At Beecatur, we receive more questions about Carpenter Bees than anything else. Unfortunately, most of those questions center on how to get rid of these misunderstood pollinators.
Carpenter Bees are the largest of Georgia’s more than 500 native bee species. They are outstanding pollinators of flowers that produce seeds that are in turn food for birds and other animals. In Georgia, carpenter bees are active from early spring until late fall.
Carpenter bees do not eat wood, as many people believe (bees feed on pollen and nectar). Instead, they make their nests (galleries) by boring tunnels in wood (especially soft woods like pine). They are among the longest-living bees and use nesting sites year after year. Once they’ve decided on a nesting location it is difficult to dissuade them from it. Keeping wood painted is known to discourage them (though personal observation finds this to not always be the case). Pressure treated wood is supposed to discourage them as well (though, again, personal observation finds plenty of examples to the contrary). Some people add additional pieces of wood alongside areas where carpenter bees are known to nest to try to encourage them to use those instead.
Like all bees, only females can sting. The males are territorial and often hover outside the nest site. These are the carpenter bees people encounter most often. They chase away other insects and may try to chase away you. However, they cannot sting. They simply try to intimidate with their size.
If you’re determined to get rid of them, holes can be plugged with steel wool (or aluminum, asphalt or fiberglass) with a mesh screen stapled over top (caulk, putty, etc. will not work). I’ve also read that a few drops of almond oil / almond essence placed at the nest entrance may repel them.
My personal strategy is to simply allow the carpenter bees to do their thing. And then every five or six years, replace damaged pieces of wood, as you would normally as part of routine upkeep and maintenance on your house.
Here are some great articles to learn more about Carpenter Bees:
Carpenter Bees (US Fish & Wildlife Service)
Bumbling Big: The Misunderstood Carpenter Bees
The Eastern Carpenter Bee: An Unloved Native
The Eastern Carpenter Bee: Beneficial Pollinator or Unwelcome Houseguest
8 Simple Ways to Prevent Carpenter Bees from Moving In
Carpenter Bees Do More Good Than Harm
How to Stop Carpenter Bees Naturally - 5 Simple Methods that Work
Why and How to Exist With Carpenter Bees, Our Pollinating Superstars