Carpenter bees are large, shiny black bees that resemble bumblebees. They get their name from their habit of drilling holes and nesting in wood, like a carpenter. Carpenter bees are common across most of the United States and can be a nuisance for homeowners. One of the most common questions about carpenter bees is – do they sting?
The Short Answer
Yes, carpenter bees can and do sting, though the females are less likely to sting than males. Their stings are comparable to a typical bee or wasp sting. However, carpenter bees are generally not aggressive and only sting when provoked. Avoid swatting at them, and they will generally leave you alone.
Carpenter Bee Basics
To understand the stinging behavior of carpenter bees, it helps to know a few things about their biology and lifestyle:
- There are two types of carpenter bees: large carpenter bees (Xylocopa virginica) and small carpenter bees (Ceratina). The large ones cause the most concern for homeowners.
- Only female large carpenter bees can sting. Male carpenter bees have no stinger.
- Carpenter bees drill holes in wood to lay their eggs inside. They do not eat wood like termites. The holes are near perfectly round.
- They prefer untreated softwoods like pine, cedar, cypress and redwood. Homes and wooden yard structures are prime nesting spots.
- Carpenter bees overwinter as adults in their nest and emerge in spring. The females work alone.
- Males are territorial and aggressive in defending their mating territory against other males. This is when they are most prone to sting.
- After mating, the males quickly die while females spend the summer solitary, going back and forth feeding their larvae.
Do Female Carpenter Bees Sting?
Female carpenter bees possess a stinger and can sting if provoked. However, the females are not overly defensive as they go about their solitary work. They typically only sting if handled roughly, swatted at, or trapped against your body.
The stinger of a female carpenter bee is smooth and can be used multiple times, unlike honeybees who have barbed stingers. Still, the female carpenter bee sting is comparable to any bee or wasp sting in painfulness. The affected area may be painful, red and swollen for a few hours. Allergic reactions are possible too, especially for those allergic to other stinging insects.
Do Male Carpenter Bees Sting?
Male carpenter bees cannot sting at all. They do not have a stinger. However, during mating season the males can exhibit aggressive territorial behavior including:
- Hovering or buzzing loudly near your head. This is meant to scare away perceived competition.
- Bumping or bouncing off you. They are trying to warn away other males.
- Chasing after or flying quickly around you. Again, you’re mistaken for another male bee.
Though scary and annoying, the male is only trying to frighten you away, not actually sting. They cannot do any real harm. It’s best to remain calm and avoid swatting at them.
Signs of Carpenter Bees
To prevent encounters with carpenter bees, it helps to recognize signs of an infestation on your property:
- Perfectly round holes 1⁄2 inch in diameter on exposed wood, often on the underside of overhead structures like eaves, decks and siding. Fresh holes have sharp edges, older holes are smooth.
- Carpenter bees entering and exiting holes. They fly fast and straight, making a loud buzzing.
- Sawdust or bee droppings near holes. This happens as they excavate.
- Dying bees near holes. After mating, the males quickly die.
If you spot these signs on your property, you likely have carpenter bees nesting on your home or yard structures. Call a pest control professional right away before the population grows.
Do Carpenter Bees Make Honey?
Carpenter bees do not make honey. They lack the special sacs for carrying pollen and do not live in communal hives like honeybees.
The female carpenter bee instead digs her solitary nest, fills it with pollen to feed her larvae, and seals it off. She repeats this in multiple tunnels in dead wood.
When Do Carpenter Bees Sting?
Carpenter bees are unlikely to sting when going about their usual routine of feeding, drilling nests or taking care of their young. Here are the specific circumstances when a carpenter bee sting is more likely:
- Male carpenter bees may sting if they perceive you as a competitor for mates in their territory in springtime.
- Female carpenter bees are more defensive of their nests if the larvae are present from mid-summer onward. Disturbing or damaging the nest raises the chances of being stung.
- Carpenter bees of both genders are more prone to sting if directly handled, swatted at, trapped against your body, or blocked from exiting the nest. Accidentally bumping into one may trigger a sting.
- Dogs, cats or other pets who bat at, pounce on or otherwise harass a carpenter bee are likely to get stung on the face or paws. Keep pets away from carpenter bees.
- Nearby vibrations from lawnmowers, power tools, vehicles, etc may agitate carpenter bees and make a sting more likely if you disturb them.
The takeaway is this: be respectful of carpenter bee space and routings, especially around their nests. Remain calm if they fly around you, don’t swat at them, and you likely can avoid getting stung.
Do Carpenter Bee Stings Hurt?
Yes, the sting of a female carpenter bee hurts! Here’s what you can expect if you do get stung:
- Sharp, immediate pain at the sting site. Carpenter bee stings are comparably painful to other bee and wasp stings.
- A burning, throbbing pain lasting 15-20 minutes. Carpenter bee venom contains chemicals like apitoxin that cause pain.
- Swelling, redness, itching around the sting. This may last a few hours.
