What Do Carpenter Bees Look Like – Carpenter Bee Identification

The blossoming of flowers, warm weather, and the growing of new plants are not all that the spring season brings.  Many animals and insects utilize the new season to emerge from hibernation—in the case of carpenter bees—begin reproduction and the search for nest sites.

how to identify carpenter bees

As their name infers, carpenter bees prefer wood to nest and are skilled in drilling round holes to create tunnels that they use to breed their young.

Speaking of nests, carpenter bees have a bad reputation as structural pests, by creating unpleasant holes in the wooden structures of man. Hence, they cause nuisance and need control. Nonetheless, like other bees, carpenter bees play a beneficial role as pollinators of important plants.

During the onset of Spring, you may be startled when you hear buzzing or see carpenter bees around your front porch and wonder what kind they are. Or you may see fairly pinky-sized holes on your wooden structures, but don’t know what the real culprits are. In this article, we will give a detailed description of carpenter bees, their unique features, and how you can identify them.

How To Identify A Carpenter Bee:

Carpenter bees are flying insects with six legs, a pair of wings, and antennas—with their bodies divided into a head, thorax, and abdomen. Carpenter bees are larger than traditional bumblebees, which is one of the biggest giveaways that you’re dealing with carpenter bees compared to bumblebees. They belong to the bee group (Apidae)—a vast family of hairy, flying insects that are closely affiliated with ants and wasps.

Although bees are often thought of as social animals that form large colonies to survive, carpenter bees are actually solitary bees where they find a mate and will create nests for their mate and maybe a few others.

Carpenter bees generally are fairly big and have stout bodies. They have good eyesight, strong mandibles, a proboscis, and sensitive antennas for detecting scent and taste, and no teeth!. They are characterized by the buzzing sound they make when hovering. They usually have a stinger (females especially) in their abdomen that can induce pain.

Carpenter bees have large black bodies, with brown or yellow color and a bit of fuzzy fur.

Carpenter bees are famous for playing a very significant role ecologically and economically by producing honey, beeswax and serving as pollinators of plants, economic and garden crops. 

Though bees have common characteristics they share, each type has distinct physical, behavioral, and social features. Some common bees are the honeybees, bumblebees, squash bees, cuckoo bees, and carpenter bees.

How Can You Tell Apart a Carpenter Bee from a Bumblebee?

Carpenter bees are relatively large and stout—often inaccurately dubbed a Bumblebee. This is because they are almost the same size and have a hairy thorax. However, a carpenter bee can be told apart by their smooth, glossy black abdomen—while the Bumblebee is bigger, has a hairy head, thorax, and abdomen with yellowish brown stripes. Male carpenter bees have a small yellowish-white patch on their face, while females have no patch.

Bumblebees are social bees. They swarm and can sting severely when disturbed. They also nest near the ground in compost mounds or deserted holes of rodents. While carpenter bees are solitary and do not form colonies. Males cannot sting but are aggressive to intruders. Only females sting, but will rarely attack unless perturbed. Carpenter bees will drill holes in human wooden structures to form tunnels and make their nests.

Size of Carpenter Bees:

Carpenter bees are fairly large insects. They measure 1/4 inch to one inch in length. Bumblebees are generally around this same size, but they are both much bigger than honeybees.

Color of Carpenter Bees:

 Most carpenter bees have black bodies with brown or yellow color at their thorax region. While other species have blue, white, or brown colors on their thorax. On their black abdomen, they have a green, purple, or dark blue metallic sheen.

Carpenter Bee Behavior:

Most species of carpenter bees are solitary, but a few others may form small simple social nests where mothers and daughters live together and share simple duties like foraging and egg-laying. 

They drill holes by grinding their mandibles against the wood surface while vibrating their bodies. They form chains of individual compartments by mixing saliva and sawdust then place a pollen wad and lay a single egg in the compartment. 

During the warmest time of Spring, male carpenter bees hover around the best entrance for females to mate. The developed adult bees then appear and copulation occurs.

All carpenter bees leave behind excrement which is a good way to identify if you have carpenter bees around your property. Check out our guide to find out what does carpenter bee poop look like!

Life Cycle 

Like all other bees, carpenter bees undergo complete metamorphosis—when the egg develops into larva, then pupa, and finally to the adult bee. Females carve holes and dig through the wood to form channels and lay the eggs in them.

The egg develops into a larva which eats the pollen and enters the pupal stage. The pupa transforms into an adult bee. Carpenter bees live longer than most other insects, and have a lifespan of multiple years.

How to Identify a Carpenter Bee’s Nest/Nature of Damage

One other way of recognizing carpenter bees is the nature of the destruction they cause to wood. The holes they form are almost circular and about 15 millimeters in diameter. When the hole is about 10 millimeters in-depth, they turn right and tunnel further. Nests can broaden to about 30-45cm in length. A small mound of sawdust is usually left behind by the bee during the tunneling.

Carpenter bees often prefer to reuse already excavated nests and will return every season for generations. Take a look at our guide on how to repair carpenter bee damage!

Final Thoughts On Identifying Carpenter Bees

Carpenter bees—just like any other insects are made up of a pair of wings and antennae, head, thorax, and abdomen. Though they are often inaccurately identified as Bumblebees, they can be distinguished by some physical, social, and behavioral features. Carpenter bees are majorly solitary and nest in wooden structures. They do not form hives or colonies. These bees can be physically discerned from bumblebees by their hairless belly and their proximity to man. 

Other than their physical features, carpenter bees can be identified by their nest holes. They form circular tunnels which they use to lay their eggs. Within these nest tunnels, the eggs metamorphose into larvae, pupae, and then the adult. Within these nest tunnels, the eggs metamorphose into larvae, pupae, and then the adult.

About The Author:

David Floyd has 20 years of experience working as a pest control technician as well as running his own pest control company. His main goal is to provide accurate and helpful DIY tips to keep your home pest-free and how to identify different types of household pests!