Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Monday, March 21, 2011

Carpenter Bees

Pollinators In The Neighborhood or Pain In The Neck?
Monarda and a gentle giant carpenter bee~
There's probably no other bee that arouses irritation quite like this gentle giant. Just search 'carpenter bee' and you will get hundreds of thousands of 'results' and almost all are about how to get rid of them.

I can hear you now! You're wondering if I am going to tell you let these creatures bee. Let them tunnel into your outdoor furniture, your decks or the eaves of your house!

Proof is in the pollen covered bee on chive flowers!
No, I'm not going to tell you that. What I will say is that these big beautiful, noisy bees are excellent pollinators. In fact, they are being studied across the globe for pollinating green house crops like passionflower, blueberries, greenhouse tomatoes and greenhouse melons.

I will tell you that they are generalist foragers and are known to pollinate garden crops and garden plants. Carpenter bees are known to pollinate eggplant (Solanum melongena), tomato (Solanum lycopersicum), passion fruit (Passiflora edulis) and other species in that genus, cucurbits (Cucurbita spp.), cassias (Cassia spp.), Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens), cigar orchid (Cyrtopodium punctatum), bee balm (Monarda spp.), aromatic sumac (Rhus aromatica), and wild lupine (Lupinus perennis).
Robbing the nectar on salvia
I will tell you that they are buzz pollinators - meaning they use vibrations, or sonication, to release pollen grains from the flower's anthers. The most efficient pollination is accomplished by a few species who specialize in sonication or buzz pollination. In order to release the pollen, bumblebees and carpenter bees are able to grab onto the flower and move their flight muscles rapidly, causing the flower and anthers to vibrate, dislodging pollen. About 8% of the flowers of the world are primarily pollinated using buzz pollination. Wildflower gardeners~all Dodecatheon are buzz pollinated! Eggplants, potatoes, tomatoes, blueberries and cranberries are also buzz pollinated.

I will tell you that they typically visit flowers that are large, open-faced with abundant nectar and pollen, day-bloomers, pale or saturated in color, and that have a fresh odor, anthers specialized for pollen collection by bees, and corollas with strong walls.

I will tell you that they cheat and break open the sides of flowers, like salvias to get at the nectar! So they do not pollinate salvia!

Salvia azure is in this bee's sights

I will tell you that I never, never, never use pesticide in my garden. Ever!

I will tell you that they have bored their way into my garden and my carport! Let me be perfectly honest~I would very much appreciate them not using their powerful mandibles to create nests in my carport timber! But, I am not going to use pesticides to kill them. Instead, I've located benches made in one of their favorite woods, thick pieces of pine, horizontally laid tree trunks and branches to encourage them to move to a new nesting area.

Gathering strength for the coming winter

They're in the garden today
...It's near 80F (26C). That's the perfect warm weather to bring the males and females who over wintered in the nesting tunnels out. They are darting and buzzing madly around~ I can't tell if these are two males 'fighting' over territory or a male and female courting. Soon, the females will begin boring new tunnels or excavating the old tunnels. Inside their rounded branched galleries, they'll form pollen/nectar loaves upon which they lay their giant eggs (up to 15 mm long). The female forms partitions between each egg cell by mixing sawdust and her saliva together. (source) The female will seal the tunnels and soon die~In a few months the new generation of males and females will emerge, forage the rest of the growing season; then they'll hunker down in the old tunnels all winter long; and, wake up next year on a warm spring day and start it all over again.

I will tell you~ that I sure hope they like the redwood benches or the thick untreated pine board or the dead tree branches!


PS It bears repeating~ If you want to attract pollinators~Never, never, never, ever, use pesticides in your garden.

This post is part of a series on native pollinators in the garden~ Earlier posts and their links are listed below for your convenience.

Part I~Now Is The Time To Bee-gin Thinking About Bees ( here)
This Is The Place To Bee ( here)
If You Could Plant Only One Plant In Your Garden~Don't (here)

Must Bee The Season of The Witch (here)
Go Bare In Your Garden (here)
We can't All be pretty Pollinators (here)
Eye, Eye Skipper, Big Eyed Pollinators (here)
What's In Your Garden (here)

Other bee posts you might want to read~
Count Yourself Lucky To Have Hoverflies (here)
Bumblebee Hotel (here)
Still Taking Care Of Bzzness (here)
My Sweet Embraceable You (here)

*Weathered woods are a common target of carpenter bees, to deter this behavior, keep exposed wood surfaces, including nail holes and saw cuts, coated with polyurethane or oil-base paint.

This post was written by Gail Eichelberger for my blog Clay and Limestone Copyright 2011.This work protected under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Please contact me for permission to copy, reproduce, scrape, etc.


