Carpenter Bees vs. Honey Bees

Beneficial Helpers or Destructive Nuisances

honey bee
Honey Bee

Just about everyone learns in their basic biology classes that the honey bee is an essential part of our ecosystem, pollinating flowers and plants as a part of their busy flying around. On the other hand, few of us understand how to distinguish between these helpful insects and their harmful cousins, the carpenter bee.

The first distinction between these bees is where they choose to live. Honey bees live in external hives (or the special homes made by beekeepers) and carpenter bees take up residence in trees and wooden structures. They prefer unpainted, sheltered wood surfaces. This is the primary reason these bees can be such a nuisance. They not only build huge colonies, their presence can significantly damage the wood and structures where they reside. They don’t eat the wood but damage it by drilling extensive tunnels for sheltering their offspring.

Physically, the carpenter bee closely resembles the bumble bee with the exception of their shiny black, hairless abdomens. Honey bees look different with small bodies and a fuzzy torso and thin wings. Both of the bees will be observed flitting about hunting for plants from which they can gather nectar and pollen.

The first thing people worry about is being stung by a bee of either variety. For normal bees, there is little risk of this unless you accidentally overturn a hive or show aggressive behavior. The honey bee can sting only once and it is only females that can sting at all. It is the same with the carpenter bee. Only the female is equipped with the ability to sting and they seldom bother humans. However, the male will frequently be attracted to movement and hover near a hand that is moving.

Dealing with the Pest

The first way to eliminate bees is, of course, eliminating the plants that might attract them. This isn’t practical for most yards and eliminates the honey bee’s ability to do its important work of pollination.  The carpenter bee responds to treatment three times a year: spring, mid-summer and early fall. The recommended treatment is an insecticidal dust. In late fall, it is recommended to actually patch the holes they create and then paint over them.

If you notice a bee that looks like a large bumble bee, try to track it and observe whether it returns to a roof’s eaves or similar area. That can mean trouble that needs to be addressed. For bee control in New York, call (518) 745-5958, or call (802) 855-2978 for bee control in Vermont.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *