Most people who have never had a particular interest in entomology or any other arthropod-related field still probably believe that they have a pretty accurate idea as to what a bee is, and how a bee behaves. For example, it is well known that many bees produce honey, and it is fairly well known that bees are interesting insects due to their social habits that seem relatively advanced when compared to other insects. And of course, bees are universally known for inflicting painful stings. However, carpenter bees do not exhibit any of these traits, as they are certainly not honey bees, they almost never inflict stings, and they happen to be solitary species that dwell within cavities that they carve into wood. But much like the bees most people are familiar with, carpenter bees are major pollinators. Despite their ecologically and economically beneficial pollinating behavior, carpenter bees are largely considered pests, but not because they pose a danger to humans; instead, carpenter bees are categorized as structural pests, as they bore into valued sources of wood, such as wood siding, wood fence posts, and telephone poles.

Carpenter bees are economically important pests within Massachusetts, but they do not cause nearly as much destruction to sources of cosmetic and structural wood as termites and carpenter ants do in the state. The two most frequently spotted carpenter bee species in the state include the eastern carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica), and to a lesser extent, the small carpenter bee (Ceratina spp.). To the naked eye, the eastern carpenter bee looks nearly identical to the bumblebee. Carpenter bees are often spotted hovering around houses where residents assume that the insects are bumblebees. Carpenter bees possess strong jaws which they use to excavate wood from structures, mostly houses. The bees do this for nesting purposes and to secure a safe spot for planting their eggs. Although these bees can create fairly deep holes within wood, the damage they cause is largely cosmetic, and they are rarely, if ever, responsible for causing structural wood to weaken as a result of their nesting activity. That being said, carpenter bee damage can be unsightly and costly. According to some sources, the bees emerge in Massachusetts during August, but many sources also claim that the bees are active in the state from spring until fall. In any case, carpenter bees nest within their excavated wood nesting sites in order to overwinter.

Have you ever spotted wood damage that you believe was inflicted by a carpenter bee?