June 19, 2009

How to not make friends with Carpenter Bees

I was perfectly set up at my kitchen table: The laptop was hooked to a larger external monitor so I could see my virtual cadavers on the big screen. All my books, notes and paper were spread before me in a semi-circle. I'd been studying well into the morning by now. Leaning back in the chair, stretching and yawning, I looked out the open doors to the back deck and nearly fell over. It was swarming with bees.

Well, on a sunshiny spring day such as this, this seemed a great thing. The plum and apple trees were in full glorious bloom with their limbs now above the level of the deck giving me a distinct feeling of being in the treetops. The honeysuckle growing up the fence was sending it's fragrance over on the morning breeze. It all seemed so... spring-full!

But then I noticed these were no ordinary bumblebees. Nay, these bees, friendly as they may have seemed, were of the carpenter variety. And they were moving in.

Now, you may ask "are you sure it's a carpenter?" Well, it's a good question. They may not, afterall, be carrying their union card. And you may not catch them with a mouthful of sawdust. So let me point out some distinctive features of these fine craftsbugs.
Carpenter bees do look just like bumblebees in size and shape. But carpenters have a smooth, black, glossy abdomen whereas bumblebees have black abdomens covered in yellow hairs.

Below is a Bumblebee. It is soft and cuddly looking, right? Fuzzy, striped.

And here you have its crafty cousin. This bee has a smooth, hairless rear, and, more importantly, it's sawing its way through my deck!!!

Look at this one hanging on -- come on, you know it's cool!

So, the good news is, the males don't have stingers at all. The bad news is, only the females dig these holes, so they're the only ones you'll likely ever have to deal with. But, the other good news is, they rarely use their stinger. In fact, you can handle these if you're careful and so inclined to do so.

However, as much as some of us would like to keep these around as pollinators (and heck, just for company) they have the unfortunate habit of chewing through wood. So I set out to discourage this -- and poison-free as well. I've read that you can simply plug up the hole with some wood putty. But I found this didn't deter them for a second. They just started chewing right back through it, possibly rather annoyed that they came back after lunch break to find their new sugarshack had just been stuffed with crap.

Still not wanting to coat the place with poison, I experimented with different glues (some of which were probably poisonous to something, yeah). Nope. They just regarded it as a minor setback and went back to work excavating. In the end, I went out there with a heated glue gun and filled the holes. I was surprised at how much I had to pump in before it started overflowing. I was also surprised to see this did not stop one very determined bee from getting itself half-stuck in glue.

(R.I.P, pretty Bee)

So I stood there a while, right arm across my waist, left arm bent up and making a fist upon which I could prop my befuddled head. And I thunk it over.

And here, folks, is the result of all that thinkerating:

I started sticking some spare pegs into the holes. They were a perfect fit! Wood screw hole covers would have worked just fine but this is what I had on hand.

So, a bit of glue, in went the peg and voila! They can't get in now! I placed eight of these in this way and watched to see what the little ladies would do about it. Sure enough, they could not get back in. Now, twice they started new holes and those got pegged as well. Finally, I was sure they had given up. Until I saw this:

Now, you've got to admire that tenacity! Not wanting to let all that hard work go to waste, she is attempting to gain entrance to her gallery from the side. She'd have done it, too, if I hadn't run her off. Sorry, sister.

So there you have it. A short visit from some friends that I unfortunately had to turn away. I closed up their properties and posted tiny little "Condemned" signs on them. But I suspect the were very soon happily chewing through someone else's deck.

Check back again soon as I'll be telling all about this beautiful lady and the conversation we had about our children:


  1. OOOOOH! I had one of those on my deck in Pinson!! She escaped my heavy heel though and I thought about it every single time I was outside in my yard for weeks afterwards.

  2. Nice article! Can't wait to hear about miss spider.


  3. Pah! One of our Sheet-steel-worker bees could munch its way through a whole set of metal garden furniture before breakfast. I'd show you a photo but the bastard ate my camera.

  4. The conversation with Miss Spider just went something like: I know we both consider our children precious and we love them all very much. My children are big and there are three. Your children are tiny and there will be millions. I'd love to let your children be free to wander around the yard and explore, but I wouldn't want them getting big like you and making a home here, you see. My children play here often and your children, well and you also, are poisonous, my dear. So. Nothing personal. I think you're beautiful... truly... I'm so sorry...


  5. Uh, oh...So maybe I am wrong to provide a home for the carpenter bees (the morning glories I so love). Maybe THAT'S what happened to our wooden swing set in the back...hmmm. Have to keep my eyes on them this year.

    Black widow? Yes beautiful and poisonous and hey...no question about what needed to be done.

    That lizard is SOOOO beautiful. I wish we had lizards here...too darn cold. I used to have lizards in the backyard in NM...and a tarantula on the wall outside our house once!

    So glad to see you post again. I've missed you, sweetie!