These Busy Bees Aren’t Bumbles

Carpenter bee on redbud (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

12 April 2021

On sunny April days you may see a big bee hovering in the open, chasing other bees, or patrolling near a wooden structure. It looks like a shiny black bumblebee, but it’s not.

Carpenter bee hovering (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Eastern carpenter bees (Xylocopa virginica), like bumblebees, are solitary and docile. They don’t build hives and rarely sting. In April and May carpenter males compete for mates and the females look for wood where each will drill a gallery and lay her eggs.

You can tell the difference by sight. Carpenter bees (left) have black abdomens that shine in sunlight. Bumblebees (right) have fuzzy black or yellow abdomens that don’t reflect light.

Carpenter bee vs bumblebee (photos by Chuck Tague)
Carpenter bee (left) versus bumblebee (right), both in Pennsylvania (photos by Chuck Tague)

Here’s what a female sounds like as she examines a wooden railing. She is so docile that the person can get quite close to film her.

The female is looking for bare or distressed wood — not painted or treated — where she will drill a hole as described in this video. She doesn’t eat the wood. She just drills it.

Carpenter bees put fallen logs to use. Here they are in their natural setting. I have never seen this many bees near a human structure.

So … paint your house and carpenter bees will leave it alone. Meanwhile if you see carpenter bee holes in unpainted wood, this video from Clemson University tells you what to do: Carpenter Bees — Millie Davenport, Clemson University.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons and Chuck Tague)

3 thoughts on “These Busy Bees Aren’t Bumbles

  1. Thanks for this information. I see these bees flying around my condo unit on the 3rd (top) floor. There is a neat round hole in the unpainted wood underneath the gutter which I have seen them fly in and out of. I was wondering what would happen if I taped over the hole. They hover a lot. I was glad to learn that they rarely sting because they are so large. I did find 2 dead ones the other day on my balcony.Don’t know what could have killed them. Do they have any natural predators? What is their purpose in the insect world?

    1. Michael, dead bees on the balcony sounds like they are being poisoned by a pest control substance.

  2. I love these little guys! I’ve been seeing a lot of them buzzing around my (wood) porch and the porches of the houses next to me. I didn’t realize that they were solitary and that they burrowed into wood (though I should have figured that out based on their name alone).

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