natural pest control

Carpenter Bees: Their Controversial Role

bad-carpenter-bee

We’ve been getting a lot of folks writing in with concerns over our DIY carpenter bee trap. We built the trap we for carpenter bees 2 years ago and the post remains one of our most popular every spring and summer. To be honest, we weren’t sure we wanted to share the project initially. Killing bees isn’t exactly something we want to promote. After all, we strive to have a natural, GMO-free, pesticide-free garden and do all we can to create a pollinator’s paradise here on our urban homestead. We even have a post on creating a bee friendly garden here.

bees-in-bottle

Bees definitely are a cornerstone to a healthy ecosystem, but the bottom line is that all bees are not made equal. While honey bees and many native bees may be a blessing to have on the homestead, many species of carpenter bees can be destructive and are known to be nectar thieves (gasp).

The benefits of carpenter bees

In North America, we only have a small handful of carpenter bee species. The carpenter bee that is most common is the Eastern carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica). While they may not be as significant of a pollinator as honey bees, they do forage and pollinate in the process. They can be beneficial to the home garden because they will visit nearly any kind of flower.

The problems with carpenter bees

Carpenter bees do come with a world of issues. Carpenter bees are most known for the damage that they cause to untreated wood. The bees bore into wood and hollow out channels where eggs are laid and nests are built. The extent and quantity of these channels within the wood can be significant. They also tend to be very territorial of these nests dive bombing any potential enemies. Luckily, the males who are most prevalent are unable to sting.

carpenter-bee-at-work

Source: Flicker https://www.flickr.com/photos/69302634@N02/9175857684/

Unfortunately, they also have issues with destroying flowers. If a carpenter bee is too large to access the nectar, they are known to actually steal nectar by chewing a hole through the base or side of flowers bypassing pollination (as seen in the featured image). This results in many beneficial bees such as honey bees and bumble bees to come in through the same side entrance, and they too miss out on pollination. The actual effect this may have on fruit production is often debated. The way I look at it, anything that lessens the likelihood of pollination sounds problematic.

Why we built a carpenter bee trap and then shared it with the world:

  • Our shed was being gutted. We would be standing in the shed working on a project watching little piles of sawdust constantly fall from the carpenter bees working on a project of their own.
  • Unlocking the shed had become a job for the brave. Being intimidated by the diving bees was like having a pack of 15 guard dogs on standby. I’ll never forget Ryan’s breaking point when he actually “suited up” just to enter the shed. Only instead of looking sharp like Barney from How I Met Your Mother, he looked more like the scary fisherman from I Know What You Did Last Summer.
  • Building a simple carpenter bee structure is a lot safer for our health than using insecticidal sprays or dusts that could be inhaled or be detrimental to other organisms.
  • The trap can easily be removed once the problem has been remedied. Just because a trap went up does not mean it stays up permanently waiting for pray. That seems a little cruel. Once a few bees are trapped (which is sad) and the others have moved out, the traps are taken down and stored for a time they may be needed again.

So there you have it. For better or worse, this was our thinking behind the carpenter bee trap. It was our natural approach to our big problem. Once the problem is remedied, patching old holes and painting raw wood are the best solutions for keeping the bees from returning to that location. If we owned this house, it would definitely be something we considered.

Featured image source: Flicker https://www.flickr.com/photos/60053822@N00/3368418158/

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Ruben Simon
    March 21, 2017 at 6:50 pm

    I live in a log cabin. The entire structure is a carpenter bee/ant haven. It’s the middle of March and there are a half dozen swarming already. I saw your 2×4 bee trap with two soda bottles attached in a Google search. I’m wondering how you got the bottle caps to stay on the bottom of the wood. Please let me know so I can build these. Thank you.

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