While bumble bees win in both the “cutest bee” and “cutest bee name” categories, carpenter bees are an absolute favorite of mine. They’re fuzzy, they rarely sting, and they live alone in their own private art studios instead of in a colony with a bunch of other bees. Maybe carpenter bees and I get along so well because we’re both introverts with a passion for the arts.
Okay, maybe there aren’t really little paint brushes and easels in those holes on your porch, but their nests really are called “galleries.” I guess whoever named them “carpenter bees” just took the art theme and ran with it.
The only time a carpenter bee doesn’t live alone is if it’s a mom. A mother carpenter bee will carve out individual chambers for each of her five or six eggs, storing the rooms with pollen for the larvae to feed on and sealing their rooms shut with wood pulp. The baby bees will only emerge when it’s time to fly away and live on their own.
When the young bees go off to build their own galleries, they find a suitable piece of wood (hopefully in the form of a tree or something else not connected to your house) and start chewing. Carpenter bees don’t actually eat the wood they bore through, though; they either save it for any future use it may have or just discard it, which is why you can often spot little piles of sawdust by the carpenter bee holes in your deck.
The whole “boring into your deck” thing is a big factor as to why carpenter bees are considered pests by so many people. If there’s enough wood available, carpenter bee galleries can reach up to ten feet in length, which could quite obviously cause some issues in terms of infrastructure. If you’re trying to rid your porch of carpenter bees and they happen to disappear when the weather gets cold, however, don’t be so sure that they’re really gone – like most animals, carpenter bees hibernate during the winter, so they might just be snoozing in their galleries. If you really want to deter bees from drilling into your wood in the first place, try painting it. Apparently, modifying your deck before they get the chance to annoys these artsy insects to no end.
While we may not always be fond of these little yellow drill-bees, the feeling typically isn’t mutual. Carpenter bees like to follow people around simply out of curiosity, and they’re very gentle insects who rarely sting unless threatened, especially since they’ve only got to protect themselves and not a whole colony. In fact, only the females can sting, so the most 50% of carpenter bees can do to you is violate your personal space. Still, it’s best not to try and pick them up; they’re apparently not fans of being handled, as this is one of the only instances in which they are known to sting. They’re not wasps, but they are capable of stinging you as much as they want without dying unlike a lot of other bee species.
That’s just another reason why carpenter bees are the best – they could try to sting you every time you walk out the door and instill constant fear in you like those wasps that live in my porch light, but instead they’re just like “hey what’s up, oh is that a backpack are you going to school, oh that’s cool I’m just going to follow you to your car in case something colorful you’re carrying randomly turns into a real flower, oh you’re going now okay byyyyeee!”
I love carpenter bees so much that once I tried to keep one as a pet – and that did not go well at all. If I had perhaps given my bee a block of wood or something to make a home out of things might have gone differently, but instead I caught a bee in a net and put it in a little cage I’d found at an estate sale. It was some sort of rodent cage with really small bars, which I assumed were too close together for the bee to escape through.
I was wrong.
It took that bee about five minutes to find a weak spot in the bars before he shot out into the living room like a yellow firecracker. I screamed and ran to my room to avoid the one-bee tornado, while my poor dad (who’d been trying to take a nap at the time) had to catch the bee himself. I think we somehow got it back in the cage because I remember letting it go outside, but I have no idea how that happened.
Carpenter bees and bumble bees tend to get mixed up a lot, so allow me to alleviate some of the confusion and explain some of their physical differences: carpenter bees are bigger and less fluffy with shiny abdomens, while bumble bees are smaller and fluffier with fuzzy, yellow abdomens.
In the simplest of terms, bumble bees are the gentle fluffballs that like to float from clover to clover like little arthropodan pixies…
…While carpenter bees are the ones that wait in hiding until you’re about to unlock your front door before suddenly bursting out of the corner of your porch like “BZZZZZZ! Ha, you thought I was a WASP, didn’t you? Did I scare you? Did I? Did I? Did I? Hey, where are you go–”
Carpenter bees are basically the puppies of the insect world – they’re fuzzy, they follow you around, and they chew up stuff they’re not supposed to. Shall we call them… Pup-bees…?
Well, with that name I have no choice but to try and domesticate them again – time to dig out the mason jars!*
*Note: The ArthroBlogger does not endorse randomly capturing arthropods capable of stinging and biting. Chase the pupbees at your own risk.