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How to Identify Carpenter Bees
Carpenter Bees are those big, fuzzy bees flying around your house. Several of them may hover in one spot, and they seem to be guarding something. They'll chase you, harass you, annoy you, and you’re probably worried they'll swoop in and attack every time you pass.
They might look a lot like bumblebees, but they’re not. If you look closely you'll see that carpenter bees have smooth, black abdomens where bumblebee have furry abdomens. But, the most notable difference is their nesting habits.
Carpenter bees make their homes in wood, and sometimes their nests are hard to spot. When you see several large bees hovering around in the same place every day, there is probably a nest somewhere nearby. Look under decks, picnic tables, stairs, or any unfinished wood surface in the area. The hole will appear perfectly round, and perhaps half an inch across.
You may notice wood dust on the ground below the hole where the bees have excavated, and you may see a bee periodically entering and exiting the nest.
A carpenter bee infestation can be a problem, but the situation is not as dire as you think.
This article is an account of how I dealt with my carpenter bee problem, including what I learned and the steps I took. Please be sure to do your own research and consult professionals for advice on your specific situation.
Are Carpenter Bees Dangerous?
The bees you see buzzing around apparently on guard duty are doing exactly that: These are males guarding the nest. Males are not equipped with stingers, and though they may appear aggressive to any animal or person who comes near, they pose no threat to you.
If you watch closely you’ll notice them chasing away any insects that come within their air space, and if you toss a small pebble in front of them they’ll often go after it. Yes, male carpenter bees act tough, but they're all buzz no bite.
The female, on the other hand, is a different critter. She spends most of her day out in the world, returning often to the nest. She is the bee you see going in and out throughout the day. She is capable of stinging and can pack a wallop. However, female carpenter bees are generally docile, and unless you try to grab her or stick your finger in her nest, she isn’t likely to bother you.
It may be hard to convince someone who has a deep-seated fear of stinging insects, but there is really no reason to fear carpenter bees. They may be big, loud and annoying, but they can’t hurt you unless you do something dumb.
The real concern is the damage to the wood where they are nesting. Carpenter bees aren’t like termites or carpenter ants. They will not destroy your house, and they do not eat wood. The issue is that they nest in the same general area every generation, so if you ignore them they can drill dozens of holes in your deck or wooden furniture over the years.
One or two nests aren’t going to cause much damage, but you can see how ten or twenty nests in the same piece of furniture might cause an issue.
So, what do you do if your house is being invaded by carpenter bees?
How to Get Rid of Carpenter Bees
If the bees have nested in a natural space, or an abandoned piece of wood you aren’t concerned about, please just leave them alone. Bees are an important part of a healthy ecosystem and imperative in the life cycles of many flowering plants. They aren’t going to bother you, and they can even be entertaining to watch.
On the other hand, if the bees have nested in your home or some other structure that’s important to you, sadly they’ll have to go.
This was the case when my wife and I purchased our home several years ago. It was absolutely infested with carpenter bees! We have three windows in our basement, each with an unfinished piece of wood outside beneath the siding. In three small sections of wood, each about 30” x 18”, there were several dozen holes made by carpenter bees. The former owner of the home had ignored them, and they continued to expand their nesting area each season.
Here are the steps I took:
- Step 1: The first thing I did was kill off the bees as best I could. The male guard bees flying around the nest in the daytime were easy targets with standard stinging insect killer.
- Step 2: At night, when the females and other bees were in the nest, I sprayed inside of each hole with insect killer. For this step, it's smart to use a foaming spray made especially for carpenter bees. Some experts also recommend using a powdered insecticide that the bees will track inside the nest, but I only used the spray. I repeated this every night for about a week, making sure I got a lot of them. My next step would be to seal up the holes, so I did not want to miss any of them, especially a female who might burrow further into the house.
- Step 3: Once the activity had died off, and I was reasonably sure I’d gotten all the bees, I sealed up the holes with Plastic Wood wood filler. Plastic Wood worked fine, but after the first couple of days, I realized I must have missed a couple of bees because one or two burrowed right through the Plastic Wood! After a brief period of ranting, I repeated the drill with the insect spray and resealed the hole with Plastic Wood.
- Step 4: The last, and probably most important, part was to paint the wood where the damage had occurred. Carpenter bees are more prone to nesting in unfinished wood, so a couple of coats of paint dissuaded new bees from moving in.
