Carpenter Bees

The carpenter bees are back!  It become obvious the other day when a couple hundred were swarming our two holly trees here in Cape May County, NJ in search of pollen.  While only the females will sting, it takes outright harassment to provoke them enough to attack.

There are some 500 species of carpenter bees, so to exactly identify those you are seeing is tough.  They are also often confused with bumblebees.  The difference is that most carpenter bees have a shiny abdomen, while the bumblebee has an abdomen completely covered in dense hair.  Good luck getting close enough to differentiate.

Most carpenter bees are solitary, except for a few species where mother and daughters share a nest.  In solitary nesting, the founding bee forages, builds cells, lays eggs, then guards the nest.  Their nest entrance is nearly perfectly round and tunneled into wood, usually on the underside.  They don’t eat the wood, but instead discard it outside or use it to build cell dividing walls inside the nest.  Their tunnels lay just under the surface of the wood, so the entire board usually isn’t destroyed.

Our split rail fence is 460 feet long, and there are at least a thousand carpenter bee holes present.  It’s annoying and unsightly, but the inconvenience has to be weighed against the carpenter bee’s benefits.  Like bumblebees, the carpenter bees are great pollinators.  With pollinators rapidly vanishing from our planet, we need all the bees we can get!

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