KNOCK CARPENTER BEES
by Whit Gibbons
April 1, 2007
at this time I get questions about bees. Recently, a friend told me about
honeybees swarming on a university campus. She and her fellow employees
gathered to watch as the bees flew around the office windows then collected
in a huge clump on a nearby tree. The bees were still there the next day
when my friend got to work, but 20 minutes later they had disappeared.
Not a bee was to be seen. What was going on?
and several thousand workers were simply looking for a new home. The bees
hang in a large cluster while scouts look for a place to start a new hive.
Honeybees have declined across the United States since the 1990s because
of parasitic mites. So a swarm is a healthy sign that a nearby hive has
become overcrowded and some bees have left.
typically do not sting during the swarming stage. My son and I once put
a cardboard box with a hole in it next to a swarm and let the bees crawl
over our hands as they walked inside to set up a new colony. We took the
box of bees home, put them in a wooden box, and a couple of years later
actually ate honey they produced.
bee question concerns tiny piles of sawdust from unpainted wooden structures.
The sawdust is caused by carpenter bees that burrow into the wood. Carpenter
bees are similar in appearance to bumblebees. A common question is, how
can I get rid of them? My answer is do not get rid of them. Enjoy them.
On our back porch, instead of eradicating them, we watch them, listen
to them, and smile as the dog snaps at them. Cheap entertainment on a
of carpenter bees is relatively straightforward. In spring, throughout
most of the country, they seek mates. Males, which have a distinctive
light-colored spot on the face, may buzz loudly and fly in front of a
person’s face. But the bluster is just an act. Male carpenter bees
are harmless. As with other bees and wasps, only the females have stingers.
I grabbed a male bee last week and held it. It was mad when I let it go
but did not sting.
bees literally chew a tunnel into wood. I know they work at night as well
as day because I have watched a steady stream of sawdust trickle from
the ceiling an hour after dark. The females prefer an already created
hole, but some additional excavation and reorganization may be part of
the process, much like someone moving into a new apartment might paint
the walls or rearrange the furniture. Sitting beneath a carpenter bee
reconstruction project leads to frequent brushing of sawdust from your
bees are valuable pollinators--females gather pollen, store it in the
burrows, and lay their eggs. The pollen serves as a source of nutrition
for the larvae. The adult bees die during the summer, and the recently
born ones spend the winter in the holes.
How harmful is a carpenter bee? A female carpenter bee could sting you.
But a person generally has to grab one to be stung; they rarely attack
like bumblebees defending their nest or like wasps. Using pesticides to
destroy carpenter bees is unnecessary, and pesticides never kill just
the target organism but many other harmless creatures as well.
over the years cause structural damage that might weaken a porch roof?
Maybe, but since carpenter bees make it simple on themselves by using
holes that have already been constructed instead of creating new ones,
demolishing an entire structure would take a lot of burrowing. Our porch
may eventually fall down from the annual attack of the carpenter bees,
but if it does we will have gotten considerable entertainment from these
fascinating creatures for many, many years.
To me the
potential hazards of carpenter bees--and a lot of other animals that some
people seem suspicious of--are not worth controlling with pesticides.
It's too high an environmental price to pay. Far better simply to enjoy
nature, whether it appears as carpenter bees on your back porch or a swarm
of honeybees outside your office window.
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