Carpenter bees are actually commonly mistaken for bumblebees. They may be easily confused in that they are of similar size and are of similar colors. You may only be able to tell by looking closely at their abdomens. Like bumblebees, adult carpenter bees are about 1 inch in length and are marked in black and yellow and in some rare cases, black and orange. The major difference would be on the abdomen. The abdomens of bumblebees are fuzzy and full of hair. They are yellow with black markings along the abdomen. However, the abdomens of carpenter bees are hairless and a shiny black color. Also, bumblebees are social insects that nest underground however, carpenter bees are not as social. They may swarm in groups around the eaves of wood homes to clean out old tunnels that they have carved out previously or to excavate new ones.
The mating season begins in the spring when they set out to create new tunnels or enlarge or clean out old tunnels that they have already made. They complete a full metamorphosis of egg, larvae, pupa, and adult. After mating, females will lay eggs in the tunnels or chambers on top of the food supply and then the chambers will be sealed. The adult bees that seal off chambers for the eggs will die within a few weeks. There are about 6-8 chambers that a female will create for her eggs. The larvae will hatch and they will complete their development during the pupa stage or the “cocoon” stage. Once they develop into adult carpenter bees, they will emerge close to the end of the summer season in August or early September. After a short period of feeding, they will return to their chambers to overwinter.
Behavior, Food Source, & Damage
Unlike bumblebees, carpenter bees are usually solitary bees. Although male carpenter beetles show defensive behavior, they are virtually harmless because they do not have stingers. As a defense mechanism, they may fly around the heads of people who disturb them or approach their nests. Female carpenter bees on the other hand have stingers. However, even though they have stingers, they usually are only seen flying in and out of their nests in search for food and may have no desire to sting. They might use their stingers only when they are highly agitated or feel very threatened.
Typically, one or two carpenter bees may not cause much damage, just some surface damage to the wood. However, if they swarm in large numbers or they return to the same chambers and repeat the process of building their nest in the same hole, there may be structural damage. Damage to the structure may also occur when water or other moisture sources enter through the holes and damage the wood. There are also chances of birds pecking at the wood to eat the small insects that are nesting in the chambers. The average chamber or tunnel may only be about 4-6 inches deep. They hollow out the chambers about 1inch per week. Although they typically only run about 4-6 inches, some chambers may exceed over a foot deep into the wood. The same entrance hole can be used for several years when females return to lay eggs.
Carpenter bees do not feed on the wood. Damage only comes from when they burrow in the wood to lay their eggs and to overwinter in. Carpenter bees actually feed on nectar and pollen from flowers. Female carpenter bees can often be seen flying in and out of chambers with food. They will usually excavate new holes near a food source so that they will not have to fly far to search for a food source in the future.
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