Carpenter bees are often confused with bumblebees due to many similarities in their appearance, although carpenter bees prefer the comforts of wood or wooden structures. They will dig long tunnels and chambers, where they reproduce and lay eggs. Many people think carpenter bees eat wood as well, however, this is not true. They feed on nectar similar to other bees.
Do Carpenter Bees Sting?
The short answer is yes, but don’t let that alarm you. Carpenter bees are quite interesting. During the summer, it’s not uncommon for us to spot a large bee buzzing around the backyard—thinking, here comes a bumblebee.
Chances are that those bees are in fact carpenter bees. Many people feel intimidated by their size and loud buzz; even the name sounds tough. Fortunately, carpenter bees won’t give you much reason to feel frightened.
These bees aren’t known to be aggressive unless provoked or threatened. It’s only the female carpenter bee who has a stinger. Seeing that she’s usually inside the nest, it’s unusual for her to actually put it to use.
One interesting fact about stingers is that they’re basically modified egg-laying tools. Because male bees don’t have a reason to lay eggs, they don’t have such a tool. This is the same for most bee species, as well as wasps.
How Do Male Carpenter Bees Defend Themselves?
The male carpenter bee is well known for being aggressive toward other flying insects. We can usually spot them hovering outside the entrance to the nest. They won’t hesitate to defend it from any potential intruders.
Although the male carpenter bee doesn’t have a stinger, that doesn’t mean he can’t defend the nest if an intruder approaches, insects and humans alike.
He will initiate the attack on the intruder by doing a swoop and dive type of offense. He becomes like a dart, shooting through the air toward the target.
This defense can be quite intimidating, due to his size. The male will usually create a loud buzzing sound as he dives in, which many people will find rather frightening.
If you spot a couple of hovering carpenter bees, just remain calm. The males will sense a threat if you begin to wave your arms or other similar movements. Keep your distance and move away quietly.
What Happens After the Carpenter Bee Stings?
Some stinging bees, like honeybees, usually die after one sting. This is due to the stinger being barbed. The stinger simply gets stuck in the victim’s skin and, when the bee moves away, she is disemboweled and dies.
Carpenter females are an exception though. Similar to bumblebees, carpenter bees have a smooth stinger which enables them to sting multiple times without it being fatal to them. Luckily though, the stinging carpenter bee will most likely leave you be after one sting, and return to its nest.
Do Carpenter Bee Stings Hurt?
In the rare event that you do get stung by a carpenter bee, it can be quite painful. The carpenter bee sting is similar to the bumblebee sting. When it stings, it releases a venom containing melittin.
Melittin is found in all bee venom, it’s a peptide that causes pain and a burning sensation. The venom triggers heat sensors throughout the body, fooling nerve cells into thinking they are on fire.
In high doses, the melittin will actually cause the membrane of the cell to swell up and pop. Scientists are hoping to use this to cure viruses, such as HIV.
Immediately after a sting, the site will be very red and swollen. The sting is accompanied by a sharp pain that might last for a couple of minutes.
Once the pain is gone, a dull ache will follow. The dull ache can be present for hours after the sting.
Carpenter bees hardly ever attack in swarms, they also rarely sting multiple times. Reactions to the stings can be excruciating, but not lethal. Unless you’re highly allergic to bee venom, there shouldn’t be any severe reactions.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of an allergic reaction following the sting, it’s important to seek medical help.
How to Treat a Carpenter Bee Sting
After being stung by a bee, many people are often left a little shocked due to the sharp pain. Before you completely panic and rush to the emergency room, though, here are a few tips to help you through it.
After the bee has stung, it’s important to stay calm. Even though the carpenter bee is unlikely to sting again, it’s still best to quietly remove yourself from the area.
Remove the Stinger
When stung by a bee, or any other insect for that matter, if the stinger is left behind, it’s crucial to remove it as quickly as possible. The best way to remove a bee stinger is by scraping it off using your fingernails or a piece of gauze.