The results were pretty good. No bees dug holes in my house for the rest of that summer. The next summer I had two or three security breaches, which I took care of by spraying, sealing and painting.
That was years ago, and I haven’t had a major problem since. I keep an eye on my deck and home, and whenever a minor issue pops up I kill, fill and paint. That puts an end to it immediately.
Always be very careful with any insecticide. Wear gloves and eye protection and follow the directions provided by the manufacturer. Immediately clean up any areas of excess splatter, especially in places where it may be encountered by children or pets.
Carpenter Bee Traps
If you don’t want to bother with spraying and chasing bees around you might want to consider carpenter bee traps. Set them up near where the bees are nesting, and the bees will be attracted to the trap. They fly in, but they can’t fly out.
You can place them near where you have a carpenter bee problem, or be proactive and put them in places where you are worried the bees might move in. Usually, people just put them where the bees are swarming.
For a lot of homeowners, the swarming is the worst thing about carpenter bees. If your main concern is simply getting those darn bees away from you so you can sit on your deck in peace then carpenter bee traps are a great option, especially if you are afraid of bees. Set up the trap at dusk when the bees aren’t active and within a few days the swarming issue should subside.
However, be aware that if the bees are boring into an important piece of property you are still going to need to take steps to repair the damage they created. The traps won’t keep more bees from coming back. Unless you repair and paint the damaged wood, you’ll always run the risk of having a carpenter bee infestation.
Learn More About Carpenter Bees
What to Do About those Pesky Bees?
If the carpenter bees aren’t bothering you, there is no reason to bother them. I never like to harm animals, but if they are trashing your house you sometimes have no choice. The best approach is prevention. Keep wooden, outdoor surfaces well-painted or stained and the bees won’t find your place so attractive.
I still have carpenter bees on my property, but they have made homes in acceptable areas. I enjoy watching them throughout the spring and summer. I keep a watchful eye on my deck and house to make sure they aren’t getting any ideas, but otherwise, I let them be.
Like everything else in nature, they deserve to exist too.
Do you have a Carpenter Bee Problem?
Jacinta downing on July 04, 2020:
I have large black tailed fluffy bees going under my decking on steps outside my back door started of with 2 or 3 now more coming one at a time all through the day. I am frightened as they are getting near the house and going under steps leading to garden.
frank on April 07, 2019:
Found a quick partial fix was to give a squirt of very cheap caulking into the holes. Have never seen a bee be able to dig out but who knows ? Wonder if the naphtha in cheap caulk is toxic ?
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on May 12, 2018:
@Jenn - They stay fairly close to the nest, from what I see. I don't know what direction they face or even if there is a certain direction. From what I have experienced they kind of mill about a small area until something distracts them and then they go zooming after it.
It might help to keep a lookout for the female. If you see one of them land, watch where it goes. This could tip you off to the location of the nest. Good luck!
Jenn on May 10, 2018:
I have MULTIPLE carpenter bees hovering all around my house.... especially at my back door - cant even walk out without getting dive-bombed! However, I cant for the life of me figure out where the nest is! I thoroughly searched my little platform deck outside my back door and could not locate any holes. How far away from the nest do they hover? And do they face the nest or fly in front of it? (In that case, it would have to be on my roof or something.... help!) This happens EVERY year and is beginning to really ruin our nice warm days by not allowing us to enjoy our backyard without getting dive-bombed every 30 seconds!
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on March 01, 2018:
@RTalloni - Multiple generations nesting in the same piece of wood or structure can indeed cause a lot of damage, as it seems like you are finding out, unfortunately. Hope you get it fixed up without too much trouble.
RTalloni on February 28, 2018:
Appreciate the helpful info, but have to take issue re them not being very destructive. A painted barn near a tree line has been hit by them and we are facing repair of major damage. Thanks for a look at the options for dealing with these little guys.
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on June 23, 2017:
Hi Sally! I've grow fond of them myself. Whenever I find them hovering around I try to discover where the nest is. Depending on what wood they've bored into, I might just let them go. I don't like to harm animals when I can help it!
Sally Gulbrandsen from Norfolk on June 22, 2017:
As someone who has a passion for macro photography and nature, I think I could easily forgive the carpenter bee for drilling a few holes in my home. They produce only one generation a year and are important pollinators in native plant communities, gardens, and in some crops. They visit flowers and feed on nectar and pick up and transfer pollen and give me a whole lot of pleasure when I can photograph them through my lens:)