If you've been seeing stocky-looking bees flying around your home like Kamikaze pilots trying to intimidate you by flying into your forehead, chances are that they're carpenter bees. If you also see mysterious holes forming in your siding, deck, patio furniture, or other wooden items; or if you see piles of sawdust mysteriously appearing out of nowhere, then you most certainly have a carpenter bee problem.
Carpenter bees are also known as "wood bees" or "borer bees" because of the females' habit of drilling perfectly-round holes into wood. They don't drill holes just for the joy of it. They drill them to lay their eggs in. They start on a face or edge of the wood (against the grain), bore in maybe a quarter inch or so, and then make a hard turn in the direction of the grain. Then they keep on drilling until that hole becomes a tunnel inside the wood that can range anywhere from a few inches to a few feet in length.
Just in case you have a crazy neighbor who also likes to drill holes in houses, you can tell a carpenter bee's hole because there usually are waxy stains around it, and unless the wind has blown it away, a pile of sawdust under it. The stains are a mixture of wax and droppings that can be difficult to remove or paint over. They may not be visible at first, when the nest is newly-excavated; but they'll most certainly be visible once the bees have emerged.
Because of the wax component, paint won't readily stick to the stains, especially if the wood is unpainted or if the paint has worn off or peeled away. The wax penetrates into the wood and repels many paints. Some entomologists also believe that the stains contain attractant / arrestant pheromones that encourage female carpenter bees to return to the same holes from which they emerged to lay their own eggs.
In any case, once the bees have excavated the tunnel to their liking, they start to lay eggs in it. They lay them one at a time, provision each egg with pollen and regurgitated nectar, and place a bit of wax between each cell. Through some secret mechanism known only to the bees, the eggs hatch, larvate, pupate, and emerge as adults in reverse order to that in which they were laid, so the most recent ones that are nearest the hole hatch and emerge before the earlier ones do.
There are some good things about carpenter bees. The most important is that they are industrious pollinators in general and are the primary pollinators of some plants. They're also very neighborly as bees go. The males -- the ones who fly around your yard trying to intimidate you -- lack stingers, so their bravado is just a show. The couldn't harm you if they wanted to. The females are capable of stinging but almost never do. Our guys don't even bother suiting up to treat carpenter bees. That's how passive these bees are.
In fact, if it weren't for that annoying habit of drilling holes in our homes and other wooden possessions, most folks would be willing to put up with the males' silly antics in return for the valuable pollination work that carpenter bees do. The problem, however, is that they do in fact drill holes; and over time, they can cause considerable damage that is very unsightly and often very expensive to repair.
Carpenter bees can also weaken the wood of wooden decks and playground equipment, making it more likely to fail and possibly cause injury. They also have a special liking for wooden fences and the support beams for lofts in barns. Worse yet, although they're not true social bees, multiple female will often drill into the same pieces of wood, and females often return to the same tunnel from which they emerged to lengthen it and lay their own eggs.
Just in case the bees themselves weren't annoying and destructive enough, carpenter bee activity also attracts woodpeckers. They peck away at the wood to get at the tasty eggs, larvae, and pupae inside the tunnels. When you can see the exposed carpenter bee tunnels in a piece of wood, it usually means that woodpeckers found it before you did.
For all this damage that they do, however, carpenter bees are competent pollinators; so if the thing they're drilling holes into is an old shed that you wish would fall down anyway, then maybe you should just leave them be. They're useful pollinators; and other than their drilling and excavating, they do no harm at all.
Carpenter bee control is one of the most challenging kinds of work that we do because our goal is to seal them out of your home. This is one of the ways that we differ from most "exterminators," who only treat the visible holes. We seal or screen the house to prevent the bees from getting to the wood that you can't see, such as the unpainted sides of trim that face inward. (We also take care of the visible holes, of course.)
Obviously, this is painstaking work. It requires special skills and specialized equipment. We don't just spray some insecticide into the hole and call the job done. We treat the active nests, repair the damage, and make your home bee-proof. That's not an easy thing to do, but we're not the sort who look for the easy way out.
If you live anywhere near the Columbia or Aiken, South Carolina areas and you have a carpenter bee problem, please give us a call for a no-obligation inspection. We look forward to helping you solve your carpenter bee problem.
Carpenter Bee Control Gallery
Here are some pictures of carpenter bee work we've done in and around the Columbia and Aiken, South Carolina areas.
Do-it-yourself carpenter bee control attempt
Carpenter bee and woodpecker damage
Carpenter bees often build nests in high places
Carpenter bee stains under the eaves of a house
Installing screening to keep carpenter bees out
Carpenter bee holes in the wood of a house
Carpenter bees gathering nectar from flowers
Close up of a carpenter bee
Carpenter bee holes in the wood of a house
Carpenter bee debris on siding in Stockbridge
Before and after carpenter bee control job
Carpenter Bee Holes in a House in Columbia
Carpenter bee hole in a railing
Carpenter bee control job at a log cabin
Carpenter bee drilling a hole in a deck railing
Carpenter bee holes at a house in Columbia
Carpenter bee frass (sawdust) from a single hole