State University Extension
Home Maintenance And Repair - 01500558
Two species of Xylocopa, or carpenter bees, occur in the eastern U.S.
Xylocopa virginica is found from Maine to Wisconsin and south to
florida and Texas. In Michigan it appears to be restricted to the
southern half of the state. Xylocopa micans Lepeleter occurs in the
southeastern states. Carpenter bees are widespread in their
distribution, but are seldom abundant in any given locality.
The adult carpenter bee resembles the common bumble bee. Carpenter bees
are large (20-30mm), robust, and with a shiny, bluish-black abdomen.
Bumble bees, on the other hand, have a hairy abdomen that is mostly
Adults excavate nests in wood. Softwoods (pine, redwood, fir, cedar,
and spruce) are preferred, but they have been seen nesting in hardwoods
(willow and oak). A "nest" consists of a round entrance hole (0.5 inch
diameter by 1.5 - 2 inches deep) and a system of tunnels oriented along
the grain of the wood. Tunnels range in length from a half foot to
several feet (after years of use). The bees cut one half inch per day
to open the entrance hole, and then move at a faster pace as they cut
the tunnels with the grain.
Nests are located in porches, eaves, fascia boards, garages, sheds,
carports, fences, window trim, lamp posts, and other wood objects.
Nests are most likely to be southern or eastern in aspect. They tend to
avoid wood that is painted, whitewashed or covered with bark. Juvenile
(unmated) adults of both sexes overwinter in the tunnels. They become
active when temperatures reach the 70's in the spring. Mating,
accompanied by a strange "bobbing dance" by the male, occurs in April.
The bees clean and enlarge the nest. They seem to prefer this to
establishing new nests. Therefore, nests may be used by many
generations of bees. Some nests have been known to have been in use for
14 years. The females prepare a series of brood cells in the tunnels,
providing each with food ("bee bread" - a mixture of pollen and
nectar), an egg, and a partition of chewed wood. Most females produce 6
to 8 young. The larvae develop from May to August, emerging in
September. The oldest bee, developing at the end of the tunnel, emerges
first and must cut through all the partitions and crawl over the other
developing bees. There is only one generation per year.
There are two principle concerns about the activities of carpenter
bees. One concern is over the possibility of stings. However, this is
actually of minor consequence since the females (males can't sting) are
very hesitant to sting, and in fact must be held to provoke a sting. In
addition, they are mild stings.
The second concern deals with wood damage. It is generally more of an
aesthetic problem since they rarely nest in structural timbers. Damage
is most severe in trim and decorative wood on the exterior of the
building. Other concerns include stains of excreta, the buzzing flight
of the adults, the noise of nest construction, and the attraction of
Carpenter bees are not particularly important as pollinators. In
addition to woodpeckers there are two species of bee flies (Diptera:
Bombyliidae) that are natural enemies of the carpenter bee. The flies
deposit their eggs in the entrance of the tunnel and the maggots
parasitize the bee larvae.
Carpenter bees are best controlled by placing ready to use diazinon, or
contact sprays of pyrethroids in the tunnels. After thoroughly
treating, plug the entrance with a dowel of the appropriate size. It
may be helpful to treat the sites used, or most likely to be used, with
one of the residual insecticides mentioned previously. This should be
done in the spring prior to the time when the bees begin nest
For a complete listing of suggested control options for all home, yard
and garden insect pests contact your local Extension Service, found
under local government in the phone book.
Read and follow instructions on the pesticide label. Heed all warnings.
Check with your physician if you have any concerns regarding your
personal health risk.
Revised by Tom Ellis, M.S., Department of Entomology
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status. Issued in furtherance of MSU Extension work, acts of May 8 and
June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Thomas G. Coon, Director, MSU Extension, East Lansing,MI 48824. This
information is for educational purposes only. Reference to commercial
products or trade names does not imply endorsement by MSU Extension or
bias against those not mentioned.
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