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Carpenter Bee vs. Bumble Bee: What’s the difference?

Posted by: Cooper Pest

Can you hear the “buzz” going around town? Spring is here and the bees are back! The bees are just as excited as you are for the warmer weather, but you may be less than thrilled to see them buzzing around you and your property. Although bees are an intricate part of the ecosystem, certain species can actually cause damage to your home if not properly addressed.

Bumble Bee or Carpenter Bee: Which bee do I have?

Bumble bees and carpenter bees can often be mistaken for one another, but there is one significant difference in their appearance that will allow you to differentiate the two bees.

-          Bumble bees have a hairy abdomen that may have some yellow markings.

-          Carpenter bees have a bare, shiny black abdomen.

Along with their difference in appearance, carpenter bees have a very distinct flying pattern. You can see carpenter bees darting and diving around as well as “chasing” each other. Carpenter bees are also primarily solitary bees, whereas bumble bees are social bees that nest together.

Do Carpenter Bees Sting?

Unlike bumble bees, who are social bees that will sting to protect their nest, carpenter bees are solitary. Since they are primarily solitary bees, the female carpenter bees will only sting if seriously provoked.

Entomologist Dr. Richard Cooper said he hasn’t heard of an incident where a person was stung by a carpenter bee, but it is possible.

“Male carpenter bees do not possess stingers,” he said. “Female carpenter bees do possess one but they need to be very seriously provoked.”

Dr. Cooper went on to describe why bumble bees readily sting compared to carpenter bees.

“Bumble bees will be very aggressive defending their nest,” he said “Bumble bees are social bees so all of their sisters are genetic clones of one another. If a bumble bee were to die because of stinging someone, the bee is a sterile female so it doesn’t affect the reproduction of the bee. However, if a female carpenter bee stings, her reproduction is jeopardized. At that point, her life and reproduction cycle is finished, so the female carpenter bee won’t put herself at risk for that. The bumble bees will readily defend and sting because they have nothing to lose.”

Nesting Habits of Carpenter Bees

Since carpenter bees are solitary bees, their nesting habits are quite different fromBumble bees. Bumble bees usually nest in the ground, but carpenter bees will create tunnels in wood to lay their eggs. If you notice a number of large bees flying around the eaves of your home, you probably have carpenter bees.

What Type of Wood do Carpenter Bees prefer?

When a female Carpenter bee is looking to nest, she typically prefers bare, unpainted or weathered softwoods.

Types of wood include:

-          Redwood

-          Cedar

-          Cypress

-          Pine

Pressure treated or painted wood is less susceptible to Carpenter bee nesting. Although they prefer bare wood, don’t be surprised if you find them nesting on your wood-stained deck as the stain isn’t as much as a deterrent as paint. The wood stains are less reliable than paint but could provide some degree of repellency as opposed to having bare wood.

Common Areas for Carpenter Bee Nesting

-          Eaves

-          Window Trim

-          Fascia Boards

-          Siding

-          Wooden shakes/shingles

-          Decks

-          Outdoor furniture

-          Playgrounds

Carpenter Bee Drilling

During the spring (April & May) months, carpenter bees re-emerge from hiding in abandoned nests over the winter to mate. After mating, fertilized females will excavate tunnels in wood to lay their eggs (about 6-8 eggs) in a series of small holes. You will notice that the holes are perfectly round and are about the diameter of a finger. Female carpenter bees will create one nesting hole, so if you happen to notice several holes on your property, that means you have multiple bee nests. It’s a one-to-one ratio in respects to bees to nests.

Phil Cooper, CEO of Cooper Pest Solutions, explained that the beauty and nature behind carpenter bee drilling is incredible.

“It’s impossible to think that an insect can create such a perfectly round hole,” he said. “It’s really remarkable when you sit back and think about it. There’s such a beauty to it but it often gets overlooked with the negativity of the drilling.”

Since the majority of damage caused by carpenter bees is purely aesthetic, Phil explained that if the staining from the drilling isn’t bothersome, then leave the bees alone.

“Carpenter bees only cause damage to the aesthetics of a home,” he said. “They often get a bad reputation for the drilling but they aren’t causing any structural damage to a home. If you aren’t bothered by the staining that they leave behind, then just let them keep doing what they are doing.”

Sometimes females may return to the same nesting sites year after year, creating new tunnels for egg laying. If this is the case, aesthetic damage can increase from one year to the next, unless you choose to receive treatment.

