How Do Carpenter Bee Traps Work?

Say goodbye to those pesky carpenter bees for good with the help of a handy trap.

Carpenter Bees on Oregano Flowers

Carpenter Bee

Carpenter bees have a smooth and shiny abdomen, unlike their fuzzy-bodied bumblebee cousins. Count on carpenter bees for pollinating tomato plant family members.

Photo by: Julie Martens Forney

Julie Martens Forney

The other day you noticed big black bees wearing tool belts laden with hammers and drills busily buzzing in and out of small holes in the wood fascia of your garage. What gives?

Okay, maybe the tool belt thing isn’t real, but the work going on inside is indeed that of a carpenter. Carpenter bees look a lot like honeybees but sport a shiny, hairless abdomen and tunnel into wood to rear their young. Carpenter bees are big fans of weathered and unpainted wood in soft varieties like cedar, redwood and pine; they flock to eaves, rafters and siding to nest. Even your wooden outdoor furniture is a likely target.

Like all bees, carpenters are critical pollinators for gardens and crops and they usually don’t sting, but they wreak all sorts of havoc on wood-based material. What’s the trick to keeping these industrious insects from perforating your home like a whiffle ball?

A Brief Entomology Lesson

Let’s take a quick look at the habits of carpenter bees to best learn how to manage them. Most importantly, carpenter bees don’t live in colonies; they settle in to brood tunnels individually to overwinter and emerge in the spring to mate. Females then bore into wood to lay their eggs. If you listen closely on a quiet day, you can sometimes hear the bees’ determined construction work (although that is not a welcome sound). Once inside, the bees turn hard right or left and build a half-dozen cells to stage eggs. Each cell includes a single egg and some pollen, and then is sealed with regurgitated wood pulp. Over the course of a few weeks, baby bees hatch and mature, finally emerging later in summer to forage on flowers before heading back to the protection of cavities in wood to hibernate.

Carpenter Bee Traps at Work

Simply defined, a carpenter bee trap is just a pre-drilled wooden block attached to a glass jar or plastic bottle. The jar eventually traps the bees, where they perish and are later removed. Elegantly simple and wildly effective, the trap basically copies the bee’s nest. The bees happily crawl into strategically pre-drilled holes in a wooden block, but once inside, the bees can’t find the entrance holes. A light source usually means escape, so they look around and spot light coming from the bottom of the box and head for it. What they don’t know is that light comes from a hole in the bottom of the box, which is covered by a glass jar. A translucent prison, if you will, from which there is no escape. The bees soon die and accumulated bodies are disposed of by simply unscrewing the jar and dumping it out.

Intimidating Nuisance Be Gone

It’s less than pleasant to walk past a carpenter bee nest site in the spring when mating and nest construction are in full swing. The males hover around the nest opening like aerial bodyguards, but they’re all swagger and no bite since they don’t actually have the ability to sting. Carpenter bees do, however, inflict damage to wooden structures through their extensive excavations. Aside from cosmetic and structural damage, the bees’ holes invite additional problems such as moisture and rotting wood. The ingenious bee trap saves the day and is DIY-friendly with readily available material.

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