It’s that time of year again. If you go outdoors, you might be subjected to dive-bombing by black and yellow bumble bee-like bees. You might also notice a large, round hole on your porch or deck that you never noticed before. These two seemingly unrelated events can only mean one thing — carpenter bees!
Carpenter bees are in a mating frenzy, buzzing and hovering as they search for a mate and a place to build their nests. Just a few minutes ago, a female carpenter bee accidentally flew into me and fell to the ground, stunned. In that instant, a male bee took advantage of her momentary vulnerability to land on top of her and quite unceremoniously “have his way” with her, mere inches from my feet.
Male carpenter bees are curious and will investigate anyone, or anything, really, that comes near their nests. This curiosity is often interpreted as aggressiveness; however, the males are only aggressive to other male carpenter bees. They are quite harmless to humans since they lack stingers. Our yellow lab feels safe “attacking” carpenter bees, but knows better than to harass a wasp or a hornet! Female carpenter bees, on the other hand, can inflict a painful sting, but seldom do so unless captured or seriously provoked.
Carpenter bees get their name from their habit of tunneling into wood. They excavate perfectly round, half-inch holes, then create a tunnel parallel to the wood’s surface. Within the tunnel, the female deposits her eggs along with pollen balls to feed the offspring. Bare, unpainted, or weathered wood is preferred; painted or pressure-treated wood is less susceptible to attack. Common nesting sites include eaves, window trim, fascia boards, siding, decks, and outdoor furniture.
There are conflicting views about the damage caused by carpenter bees. Some say the damage is minimal and does not cause any structural problems; others say that, over time, with successive generations using and enlarging the tunnels, the damage can be substantial. Carpenter bees are important pollinators of trees and flowers, so as long as their numbers remain tolerable, we’ll leave them to their buzzing and dive-bombing, which only lasts a couple of weeks.
Cool Fact: Along with bumble bee queens, carpenter bees (genus Xylocopa) are the largest native bees in the United States.