Carpenter Bees

by Joann Barnes

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Last spring, we noticed several bees hovering around our deck. They looked like bumblebees. We avoided them when they hovered too close to the kids' play area. Later in the summer, we had to tear down our deck due to aging wood that was splitting. That is when we received our education on carpenter bees.

Carpenter bees resemble bumblebees, but the lower end of their body is bare and black. Bumblebees are hairy with some yellow markings. In the spring and early summer, these bees hover to find mates and a place to nest. Male bees are aggressive, hovering in front of you if you are near their nest. They are harmless since they have no stingers. Females can sting, but generally do not unless they are handled.

Carpenter bees (like carpenter ants) are very destructive to homeowners. These bees tunnel into wood to lay their eggs. They prefer bare, unpainted, or weathered softwoods like redwood, cedar, cypress, or pine. Common nesting sites are eaves, window trim, facia boards, siding, decks, and outdoor furniture.

They hibernate during winter and come out in the spring to mate, burrow, and lay eggs. The entrance hole and tunnel are perfectly round and about the width of a finger. Sometimes the female burrows new tunnels, but more commonly enlarge and re-use old tunnels. After many years of this, the damage to wood can be very extensive. We found burrows several feet long.

The best way to deter the bees is to paint all exposed wood surfaces. Wood stains and preservative are not as reliable as painting, but do provide some protection. Garages and outbuildings should be kept closed.

Some insecticides may be effective, but you should check with a specialist to see which can be used in your area. After insecticides are used, the hole should be kept open for a few days so the insecticide can be distributed in the nest. Then the entrance hole should be plugged with a wooden dowel coated with carpenter's glue or wood putty to prevent further use of the nest. Treatment is best performed at night when the bees are less active, or you can wear protective clothing.

Unfortunately for us, the damage had been extensive and the deck had to be removed. It is best to burn or discard the wood so they cannot re-use the scrap wood for nesting. Look for these bees in early April or May when they are mating. You may be able to prevent heavy replacement costs.

Joann Barnes is the mother of two children and owner of The Perfect Gift House.

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