Bees Around the House

— Written By Susan Condlin and last updated by

Many people fear bees. For those with severe allergic reactions to bee stings, it is well founded. However, bees are extremely important for pollination of many of our fruits and vegetables. As days have warmed up, bees are becoming more active.

Carpenter bees are one of the few bees that are destructive, as they excavate tunnels in wooden parts of buildings. Carpenter bees look similar to bumble bees (they are chunky and large), except that they have a shiny black tail section. The bees emerge from tunnels in April and May to mate and build tunnels for their offspring. Carpenter bees do not eat wood as food; instead, they burrow into the wood and push the dust out.

Male bees cannot sting (they do not have stingers!), but can be aggressive in their territory. Female carpenter bees can sting, but usually do not unless highly agitated.

Exposed wood is a prime target for tunneling by these bees. Even cedar, cypress, and redwood siding or shingles can be attacked. Painted or treated wood is less preferred. Preventing carpenter bee damage is nearly impossible because protective sprays are not very long lasting and the bees are rarely exposed to lethal doses. Also, many houses have numerous wood surfaces that could be attacked – it is extremely difficult and unsafe to apply pesticides to all these areas.

Instead, keep a watch for the large bees and find their tunnels. Treat the entrance holes with an insecticidal spray or dust (contact our Center for chemical recommendations) to reduce nesting activity. Be sure to read the label and stand upwind from the surface being treated. Seal the treated tunnels with a small ball of aluminum and then caulk after 24-36 hours. This will help prevent old tunnels being used next year.

Another bee you may be seeing around your house is the solitary ground bee.  These bees belong to several different groups of bees. Ground bees nest in individual holes in the ground and are great pollinators. You may see small mounds of soil with holes in the top in sparsely vegetated areas of your yard. Sometimes you will see many holes close together. Each hole is an individual nest belonging to a female bee.

Newly developed ground bees emerge in March and April. Once they emerge, mating takes place and nests are built. Solitary bees are not aggressive and will rarely sting.

If you have ground bees, count yourself lucky to be a home to these busy pollinators. Do not use pesticides on these helpful critters. You can continue mowing over the area and playing in the yard. If the mounds create a nuisance you cannot live with, promote a dense healthy stand of grass or plant a ground cover.

Honeybees are active right now too. During the spring, honeybee colonies swarm. When the hive is crowded, the queen bee leaves to find a new home, taking many worker bees with her. If you see a swarm, stay away to avoid being stung. Call our Center to contact a local beekeeper that will catch the swarm and provide a home for the colony.

Bees have a bad reputation because they sting. Many bees are good pollinators and will rarely sting. Some bees such as carpenter bees do damage to your house and do need to be controlled. If you are unsure of the bees around your house, call our Center for identification. For more information on bees, reference ENT/ort-100: Bees in Turf or ENT/rsc-4: Carpenter Bees or call our Center at 919-775-5624.

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Written By

Photo of Susan CondlinSusan CondlinCounty Extension Director (919) 775-5624 susan_condlin@ncsu.eduLee County, North Carolina
Posted on Jun 9, 2015
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