The Difference between Bumble Bees and Carpenter Bees

There are some clear differences between bumble bees and carpenter bees.  Spring is here and so are more birds and insects.  As April brings us showers, more flowers appear and we are certain to see more bees around our homes and gardens.

For most of us it may not be easy to identify bumble bees from carpenter bees; however, one simple way to tell them apart is to look at their underbellies.  While both bees are large and colorful, bumble bees have a hairy and colorful abdominal region, while carpenter bees have an abdomen that is bare and shiny.  In addition, bumble bees tend to be more social and live in  groups, usually with small nests in the ground, while carpenter bees tend to be solitary and prefer to build nests by boring into soft wood.  Both bee species work to pollinate flowers and are beneficial to gardens and homeowners. 

Bumble bees may often compete with honey bees for flower nectar and pollen.  When honey bee numbers decline, e.g., during an outbreak of bee parasites, bumble bees may actually increase in number.  Bumble bees are generally beneficial to the environment and should be encouraged by gardeners.  In addition, bumble bees usually are not aggressive to humans and will not sting unless provoked.

Unlike carpenter bees, bumble bees do not dwell in wood nests so they do not cause minor damage by boring into wood areas of human homes and therefore do not have to be destroyed by irate homeowners who tend to kill both bee species, remaining unaware of their differences.  Carpenter bees do not actually eat wood as many people think, but they do bore into wood to develop nests.  They prefer to nest in softwoods, e.g., pine and cedar, and may be discovered in a myriad of places such as fence posts, roof shingles, porches, decks and roof eaves, even some telephone poles.

Although they are disliked by many homeowners for this reason, carpenter bees also are beneficial to the environment because they pollinate various flowers and tree species.  Male carpenter bees often show aggression to humans who may invade their space; however, they do not possess stingers, so are actually harmless.  The females have stingers, yet they do not show aggressive tendencies as do the males and usually will not sting unless provoked.

In review, bumble bees, carpenter bees and honey bees are all beneficial to the environment.  While bumble bees and honey bees are social and live in colonies, carpenter bees are solitary and do not produce as much honey as the other two species.  The easiest way to indentify a carpenter bee from other bees is to look at its belly, which will be bare and shiny.