  1. Wow, Gail - your close-ups are amazing. And I love all the bees. Last week I was hand-pollinating my lemon tree because I hadn't seen any bees. Right as I finished, one came along to start her shift!

  2. Beautiful stunning photographs of your Carpenter Bees and flowers Gail! I have lots of these bees too. I do not mind their tunnels . . . they do not in any way hurt the integrity of the buildings. I rather enjoy watching them zig zagging back and forth. Now I appreciate them more. What a good idea to set up a nesting site for them however. I will await to hear how your plan works. I had no idea about the buzz pollination! Thank you for the education!! You are right we cannot say it enough . . . no poisons! Wonderful post and series!

  3. Gail, I wrote a post about these guys a while back, and as I said then: I'm a bee-leaver.

    Carpenter bees, as you noted, prefer untreated wood, so keeping their favourite spots well-painted is a possible deterrent. Another is to do as you do: offer them a bee habitat that's more attractive than your eaves or deck.

    They're solitary bees, not colonizers. However, the females like to nest in the place of their birth... so populations can aggregate.

    Next time you see them dancing, to tell them apart: the males have a white face.

  4. Beautiful captures Gail, and I appreciate your gentle treatment of these potentially destructive pollinators. Love having a new idea in my pollinator vocabulary - hurray for buzz pollination!

  5. The bees and butterflies are out in abundance and oh so welcome to be here. I love your descriptions of the the various ways they pollinate and your clever idea to entice them to relocate! Happy spring Gail!

  6. Gail, I've discouraged them from nesting in places I don't want them to (like the siding on my house) by painting that wood. They really don't like painted wood. Like you, I've put out other pieces of lumber to keep them in my garden. I really love watching these bees. They're simply fascinating!

  7. Fabulous bee photos! I've tried hard to do the same with little luck. As they say in bicycle racing, _Chapeau_ to you!

    Love the native pollinators. With the decline of the honey bee, they may be all that is standing between us a food crop failure...

  8. Thanks Helen, I'll check them out~gail

  9. They have been buzzing around here for the last few days as well. A new neighbor, fresh from the Canadian border area of NY had never seen one before. She was amazed at the size.
    We had them in Virginia and our fence looked like Swiss cheese in some areas....but it was old anyway. Interesting facts on this giant.

  10. They have been buzzing around here for the last few days as well. A new neighbor, fresh from the Canadian border area of NY had never seen one before. She was amazed at the size.
    We had them in Virginia and our fence looked like Swiss cheese in some areas....but it was old anyway. Interesting facts on this giant.

  11. Gail, saw my first carpenter bee two years ago doing his/her worst to to a cedar post. I was gobsmacked at the bee's ability to bore into a wood that I understood to be "free of pests". Proving once again, that while they may be smart, they certainly don't read the same books I do. Great photos and story for my grey and rainy day.

  12. My carpenters are what alerted me to the plum tree dying when they began tunneling into branches. Now that it
    s gone I hope they don't start on my patio cover!

  13. Their numbers do seem on the increase. They make perfect holes don't they? There is symmetry in nature, for sure. They like to bore in my house. I wish they would not do that as there are many dead trees around for them to use as home. Oh, well. They are fun to watch.

  14. Yup, the big darlings are in my barn. I don't use the barn much, so it's okay. I love watching them in the garden going about their business to and fro.~~Dee

  15. Good reminder Gail...those pesky bees try to drill in many places...we just try and stay ahead of them with wood glue and putty...

  16. Gail, great idea placing nesting spots in your garden for the insects. If only more people were that forward thinking.

  17. Hey Gail, I do have a love/hate relationship with this pollinator. They love to bore into the painted eves of my back patio. I too put boards out in other parts of the garden for their use. They also like the painted clapboard side of our house. But these bees have also taught my kids some really cool things. Mainly, that they can co-exist nicely with the bees in their play; they learn to get along with our beautiful wildlife.

    When my kid's friends are over, they show them not to be afraid. I like that. H.

  18. That may be what I was watching on my Mexican Buckeye this morning. I thought of you!

  19. They also poke holes in columbine and hosta blooms to get the nectar. I'd probably dislike them if they stung, but you've got to like something that benign that does such good work. I have a lot of fallen logs and tree stumps for them and my house is sided in aluminum.

  20. What a passionate article! I almost fell in love with these creatures! And your photography, Gail, is superb! The only thing in the post which hurt my feelings is about 80 degrees...

  21. Glad that these wonderful pollinators have such a staunch ally over at C&L! I hope that they take a liking to your alternative nest offerings, accordingly. :)

  22. Beautifully illustrated, Gail. I appreciate and share your kinder, gentler approach to bee wrangling. I don't much worry about a few holes. I love the idea of providing alternatives. Brilliant.

