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  • Writer's pictureChelle Hartzer

The First Swarm (AKA: It’s only just begun)

It was the first really nice and warm weekend of the spring here in Georgia. The daffodils have been up for about two weeks, the dogwoods started blooming last week, and the awful Bradford pears are stinking the place up. While the calendar doesn’t say so, it is officially spring to me. And with the onset of spring, I saw my first swarm.

Carpenter bees
There had to be at least a couple hundred bees around this one flowering plant.

Nope, not termites. Carpenter bees. Carpenter bees are cool insects, great pollinators, and for many people, they are scary and need to be controlled. Here are some facts you may not have known about carpenter bees and what to do about them.

  • There are two groups of carpenter bees: the large carpenter bees and the small carpenter bees. The common ones we see in the US are the large or Xylocopa sp. There are actually 9 different species in North America and over 400 species world wide. The genus name, Xylocopa, comes from the Greek for “wood-cutter”. Pretty applicable name!

carpenter bee trap
Pretty, not all that effective

  • As with other pests, there are plenty of DYI methods you can find online. Like most DIY methods, they are inefficient at best, damaging at worse. A Cornell study looked at the common carpenter bee traps and tested them to see if they were effective. They did catch carpenter bees. There were slightly more females than males captured and this is good because it is the female that is going to chew into the wood and cause the damage. While it was a small study, half of the bees they captured were from a single site that had extensive damage from years of carpenter bee activity. I guarantee there are hundreds swarming around my one plant this weekend so that’s not a lot of capture. Lastly, there was “abundant capture” of other insects, many of which were beneficial pollinators. So the DIY trap: probably not going to significantly reduce the population and it will take out other native pollinators.

  • · A study done in Ontario Canada found as few as two brood cells in a nest and as many as 21. On average, about 38% were males which means more females to excavate nests.

  • Carpenter bees can be lazy… or maybe economical is a better term: they will reuse old nests. In fact, the same Canadian study showed over a five-year period that more nests were reused than newly constructed ones. This means that no new damage is incurred in a structure. It does mean you can treat old nests early in the spring to potentially prevent re-use.

  • Adults overwinter in their wooden homes, and males emerge before females. This means as soon as those first males are seen flying around, that’s the time to look at preventative measures. Look to seal, paint, or otherwise treat up any unsealed wood, look for past damage and seal and/or treat those spots.

  • They aren’t solitary. They aren’t exactly social (no sharing of brood care or overlapping generations) but two to three females are often present in one nest. In these cases, only one is laying eggs though.

  • Females can live for two years.

Despite what people may think, these bees do not long to be closer to you. While males may be patrolling areas and seem aggressive, often flying at people, they are harmless. Males can not sting, and females have rarely been recorded to sting. The key to keeping carpenter bee populations lower around structures (where people are) is to treat wood by painting or sealing it in some way. The females will only chew into untreated wood. These bees are a great pollinator to have around and while structures should receive preventative treatments, the bees should not be treated.

You can be on top of the world with your customers if you catch those first emerging males and put prevention in place! For more on how we can help you with any urban pest, contact us here!

Lagniappe? Okay: Carpenter bees are the primary pollinator of lipstick trees. (I was today years old when I learned there was such a thing as a lipstick tree!)

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