Bill Starr: Taking care of wood surfaces in the home can help ward off unwanted “carpenters”

Published 11:17 am Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The other day I was doing some things on my “honey do” list and I was really putting the Ph.D.  that I have to good use. Yeah, I know most of you didn’t realize I have a Ph.D. I have actually had it for quite some time. I am talking about my post hole diggers.
The odd thing was, as I was using them, they were emitting a strange buzzing sound, and to my amazement I realized carpenter bees had made my Ph.D. their home. Unfortunately, carpenter bees do not build decks, frame houses, or build additions to your home. They do, however, build their home at the expense of your home or shop or garden tools if they are old and have wooden handles like mine. Carpenter bees bore a half-inch diameter hole, usually in unpainted objects such as doors, windowsills, roof eaves, railings, etc. Carpenter bees do not eat wood; they excavate the tunnels for shelter and as a chamber in which to rear their young.
Carpenter bees resemble bumble bees. They are large, 3/4 to 1 inch long, heavy-bodied, and metallic blue-black in color. Now that spring has arrived, you will probably start seeing these bees hovering outside of their homes. Male carpenter bees are quite aggressive, often hovering in front of people who are around the nests. The males are harmless since they lack stingers. The males are all bark and no bite. Female carpenter bees do have a stinger, but will seldom sting unless provoked. The way to tell the females from the males is that the male carpenter bees have a little white spot on the front of their face, whereas females are all black.
A great conversation starter at your next outdoor party would be to grab and hold a male carpenter bee. Of course, it’s best not to try this trick unless you are very sure how to tell the difference. Carpenter bees over-winter as adults in wood within old nest tunnels. Each spring, female carpenter bees may excavate new tunnels for egg laying, or enlarge and reuse old ones. Carpenter bees prefer to attack wood which is bare, weathered and unpainted.
One of the best ways to deter bees is to paint all exposed wood surfaces, especially those which have a history of being attacked. Wood stains are less reliable than painting, but will still be better than bare wood. If prevention measures haven’t worked and treatment becomes necessary, locate tunnel entrances after dark when bees are less active. Treat the nest entrance directly.
There are many dusts and aerosols available. Be extremely careful using pesticides as most pesticides are extremely toxic to all types of bees. Carpenter bees, although a nuisance, sometimes are good early pollinators. If an insecticide is applied, dust applications are usually more residual and effective than sprays. Do not plug the hole immediately after treatment, because the bees should be allowed to pass freely to distribute the insecticide within the holes. Wait several weeks after treatment before sealing the hole with wood putty. Be sure to paint over the repaired hole to prevent possible future infestation. An old badminton racquet also works pretty well for control, and besides it is also fun, too!
If you need further information on carpenter bees, call your local county agent. Now, it looks like carpenter bees are smarter than I thought; after all, the bee I dealt with had a Ph.D.

Bill Starr is Sumter County Extension coordinator/agent, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. Contact him at 229-924-4476.