- The risk of infection since the stinger penetrates deep. Watch for increasing pain, heat, redness, swelling or pus.
- Allergic reaction in those allergic to bee stings, characterized by hives, swelling, difficulty breathing, dizziness or other symptoms. Seek emergency care if this occurs.
While the pain is often intense, carpenter bee stings are not known to be more toxic or dangerous than honeybee stings. Use an ice pack, antihistamine, hydrocortisone cream and over-the-counter pain reliever to manage symptoms. See a doctor for severe reactions or infection.
How to Avoid Getting Stung
Carpenter bees don’t want to sting you, so avoiding a sting is usually quite easy. Here are some tips:
- Remain calm and still if a bee approaches or hovers near you. Do not swat at it. Move slowly away.
- Give them ample space, at least several feet, around their nest entrances. Do not block or disturb them.
- Do not directly handle or trap them against your body if possible. This triggers stinging.
- Avoid using power tools or vibrations too close to an active nest. The noise agitates them.
- Seal up nest holes in your home in fall when nests are empty. This prevents them from returning.
- Install bee houses in trees to give them an alternative nesting spot away from your home.
- Hire a professional to treat active nests. Do not spray insecticides into nest holes yourself.
With some care and respect for carpenter bee space, you can usually appreciate their presence without getting painful stings. Protect your home but let them be when possible.
Can Pets Be Stung?
Yes, carpenter bees will sting curious pets like dogs and cats, especially if your pet tries to play with, pounce on or bat at the bee. Pet stings usually occur on the face or paws.
Signs your pet was stung:
- Sudden yelping or crying out after encountering a bee
- Swelling, hives or redness around the face or paw
- Excessive licking or biting at the sting site
- Limping or holding up a paw that was stung
Though painful, most pet bee stings are not serious. Use a cold compress and give an antihistamine if swelling is severe. Seek emergency vet care only if you notice signs of breathing difficulty, vomiting, fainting or other worrisome reaction. Call your vet with any other concerns.
Keep pets away from carpenter bees and their nests. Seek pest control treatment if bees are nesting in areas pets frequent.
Nest Removal and Bee Control
To fully prevent carpenter bee stings around your property, it’s best to have their nests removed and prevent new nests. Here are some tips:
- In late fall, seal holes with caulk, wood putty or other sealant so bees cannot return in spring.
- Install new bee houses made from drilled wood blocks to give them an approved nesting spot away from your home.
- Apply pesticides into nest holes to kill larvae. However, only do this if absolutely necessary and hire a licensed exterminator. Improper use of pesticides can be dangerous.
- Knock down nests if absolutely necessary. Again, best done by a professional as disturbing nests greatly increases sting risk.
- Use cedar, stucco or vinyl instead of wood for overhangs, siding, decks, etc.
- Keep wood stained, painted or treated to deter nesting.
Carpenter bee control takes diligence but is important to prevent damage and stings. Inspect for new nests each spring and take action right away.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are carpenter bees aggressive?
Carpenter bees are generally not aggressive. The males may exhibit territorial behavior in spring to deter other males but they cannot sting. Females only sting if highly disturbed. Their first instinct is to fly away.
What happens if you kill a carpenter bee?
More will soon take their place. Killing a few carpenter bees does not do much if their nest remains. The best approach is to have their nests removed and holes sealed professionally in fall after nesting season ends. Pesticide sprays should only be applied by certified pros.
Do carpenter bees come back to the same place every year?
Yes, carpenter bees exhibit nest site loyalty. Females like to return to the place they were born to make their own nests. Sealing holes in fall helps break this cycle for your home.
Are carpenter bees dirty?
Carpenter bees themselves are not dirty or diseased. However, the sawdust they kick out of their nest holes can appear messy around a home. Their holes can also allow water intrusion that rots the wood over time.
How long do carpenter bees live?
Carpenter bees have a short life span. Males live only a few weeks to mate after emerging. Females live about 8 weeks total from late spring through summer.
Should I kill carpenter bees?
It’s best not to kill carpenter bees immediately. A better approach is patient eviction and prevention. Seal nesting holes when vacant in late fall. Install bee houses. Then bees have somewhere to go besides your home. Only apply pesticide into nests as a last resort if absolutely necessary.
The Bottom Line
Do carpenter bees sting? Yes, only the female bees can deliver a painful sting with their stinger. However, carpenter bees will generally avoid stinging if left undisturbed. Respect their space, especially around nests, and you can usually appreciate carpenter bees without getting stung. If stings do occur, take steps to treat the nests and prevent future ones on your property. With proper prevention and bee control, carpenter bees do not need to be a stinging nuisance around your home.
Call Texas Bug Control Today
If you have discovered carpenter bees on your Texas property, don’t wait – call the professionals at Texas Bug Control today. We offer thorough bee removal services to eliminate nests and prevent future infestations humanely and effectively. Contact us today to schedule an inspection and estimate. We serve customers all across Central Texas. Call now before the bees multiply!
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