You should never use tweezers to remove stingers. When squeezed, the stinger will release even more venom, making the reaction worse.
Due to the smooth stinger, however, carpenter bees will not normally leave it behind after stinging, but you should always check.
Treat the Area
When treating a bee sting, the first thing you need to do is get rid of the venom. The best way to do this is by washing the area with cold, soapy water. You could even take a soft sponge or cloth and gently rub the area. Use circular motions and apply a small amount of pressure.
Apply Something Cold
Make use of a cold compress or even a bag of frozen peas if that’s all you have to hand. Apply it to the affected area to treat the swelling.
Seek Help for the Pain
The dull aching pain that follows a carpenter bee sting can sometimes be a bit too much. There are different over-the-counter painkillers you can take to help ease the pain. Ibuprofen or acetaminophen are very effective when it comes to bee stings.
Look out for Any Severe Reactions
We sometimes confuse regular bee sting reactions with severe allergic reactions. A normal bee sting reaction results in a swollen, red, and warm area. Experiencing itchiness afterward is also common, although you should try your best to avoid scratching as it could prolong the reaction.
When you scratch a bee sting, you may be spreading the venom, which could make the site much larger. You might also cause a secondary infection by excessive scratching. Breaking the skin could expose you to more bacteria, and may also result in scarring.
Some swelling is normal. However, if the swelling moves toward the neck or face, you might be having a severe reaction. Bee venom is water-soluble, which means it dissolves quickly in water. Since our bodies contain a lot of fluids, the venom can spread rather quickly.
Excessive swelling followed by difficulty breathing, nausea, and dizziness is a clear sign of an allergic reaction. In this case, it’s crucial that you seek immediate medical help.
As with any allergic reaction, there’s the chance of anaphylactic shock. During an anaphylactic shock, the throat will swell up, making breathing almost impossible. The face will also begin to swell and the condition can quickly become life-threatening.
When a person is going into anaphylactic shock, they require immediate medical help. People who are aware that they are highly allergic usually carry an EpiPen. The EpiPen is a shot of epinephrine which will help to lessen the symptoms, giving the victim more time to get medical help.
How to Avoid Being Stung by a Carpenter Bee
Although they look intimidating, chances of getting stung by a carpenter bee are slim. Carpenter bees are known for being very docile and non-aggressive. The only reason you would get stung is if you seem to be directly threatening the bee.
The females typically only sting if you get a hold of them and press them or squeeze. Of course, if you were to poke your finger into their nest, it increases your chances of being stung.
If you do, however, notice a bee closing in on you, remain calm. Running away, flailing your arms, or even worse, attacking the bee, is likely to result in a sting. Stay quiet and then the bee will most likely do the same.
Another tip is to wear shoes whenever you’re outside. Although carpenter bees don’t live on the ground, the females forage and may sit on a flower. It’s easy for distracted adults or a playing child to accidentally step on the bee.
People with young children or pets might not like the thought of having bees living in their wooden structures. If you suspect an infestation, there are several ways to deal with it.
It’s not a good idea to kill carpenter bees, as they’re pollinators so they are good for the environment, and your garden. The best way is to wait until you see them leaving their nest in the daytime, then close the holes using a wood dowel with glue, or caulk, so they can’t return.
To reduce the chance of the bees making a new nest in another unsuitable location, why not place a bee house in an area away from the home, so they have somewhere to create a new nest?
Other methods of elimination will, unfortunately, kill the bees, but you may have no choice. Many homeowners prefer to call a local pest control company to handle this task.
A carpenter bee sting can be painful, but it isn’t dangerous unless you have an allergic reaction, in which case seek urgent medical attention. The area will swell and feel irritated for a while.
Luckily, only the females sting and they’re usually inside the nest. If you feel bothered by carpenter bees, check out our advice above, or call your local pest control and they should be able to handle it.