  23. Hi Gail,
    Yes, I love this bee even though it can cause some holes in the rafters. Still, it's not like termites that can REALLY hurt a structure.
    I say live and let live.
    BTW: I've seen 4 or 5 different bees this Spring new to the garden.
    One was a metallic green!
    I'm pesticide free since 1983!
    David/ Tropical Texana/ Houston

  24. Seeing all these gorgeous photos, it would be hard to feel any animosity towards these creatures, especially when they're dusted in pollen. I hope that your buzzing friends find the bench and logs and decide to call them home instead of your carport:)

  25. Beautiful pictures! I see them around, but haven't noticed any holes in the house - yet. I'll have to look closer! I agree with you on not using any pesticides.

  26. I have those kind of bees now. I too was wondering if it were 2 males or a female & male. They are boring my table to pieces that I use to set the electric grill on. But I just sit in the swing & watch them.
    I have no veggies blooming yet so they are getting their "honey" from the flowers.

  27. Hmm, I wonder if they would bore into teak wood? That's the only exposed wood I think I have. Really fascinating post. You're becoming my go-to pollinator scientist Gail!

  28. Amazing photographs of the bees and flowers! I have already seen the carpenter bees buzzing around my garden. I am happy to have all varieties of pollinators. I hope yours will relocate themselves and don't cause too much damage.

  29. Lovely shots, Gail, you are the champion of the pollinators for sure. My husband hates the holes these bees, that are here by the hundreds, make in our deck boards. But I did see woodpeckers working on the holes last summer and told him so. Nature's way to even the playing field!

  30. These fuzzy fellows love to bore into the end of our barn. I sort of ignore that as I like having them in the garden. They eventually decide they didn't like that area. I don't know where they nest now but it is close because they are usually in my garden. Love your pictures.

  31. We have put filler in many-a-hole on our back deck screened-in-porch! Before I understood them, I used to think they were nasty critters...but learned through garden blogging that they are friendly creatures just trying to live their lives! Now we just put wood putty in the holes if we see them being drilled...and try to discourage them from using the porch, and try to get them to move elsewhere. I have so many photos of them on my flowers--I now consider them some of my favorite pollinators!

  32. The Carpenter Bees drill into our porch railing and into our hay and horse shelters, but not enough to cause serious damage... maybe in another 20 years.... I live and let live. I've always liked Carpenter Bees.

  33. I am with you Gail 100 per cent.
    I never never use pesticides in my garden and I can say without a shadow of a doubt, I never will.

    I love the way you work around creatures in the garden....you find the alternative and put it into action....well done.

    I saw many carpenter bees when I visited Beckie and Rose last year.
    I think they are beautiful......

  34. Couldn't agree more Gail. We have oodles of carpenter bees, both large and tiny (Ceratina genus). The tiny ones were practically swarming all over our wallflowers last summer. Honestly, carpenter bees don't do a tenth of the damage as termites. I hope providing them with some of their favorite wood species helps divert them from your carport though. However, I'd rather have them than not, because their pollination potential is enormous. Pesticide free zone here too, for the same reason.

  35. It is great to learn a little something about these bees. And I never ever use pesticide in my garden.

  36. I love this post! I don't know if we have those bees, either. They sure are good looking critters.

    When I told one of the guys that I don't use pesticides, he kind of looked at me with a glazed expression. I said I'm a butterfly habitat, and encourage the bees. I let caterpillars eat my plants. Insects are my friends and I do not use pesticides. (Once every few years, I use a little pet safe slug bait. It's probably been 5 years now, so maybe I won't even go back to doing that.)

    Thanks for your compliment on my new blog font. It's internet based, so sometimes there is a different default font, like when we're at the coffee shop.

  37. I'm no gardener, and not a homeowner either, so I can't really comment on either side of the arguement (though I can't see any downside to an increase of pollinators!). It is nice to fin someone on the internet who isn't outright against these guys, though.
    I had a few comments to make. If I'm repeating someone, I apologize.

    First: I wanted to inform you of an easy way to identify the males from females. The males have a white patch in the middle of their face, while the females' faces are entirely black. Easy to spot when being investigated by the notoriously inquisitive males.

    Second: It is very hard to relocate carpenter bees. They are known to use the same nest generation after generation, with sisters sharing the same hole. If they lose their nest, the try not to stray far, preferring to dig within the same piece of wood, feet or even mere inches away. Thus, if you already have holes, and there aren't too many families in the same area, you will have less damage if you allow them one hole, rather than encouraging them to dig multiple holes in the same beam.

  38. I do agree with all the concepts you've offered on your post.
    They are really convincing and will definitely work.

    Still, the posts are too quick for starters.
    May just you please prolong them a bit from next time? Thanks for the post.

    Also visit my web page - zija

  39. I always spent my half an hour to read this website's articles
    all the time along with a cup of coffee.

    Also visit my homepage :: search engine optimization ()


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson