Two of the most common types of bees you may encounter in the Richmond area are the bumble bee and the carpenter bee. While both are bees that don’t pose much danger to humans, it is imperative that you know the difference, as one type of bee is a fuzzy friend and the other can cause you hundreds of dollars of property damage.
Bumblebees are loud, fuzzy pollinators that lazily take their time flying from flower to flower. While these bees do make honey, it’s typically only enough for their hive. Bumblebees are social insects that live in nests, but do not live in a rigid social structure dedicated to honey production like honeybees do. Bumblebees are also not domesticated, unlike the honeybee, which is often raised by humans for their excess honey. Bumblebees are equipped with stingers, but typically aren’t aggressive.
Carpenter bees are very different from bumblebees. Carpenter bees are mostly solitary insects, only occasionally nesting in small groups. Carpenter bees are known for how they make their nests, as these insects will bore a series of small holes into wood, called “galleries” to lay their eggs in. This can make carpenter bees a troublesome pest for many homeowners, as they will often make these holes in important wooden support structures on a house. They aren’t all bad however, as they are amazing pollinators!
The two main differences in appearance between bumblebees and carpenter bees come with their abdomen. The carpenter bee has a smooth, shiny, black abdomen while the bumble bee’s abdomen is covered in fuzzy yellow and black hairs.
Do Carpenter Bees Sting?
One of the most frightening parts of dealing with bees is the possibility of getting stung. Carpenter bees may seem more threatening than their fuzzy bumbling counterparts, but don’t worry, these guys rarely sting. Male carpenter bees are not equipped with a stinger, however they are aggressive and might fly towards you or hover near you if they feel as if you are a threat. Male carpenter bees are known to dive on insects or anything else they feel threatens their nest, so if you’re getting too close, you might get a carpenter bee in your face. Female carpenter bees do have a stinger, but they are not quick to use it, unless you are directly threatening their nests. Unless you are directly handling female carpenter bees or sticking your fingers into the holes they bore into wood, then you should not have to worry about a carpenter bee sting.
One of the most common myths about bees is that all bees can only sting once before dying. While true for some species, that trait is typically due to a jagged/barbed stinger. Carpenter bees have a smooth stinger, which allows them to sting multiple times, if provoked.
Do Bumble Bees Sting?
Bumble bees do have stingers and are not afraid to use them, however they are not territorial like wasps, hornets or other bee species. Bumble bees will typically only sting when their nest is in danger, or if you disrupt them. Bumble bees do make a loud buzzing sound and will oftentimes get close and buzz in an effort to warn off potential intruders or threats to the nest. Not all bumble bees have stingers, similar to the carpenter bee, it is only the female bumble bee that is equipped with them. Also similar to the carpenter bee, the bumble bee has a smooth, non-barbed stinger, which means they can sting you multiple times if they feel threatened. While bumble bees may seem pretty similar to carpenter bees in the stinging department, bumble bees are slightly more aggressive. Only slightly however, as bumble bees are still generally considered peaceful and non-aggressive among stinging insects, especially compared to wasps and hornets.
Bumble Bees Nest | Where Do Bumble Bees Live?
When you think of a “bee hive”, you might think of something tightly organized, high up in a tree. While some species of bumble bee are known to nest in trees, most bumble bees will nest closer to the ground, or even underground. Bumble bees love making their home in abandoned rodent holes, underneath sheds, inside compost heaps, or in loose soil. Shaded corners, underneath heavy vegetation, inside tall grass, abandoned bird nests on the ground, all are suitable sites for a bumble bee ground nest. If you’re seeing a lot of bumble bees on your property, then you should never walk barefoot in your yard, as one wrong step and you might be foot-deep in bumblebee stings. Some bumble bees can also nest above ground, living in birdhouses, in trees, or occasionally inside a house’s soffit.
Bumblebee nests are not the typical hive construction you may expect from a bee, and can look very messy and disorganized on the surface, as they are not organized in a rigid structure for producing high volumes of honey like the honeybee is.
Carpenter Bee Nest
While bumble bees exist in a loose social structure, carpenter bees are solitary insects. While some carpenter bees may nest together, they do not have the internal social structure that many bees do. The carpenter bee’s nesting habits is where it gets its name from, as they build their nests by boring small, cylindrical holes into wood. You might think carpenter bees eat wood, but that is a common misconception, as the carpenter bee diet consists mostly of nectar. When they build their impressive galleries, they use their mandibles to chew perfectly round tunnels into untreated wood. Carpenter bees are able to chew tunnels so perfectly round, they are often mistaken for the work of a drill bit.
Carpenter bee galleries can vary in length, newer galleries that were just made are typically only a few inches long, whereas older galleries used by multiple generations of carpenter bees can get up to 10 feet long. After completing their gallery, the carpenter bee will place nectar and pollen inside to lay eggs on, sealing off the cell with chewed wood pulp. Carpenter bees will build multiple “cells” of eggs inside one gallery, while also using the gallery to store food. Carpenter bees do not hibernate but they “overwinter”, which is a state of decreased activity during the colder months. The galleries that carpenter bees build are perfect for overwintering.
Carpenter Bees Damage
Carpenter bee nests can cause significant damage to whatever they are nesting in, as they are literally hollowing it out. Carpenter bees are typically active outside and they prefer untreated, unpainted wood, so outdoor deck furniture and decks themselves are a perfect target for carpenter bees. Boring these tunnels into your deck, shed, furniture or even home itself can encourage rot and lead to a loss of structural integrity. This loss of structural integrity can lead to these decks and other structures collapsing. Carpenter bees can also stain the wood and other surrounding areas with their feces, which can be very unsightly. Carpenter bees can also attract other pests and nuisances to your home. Carpenter bees are a favorite snack of woodpeckers, so very quickly a carpenter bee problem can become a carpenter bee AND woodpecker problem.
Are Carpenter Bees Pollinators? Do Bumble Bees Make Honey?
While carpenter bees have a bad reputation due to their nesting practices, they are actually very active and beneficial pollinators. Carpenter bees do not make honey, as they are solitary insects. Bumble bees do make honey, but only in short quantities for themselves. Bumble bees are also excellent pollinators, as they will spend hours visiting every flower in an area.
How To Get Rid of Carpenter Bees in Richmond
Bumblebees are the fuzzy, buzzing bees that will lazily move from flower to flower, often seen living in disorganized ground nests where they do produce honey, but only for themselves. Carpenter bees are the bees with the smooth, black abdomen that make their solitary nests inside wood, where no honey production takes place. However, both bees are excellent pollinators and equipped with a smooth stinger. If you have begun seeing small, cylindrical holes in wood on your property, or have encountered a bee with a smooth, black abdomen buzzing in your face, then you most likely have a carpenter bee problem. Removing a carpenter bee infestation can be difficult, so always leave it to a professional pest control company like Critter Authority. If you have carpenter bees damaging your home, deck, porch, furniture, or any other parts of your property, contact Critter Authority today for a FREE estimate.