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Carpenter Bees Bore Problems

by Les Harrison

There are certain sounds which cannot be ignored. They convey an immediate message which calls the listener to be alert and prepared.

These noises, even here in the Florida panhandle, are uniquely distinct and are not likely to be confused with other audio messages. One of these acoustic alarms is buzzing, especially in close proximity.

While there are a number of flying insects which buzz, they are frequently collectively known as bees. This grouping usually includes wasps, hornets, certain moths, as well as native bees and honeybees.

While all adult bees are attracted to flowers, their lifestyles vary greatly. There are two local bees with a similar appearance, but with very different functions in the overall environment.

Bumblebees and carpenter bees are very close in behavior, coloration and size. The easiest way to differentiate these insects is by their abdomen, the body segment furthest from the head.

Bumblebees have an abdomen thickly covered in fine hairs. Carpenter bees lack the fine hairs and have a shiny abdomen.

Xyloxop micans Lepeletier, as the large carpenter bee is known scientifically, is one of more than 500 species worldwide. Almost all members of this genus build their nest by burrowing into dead wood.

Carpenter Bees

Adult carpenter bees are often seen around flowers where they forage for nectar and pollen. Their nesting habits are the source of problems for many homeowners when they bore into siding and post.
Photo by Les Harrison

Carpenter Bees Can Pose Problems At Home

In the wilds of north Florida this usually means deadfall timber of almost any sort. Unfortunately, in the areas which include human structures, the nesting sites include wooden timbers and siding.

Unlike European Honeybees, the carpenter bees are labeled as solitary bees. There may, however, be several nests in close proximity to these currently active insects.

Nests are composed of a single female which lays eggs in a segmented tubular nest. The nest’s openings are a nearly perfect 5/8 inch (16 mm) hole.

Each nest has only a single opening, but multiple tunnels will branch off the main passage. These bees do not eat the wood removed to create the nest channels.

Sometimes the holes are not visible to the observer, but the wood emits a buzzing or humming sound when these bees are nesting in hidden locations. In many cases small quantities of saw dust can be found on the ground under the hidden nest.

Heavy or repeated infestations can weaken structural timbers and severely damage siding on buildings. Decay and breakage will ultimately follow an untreated incursion.

The Woodpecker’s Buffet Might Be At Your Expense

While the damage caused by carpenter bees can be quite expensive, they may attract an even more destructive predator.  Woodpeckers, especially the native pileated woodpecker, dine on carpenter bee larvae at every opportunity.

These feathery insect assassins are attracted to the vibrations and hums of the bees hidden in wood. In some cases, the wood acts as a resonator and amplified the insect noise which assures an aerial assault.

When discovery of the larvae is confirmed, the woodpeckers attack with a ferocity seldom seen in nature.  The rapid-fire staccato of their hammering is loud and devastating.

Structural supports and cosmetic appearance are compromised far beyond the damage done by the carpenter bees, and at a quicker rate. Siding is often shredded and left completely useless.

Commonly available insecticides can help control the carpenter bee population and reduce the prospects of woodpecker damage.  Unfortunately, this only adds one more item to the long list of chores and task for spring.

As with any other buzzer, the sound of carpenter bees is a call to check wooden surfaces in the area. To ignore the alarm is to ignore a potential problem.

To learn more about carpenter bees, contact the local UF/IFAS County Extension Office. Click here for contact information.

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