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Carpenter Bees

Carpenter bees applies to several species of bees in the United States that excavate tunnels in sound wood. The only species of importance found in Missouri is Xylocopa virginica (L.), a large species also known from Florida north to Connecticut, and New york. They are similar in size and appearance to bumble bees (Bombus spp.), but with the top surface of the abdomen being black, almost entirely hairless, and shiny . Males have a white face, whereas the female’s face is black..

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Male carpenter bees

Carpenter bees are often seen hovering near decks, eaves, and gables of homes. Homeowners may become alarmed by this activity because male carpenter bees patrol these areas and will fly near people. They defend territories and may be aggressive, but they are unable to sting, so their aggression is just a show.

Carpenter bees are fairly large, ½” to 1” in length. They resemble bumblebees except their abdomen is smooth and hairless. Male carpenter bees are very aggressive, but they have no stinger. Females have a potent stinger, but seldom sting.

Female carpenter bees construct individual cells within each tunnel. Each cell contains one egg and enough food for a developing larva. To make the food, she collects pollen and mixes it with plant nectar to form a substance called bee bread. She places the food into the tunnel, lays a single egg on it, and builds a partition in the tunnel with cemented wood chips. She continues this process until 6 to 10 cells are constructed.

The lifetime of a carpenter bee, from egg to death, covers one year. New adult bees emerge briefly in August or September, feed and re-enter their galleries to pass the winter. In the spring those bees that survive winter emerge again in April, mate, and produce a new generation. They reuse existing tunnels or build new ones in which to lay their eggs. These adult bees die in July, following mating and egg-laying. Carpenter bee activity begins again when their offspring have matured and emerge briefly during September. Infestations may persist for several generations over several years, with each generation lasting a full year.

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Female carpenter bee

Damage: They prefer unfinished softwoods such as redwood, cypress, cedar and pine in structures for constructing nests. Carpenter bees do not consume wood like termites, but use wood merely to construct nests. While gathering nectar and pollen carpenter bees pollinate flowers.

Management: Well-painted, finished structures are a deterrent to carpenter bees. When tunnels are found, treatment with an insecticide and sealing of the tunnel is recommended. Wasp, hornet and bee aerosol sprays are effective and easy to use. The material should be applied in the early morning or after dark on a cool evening (when the bees are less active) to the tunnel entrances and along exposed surfaces. If no activity is observed a few days after application, the holes should be plugged deeply with putty or caulking compound. If the tunnels are plugged without first killing the insects, any carpenter bees trapped inside will bore new openings. Tennis racquets have often been used to successfully control adults.

Preventing the Infestation: When carpenter bees are discovered during the brief activity period of late summer and early fall, a single treatment can be applied to tunnel openings with good results. Treating tunnel openings during this period can be effective because only one generation of bees is present. Wait 24 to 48 hours after treatment before filling tunnels to ensure that adult bees have had time to be exposed to treated areas. If activity continues, you may reapply dust a second time before filling the holes.

Plugging suspicious holes and cracks in your woodwork will also help deter these insects from probing in.

It is during the spring and summer that these insects become active. When these seasons come, check your home for signs of an early infestation and do the necessary steps to avoid the worsening of the infestation.

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Carpenter bee in Wood

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