How to Get Rid of Carpenter Bees

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Carpenter bees have a pretty bad reputation when it comes to damaging wooden structures, but is that reputation really deserved? This critter is one of many that the average person knows very little about (and much of what they know is wrong).

Let’s take a look at how to get rid of carpenter bees that have infested your home or property, as well as how to prevent future infestations. Later, we’ll get to know these pests a bit better – and why you might actually want to keep them around.

Getting Rid of Carpenter Bees

Believe it or not, eliminating a carpenter bee infestation isn’t difficult once you’ve identified a nest in your railings, outdoor furniture, or other wood surfaces.

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carpenter bee drilling wood

Chemical Methods

It’s usually best to avoid using insecticides, as these can easily harm beneficial critters. However, Spectracide makes an excellent bee spray, and you can use any product that lists bees on the label. Residual products are best if you plan to spray during the day when the bees are away from the nest.

When possible, try to use a spray, as nest entrances are often on the underside of objects. You’ll want to aim so that some of the spray enters the hole. Note that you can also inject insecticidal dust into a nest if the entrance is horizontal.

Natural Methods

There are several natural products out there that work wonders, although it isn’t always easy to get them into the nest.

Bee Traps

These simple traps should be placed near infested wood. Be sure the trap is designed for carpenter bees specifically.

There are two main styles of carpenter bee traps. Both work fairly well but you may get better results with one over the other.

  • Rescue! TrapStik work by luring them in and making them get stuck to a sticky surface.
  • American-made Original B Brothers traps work by mimicking a natural nest and catching them inside an attached mason jar. 

Diatomaceous Earth and Boric Acid

Diatomaceous Earth
Diatomaceous earth

These two products are applied in a similar method and are both quite deadly. They downside is that they need to be reapplied every few days or if they get wet.

Food-grade diatomaceous earth lacerates insects that come into contact with it, causing them to die of dehydration. Best of all, it’s safe around humans and pets.

Meanwhile, boric acid gets onto the bee’s body and is consumed as it grooms, devouring it from the inside out. This works faster than DE, but is also less safe for your family.

Vacuum Them

If you have a canister or wet/dry vac, use it to suck the bees right out of their nests at night. Be very careful disposing the canister contents so the bees won’t escape. If using a canister vac, you can ensure their death by putting a little borax or DE on a smooth surface and vacuuming it up on top of them.

Neem Oil Spray

neem oil soak

Neem is an amazing natural pesticide. By mixing a bit of neem oil and Dawn dish soap in a spray bottle of water, you get a contact killer that dissipates without residue within an hour. Spray it directly into the nest entrance at night.

You may wish to plug the opening with something so any occupants won’t be able to escape.

Vibrate Them Away

These critters are sensitive to vibrations. Try using loud music or placing a massager against the wood to drive them out where you can give them a good whack.

Vinegar Spray

Vinegar is deadly to the larvae. Mix white vinegar and water in a bottle that can spray a strong stream, then flood the nests. This is a good choice if you missed mating season.

See Also: Should You Kill Bees?

Preventing Carpenter Bees

carpenter bee damage

There are quite a few ways to discourage carpenters from returning. Here are just a few:

Repellent Sprays

Sprays containing citrus or almond oil can deter a wide range of pests, including carpenters. Simply spray wooden surfaces for a pleasant-smelling and bee free environment.

Seal Old Nests

Use a dowel, wood putty, wood glue, etc. to plug the entrance to nests once the bees are gone. They can’t reuse a nest if they can’t get in and won’t bother trying to reopen a sealed one.

Varnish or Paint Your Wood

These bees may not eat wood, but they still use their mouths to excavate and prefer untreated wood. Treating or coating wooden surfaces in early spring will convince females to look elsewhere.

Getting to Know Carpenter Bees

Carpenter bees (sometimes referred to as wood bees) are quite different from the bees you normally find buzzing around. Unfortunately, they also tend to be more destructive, giving them a reputation they might not deserve.

Let’s take a closer look at these curious critters and what sets them apart.

Related: Identifying Bees vs Wasps vs Hornets

Identifying Carpenter Bees

Carpenter bees lack the stripes of many other species, instead having solid black bodies and occasionally a touch of yellow or white. With the exception of males in a few species, these chubby bees have shiny, hairless abdomens.

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In total, there are around 500 species, all in the genus Xylocopa. The genus name for these bees comes from the Greek word ξυλοκόπος (xylokopos, meaning woodcutter). 30 of the 31 subgenre are known for nesting in woody plants, with the remaining subgenre (Proxylocopa) preferring ground nests.

There are only five species native to the US:

California Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa californica)

Xylocopa californica

Found throughout the western half of the US, these black bees have a bluish-green shine in direct light. Their heads are larger than their thorax, with females having bigger heads than males. There are three known subspecies. They’re also referred to as western carpenter bees.

Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica)

Xylocopa virginica

Found throughout the US east of the Rockies, this bee is black with a metallic purple sheen. Males have a white spot on their face. They prefer milled cedar or pine, but will also nest in other woods. A nest may be solitary or contain up to five females.

Hawaiian Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa sonorina)

Xylocopa sonorina

Sometimes called the valley carpenter bee, this species is found in the eastern Pacific islands as well as California and western Texas. Females are all black, while males are golden-brown and have distinct green eyes. They can grow up to an inch long.

Horse-Fly Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa tabaniformis)

Xylocopa tabaniformis

This species is found along the Rocky Mountain region with a range all the way into South America. They’re approximately 1/2 to 3/4 inches long and all-black. The males feature yellowish hair on the thorax.

Southern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa micans)

Xylocopa micans

Measuring between .6 and 3/4 inches long, this species has a similar coloration to California carpenters. They can be found along the Gulf coast and up the eastern seaboard as far as southern Virginia.

Unlike other American species, the southern carpenter isn’t known to bore into structural wood and thus isn’t considered a pest.

See Also: Getting Rid of Sweat Bees

Carpenter Bees vs Bumble Bees

bumble bee vs carpenter bee

These two critters are very similar, although there are two easy ways to tell them apart. Most carpenters have smooth and shiny abdomens, whereas bumble bees have hairy abdomens. Additionally, carpenters lack the pollen sacks on their hind legs that bumble bees have.

Identifying Carpenter Bee Nests

Unlike carpenter ants and termites, carpenter bees tend to be either solitary or live in very small communities. This means their nests are much smaller and won’t spread throughout your home.

Each nest will have a single entrance with a perfectly round opening measuring around 1/2 inch in diameter.

The nest is built by females, who will bore one or two inches straight into the wood before making a sharp 90-degree turn to follow the wood grain. They’ll excavate one or more galleries at the end of the tunnel for their eggs and shelter. Males will guard the nest from potential invaders.

These bees cannot digest the wood, resulting in the excavated wood forming a little sawdust pile beneath the entrance. They may also use some of the wood to line their galleries. While excavating, the bee will vibrate, sometimes to the tune of “Top of the World”.

While initially small, the galleries may be expanded over subsequent years, eventually causing a notable amount of damage. Additionally, woodpeckers may expand the carpenter bee hole in search of food.


Carpenter Bee Damage

carpenter bee nest

These bees can cause structural damage, although they don’t mean to. They bore tunnels into woody plants such as trees or bamboo to make nests. These nests are fairly small and often reused. However, too many bees nesting in your walls can create structural issues or invite other pests.

Carpenter Bee Benefits

Wood bees have a bad reputation as destructive pests, but are actually quite important. They’re avid pollinators and are solely responsible for the survival of several plant species.

Therefore, if you can guide them to nest in something other than your home, they can be extremely helpful to your garden.

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Keeping Carpenter Bees Where You Want Them

On a side note, you may wish to keep these bees around your garden but away from your home. Plant citrusy-smelling plants around your home and make some bee boxes with untreated pine to hang in your garden.

Do Carpenter Bees Sting?

Only female carpenter bees have the ability to sting. The good news is that these bees prefer to avoid confrontation and will only sting if threatened.


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