If you live in the southern US, you’ve probably seen big, black bees buzzing around in the summertime. Many people assume they’re bumblebees, but they’re not; they’re black carpenter bees.
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The good news is that they’re generally harmless to people. The bad news is that they can cause serious damage to woodwork. Fences, patio furniture, playsets, and even your home’s carpentry are at risk.
So, what’s the deal with these bees, and what can you do to protect your property? Here’s everything you need to know.
What Are Black Carpenter Bees?
Black carpenter bees are a species of bee native to North America. They’re one of the largest bee species in the world, and are often confused with bumblebees due to their shape and flight patterns.
Unlike most species of bee, black carpenter bees are mostly solitary. They prefer to live in individual nests and tend to their own needs. That said, they’re not entirely solitary. Females often group together for protection, and both males and females prefer to build nests near other black carpenter bees. As a result, they can create infestations even though they’re not a colony animal.
Black Carpenter Bee Identification
So, how do you tell the difference between a black carpenter bees and bumblebees? Let’s take a quick look at both species.
Black Carpenter Bees
Carpenter bees can measure an inch long or even longer, with wide, fat bodies. In most cases they’re entirely black, which makes them pretty distinctive. However, some individuals have yellow patterns near their heads, which can create confusion.
One easy way to tell them apart from bumblebees is that they’re relatively hairless. While bumblebees are fuzzy, carpenter bees only have a few sparse hairs on their abdomens. The females also have oversized jaws for chewing through wood, but you won’t be able to notice that when they’re buzzing around.
Bumblebees have a similar shape and size to carpenter bees. However, they have more prominent yellow striping across their entire bodies. They’re also noticeably fuzzier, with a soft, cuddly appearance.
If you’re still not sure what type of bee you’re looking at, try following it. A carpenter bee will eventually return to a piece of wood – whether it’s part of your house or a tree stump. A bumblebee will return to an underground next, often hidden by dead grass or leaves.
Learn more on the differences between carpenter bees and bumblebees!
Where Do Black Carpenter Bees Live?
Like all species of carpenter bee, black carpenter bees prefer to nest in wood when at all possible. They like dry wood that’s already been weathered, which allows them to bore deep tunnels into it. These tunnels can be as long as 10 inches, which can cause serious damage to deck supports and other structural wood.
Black carpenter bees are found throughout the southern US, although they can be found in some middle latitude areas with warmer summers. They’re most common in the southwest, deep south, and along the Gulf Coast.
When Are Black Carpenter Bees Active?
Black carpenter bees aren’t as prolific as most insects. Each female only lays a few eggs, producing a relatively small brood. Depending on the weather, the eggs will hatch in April or May, which is when the bees are most active.
Young bees move out of their nests, and need to find homes. Some move into existing nests from dead bees. But black carpenter bees can live for three years or more, so there isn’t always space available. In that case, the new generation of bees will need to dig their own nests.
You’ll see them less often during the summer and fall, when they prefer to stay in their nests when they’re not feeding. If you see one buzzing you aggressively, it’s most likely a male, trying to keep you away from the nests. Don’t worry; the males can’t sting, although the females can sting you multiple times if you actually disturb their nest.
During the winter months, black carpenter bees go into a kind of hibernation. Unless your area has very warm winters, you won’t see them at all.
Black Carpenter Bee Prevention
Even though they’re not aggressive, black carpenter bees can be a real menace. They can damage your home, your fence, or anything else that’s made of non-treated wood. Here are some ways to prevent them:
- Look for cracks or gaps in your wood and seal them up. Carpenter bees are lazy, and they love to nest anywhere with a pre-existing opening.
- Repair any existing nests. In the fall, go around and look for vacant nests. Soak a cotton ball in rubbing alcohol and stuff it in the hole to kill any potential eggs, then plug the hole with wood putty.
- Play loud music with lots of bass. Carpenter bees don’t like noise or vibrations. The thump of a subwoofer will cause wood to vibrate, creating an uncomfortable environment. Do it enough, and they’ll move on to a more appealing environment.
- Apply a citrus scent to the area. You can mix 15 to 20 drops of lemon essential oil into a half cup of water and pour it into a spray bottle, then spritz this around the infested area. Alternatively, you can boil lemon peel in water until it makes a potent “broth.” Spray this in the same manner, and the bees should go away.
Final Thoughts On Black Carpenter Bees
No matter how you cut it, black carpenter bees are bad news. If none of these DIY prevention methods work, you still need to find a solution. Otherwise, your wooden structures – even your home – could be at risk. But you don’t have to go it alone. A qualified pest control expert can get rid of the problem with a single visit. We also have another guide on getting rid of carpenter bees!