Although female carpenter bees may only be causing aesthetic damage to your property by nesting, you may also notice increased woodpecker activity in the same area as the nest. This happens because woodpeckers find carpenter bee eggs to be quite a delicacy. Unfortunately this can cause additional aesthetic damage to fascia boards on your home or property as the woodpeckers are pecking at the wood to get to the bee larvae that’s nested inside.

Nesting Habits of Bumble Bees

Unlike carpenter bees, bumble bees are social bees and live in colonies, usually underground. Every spring, a queen that has survived over wintering will emerge and search for a suitable nesting location to establish her own colony.

Over the course of the summer, the colonies will continue to expand, and unlike carpenter bees, bumble bees will attack to defend their nest. Male carpenter bees do not sting, and females rarely sting unless provoked. Bumble bees on the other hand, can be considered a health concern since they will sting to defend their nest.

Where do Bumble Bees Nest?

Bumble bee nests typically won’t be within structures like Carpenter bees. Sometimes you can find bumble bee nests in abandoned rodent burrows, under grass or leaf clippings, stones or logs. Occasionally, you may notice bumble bees making a nest above ground, such as within a wall, in a firewood pile, shed, crawlspace or even the attic, but this is very rare.

“Occasionally bumble bees will nest in a wall void like yellow jackets, but most of the time bumble bees are nesting under slabs, in ground and between railroad ties,” Dr. Cooper said.

According to Phil Cooper, of the 40k regular services conducted every year at Cooper Pest Solutions, only a handful of services are for bumble bee nesting.

“We only get maybe three services a year for bumble bees,” he said, “They’re not common, and if the bees aren’t bothering your everyday life, then they should be left alone.”

Cooper stated that if they are nesting near a point-of-entry to your home, and becoming very aggressive defending their nest then a professional pest control company should be called.

Bumble bee nests are not to be confused with yellow jacket nesting. Although both bees are ground nesters, they are very different. If you are noticing the bee activity during the spring, then you have bumble bees. Yellow jackets don’t typically appear until July, whereas bumble bees emerge during the spring months.

Even though bumble bees may not cause the aesthetic property damage that carpenter bees do, they can become a major health concern for individuals with bee sting allergies, especially if the bumble bee nests are near an entryway of a property or nested near a recreational area.

Carpenter Bee Treatment & Prevention

As a homeowner, the best way to help prevent any Carpenter bee nesting is to paint all exposed wood surfaces. Wood stains aren’t as reliable as paint, but it still provides some degree of repellency as opposed to bare wood.

Another way to help prevent Carpenter bee nesting is to keep all garage and outdoor buildings closed during the mating season of carpenter bees in which they are searching for a nesting area. If you are choosing to try a DIY method to get rid of your carpenter bees, do your treatment at night because the bees are less active during the nighttime hours.

Fascia Board Damage: What needs to be done?

When carpenter bees nest, they typically nest behind fascia boards along a roofline on a home. If woodpeckers are searching for the carpenter eggs, they can leave damage along the fascia boards as they peck into it for the eggs.

If you’re looking to prevent this damage, follow these tips as described by Cooper:

-          If you are looking to replace the wood fascia boards, don’t just put up new wood. Carpenter bees will just re-infest the new wood causing you the same problems.

-          If you want to prevent their return, wrap all THREE sides of the board in aluminum or vinyl siding. Do not just wrap the two exposed sides because the bees will nest on the underside of the board. Be sure to wrap the front, under and back side of the fascia board to prevent carpenter bee nesting. Carpenter bees CAN NOT drill through aluminum or vinyl so this will prevent future nesting if all sides are properly wrapped.

Professional Treatment for Carpenter Bees

Carpenter bees can cause aesthetic property damage if left untreated year after year, so it is best to choose a professional to handle your carpenter bee problem if you haven’t already wrapped the wood being damaged. There are a number of ways a pest professional may treat for Carpenter Bees, but a few common ways are:

-          Residual Liquid Treatment

  • If you currently have carpenter bees, your pest control technician will spray the liquid treatment in areas where carpenter bees are boring into wood.
  • If you’re looking to prevent carpenter bees, these treatments will be applied in March and early April before nesting begins.

-          Dust Product Treatment

  • Your technician may use a dust product inside the current carpenter bee holes on your property as a remedial and/or preventive treatment.
  • For remedial treatment, dusting will usually only work on active carpenter bees, not on eggs due to the walls protecting them within the tunnels.

-          Plug Up Carpenter Bee Holes

  • Your pest control technician may also use a cork, putty or caulking compound to plug the holes so that the bees are unable to return to the tunnels for future nesting. This is typically done during July or the summer months once all the active bees have left the nest and prior to the overwintering bees returning.

According to Dave Burgess, Vice President of Operations at Cooper Pest Solutions, prevention of carpenter bees relies heavily on timing.

“We time our services to get done right before the nesting behavior begins, typically in the northeast that is around the 10th of April, give or take a week,” he said. “Sometimes the weather delays or accelerates our date, we watch the weather closely this time of year and adjust our service dates accordingly.”

Receiving effective preventive carpenter bee services can be difficult to find but Cooper Pest Solutions’ carpenter bee prevention is effective for a number of reasons.

“We use non repellent products because we don’t want the bees to avoid the areas we have treated,” Burgess said. “We feel it is best to get close to the activity so we can precisely apply the products where the bees are likely to come in contact with the pesticide. Often the bees are nesting up by roof lines so when possible we will use extension ladders or telescoping equipment to treat those areas. Lastly knowing where the bees are likely to nest helps direct our treatments. Knowing the bees like wood and prefer to chew in a safe area, coupled with the experience of thousands of jobs under our belt helps us quickly locate where the bees are or likely to be and treat those areas.”

Dr. Cooper also pointed out how important timing is when it comes to plugging the carpenter bee holes.

“I wouldn’t recommend sealing holes at the time of treatment,” he said. “Sealing holes at the time of treatment may not be effective because the active bees can still chew their way out. The best time of year to seal the holes is in the middle of summer because all of the active bees are out of the nest and the overwintering bees haven’t gone back in the empty tunnels yet.”

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How to Prevent Carpenter Bees

After you’ve had a professional take care of your carpenter bee problem, there are a few ways that you can prevent carpenter bees from re-infesting.

Do It Yourself Items

-          Paint all of your unfinished wood on your property, outdoor buildings and furniture. Freshly painted wood is even less attractive for a Carpenter bee.

-          Seal all exterior openings, cracks and crevices with caulk.

-          Carpenter bees will revisit holes from previous seasons, so be sure to caulk those openings during the fall months to help prevent spring infestations.

-          Be sure to wrap all THREE SIDES of fascia boards in vinyl or aluminum to prevent carpenter bees from nesting in the fascia boards.

Burgess added that whether you are painting or wrapping the fascia boards, it is crucial that all sides are painted or wrapped.

“Painting helps, but on the fascia board the same issue exists with painting the same as wrapping the siding,” he said. “The bees attack the wood from behind, so if you just paint the front of the fascia board you will not repel the activity. You really need to take the fascia down and paint both sides for this approach to be effective.”

Prevention by a Pest Management Professional

Have your professional pest management firm treat the areas where carpenter bees have been present in early March. A thorough treatment will deter carpenter bees from drilling more holes. This treatment typically needs to be done annually as carpenter bees will return to areas that have been damaged in the past. Do not wait for Carpenter Bees to reappear as it will be too late to prevent them and you will be back into a reactive cycle.


Bumble Bee Control

Having a bumble bee nest near your home or children’s playground can be a major health risk, especially if any family members are allergic. To prevent any future health risks, getting rid of the nest can be essential. The safest way to remove a bumble bee nest is by having a trained professional take care of it. They will have the proper tools, safety gearand treatment protocols to safely and effectively remove the bees from your home or property.

Even though there are no exact ways to prevent bumble bees, Dr. Cooper said there are a few recommendations that homeowners could do.

Recommendations for helping to prevent bumble bee nesting

-          To prevent potential bee nesting, fill in animal and rodent holes. These are prime locations for bees to build a nest so by filling those in you can removing the potential nest location.

-          Seal all holes along the exterior of your home or building. Make sure all vents have tight-fitting screens with no access points.

Dr. Cooper said, “These measures will not only help prevent bumble bees from nesting, they will also help with many other pests.”

It’s important to remember that bees play an important and beneficial role in the environment by pollinating flowers and many plant species.

Whether you currently have a carpenter bee or bumble bee problem on your NJ or PA property, give Cooper Pest Solutions a call at 1-800-949-2667. Our skilled technicians have the knowledge and tools to provide you with safe and effective bee removal. If you would like to prevent future infestations, Cooper Pest Solutions offers preventative services that prevent any future bee infestations. Our effective treatments are environmentally conscious and our service is guaranteed! Give Cooper Pest Solutions a call today!

Carpenter bee services can now be scheduled online for fast technician dispatch on the date of your choosing. No inspection needed.

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