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What's the difference between carpenter bees and bumblebees?

July 7th, 2018

UPDATED: 07/07/18

Hearing a lot of buzzing in your backyard this summer? 
 
If you frequently notice bees around your home, it’s important to know exactly what kind are buzzing around. Although carpenter bees look similar to harmless bumblebees, the carpenter variety of bees can cause major damage to your home. Knowing the difference between the two will help you easily identify if you have bees helping around the house – or potentially harming it.
 
How can you tell if the bees near your home are destructive carpenter bees or harmless bumblebees?
 
Today, we’re discussing the differences between these two kinds of bees—including their appearance, their behavior, and their impact on your home. Keep reading to find out how you should handle each type of bee.
 

The Bumblebee: Nature’s Helpful Pollinator

 

The bumblebee (Bombus Impatiens) is one of the friendlier flying and stinging insects: known to be unaggressive, bumblebees generally do not sting unless attacked. Bumblebees also play a very important role in pollination and in the production of honey.
 

What does a bumblebee look like?

Bumblebees are often easy to see because they are quite large: up to 1 inch in length in some cases. Their abdominal section is furry and contains up to four yellow and black stripes. Female bumblebees have a stinger at the end of a pointed abdomen; male bumblebees do not have a stinger.
 

Where do bumblebees live?

Bumblebees often build their nests in dry, shaded areas that are left undisturbed, such as within trees and shrubs, under sheds and compost heaps, or even in thick grass. They may also build nests underground in holes built and abandoned by rodents.
 
The bumblebee nest is small and messy, without the typical hexagonal cells commonly associated with honeybees.
 
Bumblebees create a new nest every year: each winter, the queen overwinters underground. In the spring, the queen emerges to establish a new nest and lay eggs. Then, these eggs mature into adult bumblebees, who will maintain the nest and gather food for the members of the nest. In the fall, female bumblebees will then break off to mate with male bumblebees and find a suitable nest site for the following spring.
 

What should you do if your home has bumblebees?

Bumblebees are an important part of the ecosystem, helping to pollinate our food and flowers. When possible, you might consider leaving a bumblebee nest alone. (This might be acceptable if, for example, the nest is far away from your daily activities and doesn’t bother you.)
 
Still, you don’t want a bumblebee nest right where you garden or where your children play.
 
To prevent bumblebees from nesting near your home, we recommend filling in animal burrows and other holes in your backyard and clearing away dry brush and dead grass.
 
If you spot an existing bumblebee nest, the best practice is to leave the nest alone and contact a professional. While bumblebees are not normally aggressive, they will defend their nest if it is disturbed.
 

The Carpenter Bee: Nature’s Destructive Woodworker

 

Xylocopa virginica, appropriately named the carpenter bee, is also a pollinator but known more for its woodworking abilities.
 

What does a carpenter bee look like?

While carpenter bees are similar in appearance to bumblebees, there are noticeable differences between the two. Carpenter bees are not fuzzy in appearance; instead, they are smooth and hairless. Their abdomen also does not contain yellow stripes; it has a yellow midsection with a black dot in the center. Finally, carpenter bees are smaller than bumblebees.
 

Where do carpenter bees live?

Carpenter bees, like their name suggests, burrow into wood for nests. This usually appears as a hole about an inch deep that can then extend two directions into a T-like shape. The holes tend to be about half an inch in diameter, just slightly larger than the size of a carpenter bee’s body.
 
Carpenter bees prefer to nest in untreated wood, so examine areas that are unpainted and unfinished as potential areas of nesting. They also release their waste before entering their holes, so look for yellow streaks or stains from waste just below the holes to confirm their presence.
 
Unlike bumblebees, carpenter bees can live for several years and do not build a new nest every year. They overwinter and, in the following spring, may use the same nest for egg laying as the previous year.
 

What should you do if your home has carpenter bees?

Carpenter bees will burrow into the structure of your house and can often weaken the frame or supportive wood structures. Furthermore, if carpenter bees nest in wood on your property year after year, the damage they cause can become severe.
 
Because of this destructive potential, you do not want this type of bee around your home.
 
To prevent carpenter bees from nesting in your home, we recommend treating (by staining, painting, or otherwise preserving) exposed wood surfaces and closing garages and sheds during nesting season.
 
If you find an existing carpenter bee nest, be sure to take care: carpenter bees are notably aggressive around their nests. (They will often fly at an observer’s head in an effort to intimidate.) Like bumblebees, only females have the ability to sting—but getting close enough to determine the difference is never a good idea.
 
Like with bumblebees, the best option to get rid of carpenter bees is calling a professional.
 

Get Professional Help to Deal with Bees

 
The most important thing to remember when dealing with any kind of bees is to seek professional help for dealing with them. Many people have serious allergies to bees, but even for those who don’t, it’s best to avoid bee stings altogether!
 
A professional pest control expert can quickly and safely deal with your bee problem—and make sure that they stay away.
 

Scherzinger Termite and Pest Control is a trusted pest control company in the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky areas, including Dayton, OH, and now Columbus, OH. We've been pioneers, engineering new standards for ways of eliminating and controlling bugs and pests. Contact us by phone at 1-877-748-9888 or via web inquiry, Facebook or Twitter.

Authored By: Eric Scherzinger

Quality ProNational Pest Management AssociationOPMABetter Business BureauAngies List Super Service Award

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