How Do Carpenter Bees Drill Holes

Carpenter bees are physically the most similar to bumblebees. However, unlike bumblebees, carpenter bees have a back shiny abdomen. They both also have mouthpieces called mandibles. A bumble bee’s mandibles aren’t very strong. Even if it bites you, the damage is minor. Carpenter bee’s mandibles are very strong and can dig through wood.

They move their mandibles in a circular manner. This lets them drill holes that are an inch deep in five days. After this, they’re likely to turn right and continue drilling. This weakens the timber. 

They are more attracted to redwood, cedar, pine, and cypress wood.

So, if you ever encounter these tiny, shiny creatures going to town at your wood, you might want to stop them

But before you adopt any aggressive methods, understand why carpenter bees drill holes.

Why Do Carpenter Bees Drill Holes in Houses?

Unlike honey bees, people aren’t compassionate towards carpenter bees. Let me bring some perspective to this infamous image that these bees have gained over the years.

If you have any wooden decks, fences or a wooden house, you might have noticed one or many small holes in it. I know, I have! The first time I opened the wooden structure, I was shocked to see the damage that had been caused in mere days.

A little bit of research to locate the reason behind the hole warmed my heart. The hole is a nursery for the female carpenter bee. She also has to ensure that the hole is deep enough to protect the eggs and the larvae, hence, the inch deep holes. Like every other mother, she’s overtaken by the biological need to take care of her young ones. 

She uses your garden to gather pollen from flowers. Then, she rolls the pollen into a small ball and rolls it down to the end of the tunnel. And then, the miracle of birth happens. The mama bee lays one single egg and seals it shut. Then she collects pollen again and repeats the process till she reaches the entrance. When the babies hatch, they feed on the pollen. 

Despite the damage, I couldn’t help but be touched. Life was originating in the structures of my home. 

Even though the motives of these bees are pure and they’re an important part of our ecosystem, I understand your frustration. They can cause severe damage if control methods are implemented in time. 

What to do if you find carpenter bees drilling holes in your premises?

Pesticides wear off in two-three weeks. This means that you’ll be repeating the same process all over the year. Hence, here are some general tips to get rid of carpenter bees without hurting them.

1. Take care of your wood

  • Keep your house well caulked and painted. Carpenter bees prefer unpainted, unstained, and untreated wood.
  • Ensure that the underside of your railings is also painted. 
  • Don’t have any raw wood surfaces and fill any visible gaps. 
  • If you see the bees in the hole, you can use wood filler. But the bees will dig right through it and try to reuse the same hole. Hence, put a little tinfoil or steel wool in the hole and then paint over that. The bees will not re-dig the hole and are likely to forget about it. 

Note– These steps are the most effective in fall. In the fall, the younger bees are out and mature bees only return in the winter. Hence, the hole should be empty. 

2. Carpenter Bee traps 

  • You can also get carpenter bee traps. Such traps are made of a wooden box with a plastic bottle attached to the box. The bees are trapped inside the bottle without any food. Relocate the bees immediately or else they can starve to death. 

3. General Tips

  • Food crumbs will lead bees to your house. Keep all your food sealed in air-tight containers and in the cupboards. 
  • Carpenter bees are sensitive to acoustic stimuli. So, invite your friends over and play some loud music. The vibrations will send them away for at least some time. Use that time to seal the holes.
  • If you do not like chemicals, spray almond or citrus oil on the nesting holes. This will repel the bees.

Note– any time you approach a nesting hole, wear protective gear (even if you’re sure the bees have emptied the hole). The female carpenter bee can sting you. 

Note: Do NOT call an exterminator. That is never an option. The bees are not an immediate threat to your home. Take your time and figure out ways to get rid of it without killing them. An exterminator will not relocate the bees and just kill these harmless, little creatures. 

When do carpenter bees drill holes?

Usually, carpenter bees start drilling holes in wooden structures in May. Unlike honey bees, they don’t have a colony and don’t live in a hive. Hence, only a solitary bee pair will approach the structure. 

The female bee lays the egg in the hole. The eggs hatch after 36 days. The fledglings will then empty the nest and fly away in search of food. Adult Carpenter bees overwinter in the nest (their holes) and come out in early spring. 

This marks the end of the drilling season. Carpenter bees will then move on to pollinating plants and flowers.

Hence, you can incorporate preventive measures in the beginning of the spring, after the bees have emptied the nest. 

Why you should be kind to these tiny creatures: fun facts about carpenter bees

  • These bees are independent. They do not live in colonies. They find food, build and defend themselves. I think we all can learn something from them.
  • These bees show that they want to mate by doing a dance in groups.
  • Male carpenter bees cannot sting. Hence, although their job is to protect nesting galleries, there isn’t much they can do. Their primary role is to mate. At the sight of the predator, they will buzz loudly and aggressively fly towards them trying to scare them off. 
  • They do not eat the wood. Like other bees, they feed on pollen and nectar, however, they do not make honey.
  • They collect pollen through buzz pollination. The bee will hold onto a flower and flap its wings till the vibrations loosen the pollen. 
  • These bees are kind. They will not attack you unless you make them feel threatened. 
  • Even if you do threaten them, there is no threat of a swarm of bees attacking you as these bees are solitary in nature. However, when threatened, the female bee can sting you multiple times. 
  • Carpenter bees don’t have a pollen basket. Hence, they’re better pollinators than honey bees as they drop more pollen to plants than other bees.

Carpenter bees are tiny and kind creatures. Be compassionate to them. They’re only using your home to give birth to their young ones; it is the cycle of nature. Using pesticides and insecticides to kill them is harmful to our ecosystem. Remember that they’re not an immediate threat to your home. Use the above-mentioned methods to get rid of them without harming them. The key is time and patience.