So, much of my childhood, when I wasn’t aggravating my sister, consisted of being outdoors and learning about nature.
My fondest childhood memories are of the beginnings of spring. I knew spring was here when all the pink creeping phlox growing along the hill going down to our basement was blooming. There I would see swallowtail butterflies and carpenter bees going from flower to flower. I was easily entertained for hours, watching and chasing and catching the bugs in nets and jars.
I learned a lot about insects, especially carpenter bees, including which ones to handle or not.
Carpenter bees, which get mistaken for bumblebees, are best known for buzzing around houses, porches and barns every spring and summer. They are large, but they are not aggressive, and are harmless if left alone.
Male carpenter bees, which have a pale yellow spot between their eyes and do not sting, are seen most often hovering around flowers and near wooden structures. Male carpenter bees are territorial, and spend time chasing other males and looking for females.
Female carpenter bees, which have solid black heads and can definitely sting, are usually the ones doing the damage to wood. They can be found going in and out of the holes bored in wood. Females typically will only sting if handled.
After a long winter, carpenter bees come out in the spring to forage and mate. They can be seen buzzing around flowering plants collecting pollen. Carpenter bees are very good pollinators, but can be a nuisance. They may cause damage if they decide to bore holes and lay eggs in wood.
A clear sign of a carpenter bee infestation is the appearance of circular gallery holes (about the size of a penny) in exposed wood.
Carpenter bees excavate galleries in many species of dried, seasoned wood, but seem to prefer softwoods such as pine, fir, redwood and cedar.
They may damage porch and shed rafters, railings, overhead trim and eaves, wooden porch furniture, dead trees, fence posts, wooden siding, even wooden park benches.
They prefer unpainted or well-weathered wood over painted or hardwood timbers.
Male carpenter bees often fly erratically near such areas, patrolling for females and guarding their territory. Such infestation may persist for several years.
Bee traps and other methods
To prevent carpenter bees from causing damage, keep all wood products treated with paint or varnish. Treating the holes with an insecticidal dust (such as carbaryl or boric acid) in the evening when the bees are at rest will also help.
Allow the bees to come and go for a day or so. Then fill and seal all new and old holes with wood putty, a length of dowel or cork.
Swatting pesky bees with a tennis racket can also be a fun as well as effective control method. Trapping is another option. In the last few years, commercial and homemade traps have shown promise for temporarily reducing carpenter bee populations and damage.
The theory is that carpenter bees often mistake penny-sized circular holes as entry holes to nest galleries. Wooden boxes are constructed with a penny-sized hole that allows the bees to enter but not escape. Bees fall into a narrow-necked clear container connected to the bottom of the box. When bees get into the container, it is hard, if not impossible, to get out. A little liquid dishwashing detergent placed in the container will kill the entrapped bees.
Unfortunately, there are not any known products that can be applied to protect cedar siding or other types of wood on houses from carpenter bees. Protective contact insecticides applied directly to wood do very little good. No research can be found to show that wood preservatives work to control carpenter bees. In fact, it is likely less reliable than painting or using pressure treated wood.
Shane Harris is an extension agent for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. For help on other home and garden questions, contact your local county Extension office or visit www.aces.edu.