Getting rid of carpenter bees, the pests responsible for those small holes dotting your deck or siding, can be as easy as painting the wood. Dealing with an infestation of carpenter bees takes more work and more expense, as you may need the expertise of a pest control professional.
Why is painting wood a solution? Carpenter bees love to build their nests in your unpainted, weathered wood. Softwoods such as redwood, cypress, cedar, oak, and pine make an especially attractive invitation for these bees.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, or buzzing to the chase. How do you get rid of carpenter bees? First, make sure you’re not dealing with bumblebees, then grab some paint (not sealer), traps or pesticide and put your carpenter bees out of work.
Carpenter Bees Vs. Bumblebees
Carpenter bees and bumblebees look similar, but once you know the difference between these two insects, they can be easy to tell apart.
Carpenter bees have a shiny, hairless abdomen and are about ¾- to 1-inch long. Their head is almost as wide as their fuzzy, yellow-orange thorax. Female carpenter bees have black heads while male carpenter bees have yellow or white markings on theirs. A carpenter bee’s hind legs have dense hairs.
Bumblebees have a hairy abdomen with black and yellow stripes. The bumblebee’s head is also much narrower than the width of its thorax. This bee’s size can range from ¾ to 1½ inches.
These bees have different behaviors and habitats. Bumblebees are social and live with colonies. Their nests are typically in the ground. Carpenter bees, however, lead an independent operation and tunnel into wood to lay their eggs.
Carpenter Bee Habits
Each female carpenter bee has her own private nest inside their wood tunnel. More than one carpenter bee can occupy the same wood, but they still live independently from one another.
Female carpenter bees prefer to nest in an existing wood tunnel or expand on an old one. She uses her jaws to create an entrance that is about ½-inch wide, the size of her body. A tunnel gallery can extend for 10 feet if used by many carpenter bees over a long period.
Nail holes, splinters, and cracks on the wood’s surface can help make her expedition much more accessible.
She’ll want to find a nesting spot near a garden or flower bed, such as a wooden deck, picnic table, utility pole, firewood, door, siding, or fence post.
Signs of a Carpenter Bee Infestation
The most apparent sign of carpenter bees nesting in your wood is their 1/2-inch tunnel holes.
Below these holes, you may find piles of yellow sawdust material. As the female carpenter bee digs her nest, she pushes the chewed wood out of the tunnel. She will also pass sticky yellow waste, which may gather outside the tunnel’s entrance. The waste product may cause yellowish stains to appear on your wooden structure, and may darken.
The nest of a single carpenter bee will not cause significant structural damage to your wooden feature. Yet many tunnels expanded and reused over several years may weaken the wood or cause a cosmetic concern.
The presence of carpenter bees may also be a sign of an infestation. You may first notice a carpenter bee by hearing it’s loud, reverberating buzz. (Sounds a little like a carpenter’s saw or drill, right?) Their blaring presence can be intimidating, mainly when carpenter bees dive and swirl around humans.
It’s often the male carpenter bee creating these disturbing sounds and high dives. Male carpenter bees do not have a stinger, so their robust and aggressive performance is all a bluff. Although female carpenter bees have a stinger, they generally remain calm and attack only when provoked.
How to Get Rid of and Prevent Carpenter Bees Naturally
The College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment at the University of Kentucky offers an effective strategy for controlling carpenter bees:
Drill ½-inch holes in each side of a wooden box. In the bottom hole of the box, insert the opening of a plastic bottle. Suspend the bottle from the box. In early spring, hang the traps on the corners of your house, porch, or barn. As carpenter bees enter the holes, they fall into the plastic bottle and are unable to find a way to escape. The bees will die inside the bottle.
Applying a permanent finish on your bare wood can be an effective preventive solution. Carpenter bees do not like to dig in painted wood. Staining your wood will not work as well as painting it, if at all. Fill nail holes and cracks with caulk or putty before painting. Exposed or cracked wood is very attractive to carpenter bees looking for an accessible entrance.
Close Garage Doors
Keep your garage, shed, or other outside buildings closed to deter carpenter bees from entering and finding wood.
Replacing your wood with vinyl, aluminum, or other non-wooden materials may help exclude carpenter bees.
How to Get Rid of Carpenter Bees With Insecticides
According to the University of Maryland Extension, spraying wasp, hornet, or bee aerosol formulations into the carpenter bee holes can be useful. Lightly treat the inside of the tunnel’s entrance. The returning bee will spread the compound throughout the tunnel gallery and die in the process. If you overtreat the opening, you run the risk of repelling the bee and encouraging it to find a new location. When using insecticides, follow all label directions to ensure your safety and effective results.
Pro tip: Seal the tunnel entrances one week after treatment. Do not caulk holes without treatment; otherwise, the carpenter bees may chew through the seal and escape.
When to Call a Professional
If you wish to avoid a female carpenter bee’s sting, call a pest control professional near you. If your carpenter bee infestation is severe, a pest control professional may provide the appropriate solutions to prevent and manage these pests.