Difference between Carpenter and Bumble Bees

When you see a large buzzing insect what do you usually associate it with? Is it a bumble bee or is it a carpenter bee? Would you be able to tell the difference? Whilst the two insects are similar on closer inspection you will see there are differences between carpenter bees and bumble bees, including; 

i) Appearance 

The abdomen of a carpenter bee is smooth, shiny and virtually black in colour. In contrast the abdomen of a bumble bee is covered in hairs and has a furry appearance, and consequently it is not shiny and there will be a band of yellow or white hairs. 

The back end is another clue and where the bumble bee will have large pollen sacks on its back legs, as well as a visible stinger, the carpenter bee does not. 

Female carpenter bees have stingers, whilst the males don’t, which is strange given the males serve to protect the nest. The sex of carpenter bees is identified by looking at the face. Males will have a white or yellow face, whereas the face of a female will be black. Male carpenter bees also have larger eyes which relates to the mating rituals. 

ii) Behaviour 

Male carpenter bees will visit flowers for pollen however they are usually located near and around the nest, such as in the eaves, fascias or rafters. The males are loud and generally aggressive and will intimidate by coming close in. One thing to remember is these males can’t sting. The females tend to stay in the nest venturing out only to protect the nest. 

By contrast bumble bees will move from place to place and flower to flower in order to collect pollen and providing they are left alone they will generally leave humans alone. However, if provoked they will sting, and unlike honey bees, bumble bees can sting repeatedly. Both female and male bumble bees can sting and this should always be remembered when coming in to contact with them. 

iii) Nesting 

Carpenter bees make their nests in wood structures. The carpenter bee can bore a near perfect hole that is approximately half an inch to three eighths of an inch in diameter. Once the entry hole is bored the bee will turn at right angles to it and then continue to bore out a tunnel that can be as long as three feet, and off this channel there will be chambers bored out. The female will lay an egg in these chambers, deposit a load of pollen on which to feed the young and then seal the chamber up, before repeating the process. The same nesting site is used year after year which can lead to extensive structural damage over time. 

 Carpenter bees are considered to be solitary and a nest will typically consist of one female and one male bee, although it is not uncommon for there to be several nests close to each other or even in the same wooden structure. 

By contrast bumble bees nest in the ground away from property. These colonies are usually made in tunnels under ground and consist of one queen and a number of workers, which is usually less than around fifty individuals. Whilst a single nest contains more bees than a single nest of the carpenter bee it contains significantly less than the number of bees that will be in a honey bee nest. 

So if you see a dark but shiny looking bee buzzing high up around a wooden structure that is peppered with holes it is going to be a carpenter bee, and if you see a furry looking bee with a white or yellow band buzzing around flowers it is going to be a bumble bee.