dust, they die. It can be applied in cracks and crevices and other difficult to reach spaces which are infested by insects.
  • You can use a duster to puff the openings and sides of the hole with insecticidal dust. Once the bees come in contact with the dust, they will die. The best time to apply the dust is when the bees are least active, suitably at night. Then again, you should be able to see the openings, therefore, you can either use flashlight taped with the red plastic sheet or do your job in the daytime after spraying pyrethrum spray or its kind to make the bees unconscious.
  • Precaution! Wear proper protective gear including mask and gloves to protect yourself from chemical fall-out and stings when applying the insecticidal dust. Trash the clothing or equipment which got infected by chemical properly, as it might be harmful to you and others.
  • Fill in the holes. If you do not want to go through the same trouble again the following year, then use good quality wood putty or dowels to fill in the holes. Once covered, varnish or paint the wood to avoid any further infiltrations

Another question which might be arising in your head now is when exactly you should treat the burrows. Well, you can begin as soon as you see first signs of infestation, which is generally during the spring. Then, you can treat the burrows again in mid-summer to deal with young bees which might have left untreated. Follow the regimen again in early fall to treat the bees which might have been still hibernating. Fill the holes during fall as mentioned above.

It is always better to fill in the tunnels and get rid of carpenter bees as soon as you spot one in your vicinity. Though one bee might not cause a lot of damage, cumulative damage can be significant. Digging a burrow is a lot of work for a bee, therefore, they are always on the lookout for an already dug nest. This can lead to hollowing of wood.

Now, if the question that, are carpenter bees dangerous crosses your head, the answer is yes. Well, mildly. If you take proper precautions by painting your house wood with the right material, filling in the holes as and when you spot them, and not trying to handle or agitate these insects, you are good to go.

So, the next time you spot a carpenter bee in your vicinity, keep your calm!

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