June 17, 2014

Carpenter Bees

For the first several years that we lived here at Oak Hill, I used an existing homebuilt carport as my goat barn. The wooden structure had a metal roof, and we enclosed the sides with sheets of tin that were here on the property. The previous owner was a bit of a hoarder, but some of the junk has turned out to be useful.



Several mornings each year, I'd sit at the milkstand in this "barn", being harassed by a large bee that resembled a bumblebee. Sometimes there were two. The more aggressive bee would buzz around me noisily, but never offered to sting or land on me; it was just noisy and annoying. The other bee would hover around the wooden beams above my head.

Then one day I noticed a small pile of fine sawdust, and happened to see a hole in the beam above the sawdust, about the diameter of my pinkie finger. I began referring to the bees as "wood bees". I assumed they were laying eggs or making a nest of some kind up in those holes, so I filled in the holes with spackle, the only thing I had handy. And then the roof blew off this building in a storm, I moved the goats to the new goat barn we built to replace it, and the bees were forgotten.

This week, when I fed the horses in their barn down the hill, I noticed a familiar little pile of sawdust on a board. I looked at the underside of the board above it, and yep, there was the hole. When I got back to the house I googled "bees that drill holes in wood" and found out that they are carpenter bees.

Looking upward at the bottom of the 2x6".
Carpenter bees mate in the spring, then the female drills a hole in the underside of a log or piece of wood while the male is close by, guarding her as she works. Although he seems aggressive, he doesn't have a stinger. When the female has drilled upwards for a distance, she will turn and drill a sideways tunnel, where she will lay her eggs, each separated by a mixture made of chewed sawdust and pollen. The larvae will feed on this material when they emerge from their eggs.

This was a perfectly conical pile of sawdust until a horse blew on it.
All the websites I read recommended spraying a pesticide or even WD-40 up into the hole to kill the bee, eggs or larvae, then seal up the hole with wood putty or something similar, to avoid attracting other carpenter bees. I prefer not to use harsh pesticides if possible, and in the past I've just sealed up the hole without using a pesticide. I've never had a bee re-drill the hole, or drill out from the inside. Painted wood seems to deter them.

This link will take you to a good illustration of a carpenter bee, from a pest control company in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Leaving the holes open will attract other carpenter bees, and eventually boards can become riddled with the tunnels, weakening the building. I took my container of spackle down the hill and filled up the new hole.

I was familiar with carpenter ants, but these were new to me. Have you ever seen carpenter bees?



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17 comments:

  1. My dad used to try to fill up the holes with that spray foam insulation, I think...it never worked, the bees always chewed back through it, lol. They are pesky, for sure! They like raspberries, too. They used to dive-bomb us kids at my grandparents house when we would go picking. Freaks you out when they bounce off your head, even though there's no stinger to worry about!!

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  2. Kathi at Oak Hill Homestead7:35 AM

    And they're very loud. I would sure be freaked out by a big buzzing bee dive-bombing my head, too, Rose!

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  3. My chicken and rabbit shed is a carpenter bee's dream apparently. I have tried filling holes with spray insulation or stuffing cardboard inside. Every year I get more perfectly round holes. I'm allergic to bees so I was very worried until I learned these can't sting. Now I've given up the battle against them.

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  4. Never heard of these before! Fascinating!

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  5. We have them in NV to. They have drilled hole's in an old dead tree on the backside of the yard where I have hung a birdfeeder. When I saw them and they buzzed around my head it sort of scared me. I knew they were carpenter bee's and wouldn't sting but I had to wait till they were gone before I went back and removed the feeder. lol.

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  6. Kathi at Oak Hill Homestead3:33 PM

    April, evidently they return to where they hatched to build their nests, so each year there would be more of them unfortunately.

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  7. Kathi at Oak Hill Homestead3:34 PM

    Jana, I'd never heard of them before. I wonder if they are a southern thing? Assuming that NV is also "southern". :-)

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  8. Anonymous9:59 PM

    I don't know about their being particularly "southern," but we definitely have them in Atlanta. They dive bombed anyone who came up my front walk - scared my grandchildren, especially. I had a handyman who got rid of mine - he did use the WD 40 and spackled the holes. Said the WD 40 would burn up the larvae before they could develop. Since then, I've treated occasional holes in the woodwork around my porch. The ones on the high eaves of my house, I've had to find someone else to handle. If it works without the WD40, so much the better.
    - Ellen

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  9. Kathi at Oak Hill Homestead10:03 PM

    Thank you, Ellen. I'm glad to hear about a success.

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  10. I've had them in my horse barn and around our garage door sill for the past couple of years. I haven't tackled the ones at the barn - not brave enough to fill the holes while the bees are active lol. They are definitely territorial - my husband has had some stare-downs but he usually kills them with a swat with his hat. He has filled holes in the garage sill with caulk and they didn't drill back through. They hover while I am at the pallet garden next to the barn but I try to ignore them. My daughter has learned to mostly ignore them but my son gets nervous sometimes because they are so loud and come so close. Wonder if the WD40 also inhibits their ability to smell/recognize the old nest?

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  11. Kathi6:42 PM

    April, don't forget to fill the holes at the barn when the bees are gone. Early morning maybe, or after the eggs are laid and the adults have gone. I can now tell you that the horses' fly spray will kill the bee. I still have to fill the hole.

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  12. Anonymous7:14 AM

    They aren't just a southern thing. We had them in Ohio when I lived there. They can weaken structures with all their tunnels if not stopped. We always used caulk but sometimes they would eat their way out.

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  13. Kathi at Oak Hill Homestead8:59 PM

    I had no idea! I'd never even heard of them before moving here.

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  14. I actually kinda like our carpenter bees. They're funny in the way they kind of hover above watching us as we sit on the deck, then suddenly zip away. I've seen them in the garden pollinating plants. I think the only place they've drilled holes is in the wooden fence. I'll put an end to any drilling they do on the house, but I don't mind the fence that much.

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  15. Kathi at Oak Hill Homestead3:07 PM

    Hi Chipmunk. They are kind of curious critters, aren't they? and yes, they do pollinate the flowers. I'm with you, I wouldn't mind if all they targeted was the wooden fence.

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  16. We have always had them around our place, I always called them wood bees...they don't bother anybody and I have never worried much about them. I have heard about carpenter bees and thought I had read that they are good to have around. I had no idea they were the same thing. Interesting.

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  17. Kathi at Oak Hill Homestead6:02 AM

    Marilyn, other than that they drill holes in wood, I don't mind them, but evidently that habit isn't good - too many holes in a board can weaken it badly.

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