Carpenter Bees vs. Honey Bees

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When it comes to apis mellifera (known more commonly simply as bees), these are probably no two species that are more different than carpenter bees and honey bees. Carpenter bees represent some of the worst qualities- at least in relation to humans- that these insects have to offer, while honey bees represent some of the best qualities. But how can you tell the difference between the two? That’s what we’re here to talk about!

 

Honey Bee and Carpenter Bee Appearance

 

To kick things off, let’s focus on the difference that you can actually see. Here you have a honey bee: 

Honey bee

 

And here you have carpenter bees: 

 

These seem somewhat obvious when you’re looking at a high-res, close up picture. But they might seem less obvious when you see one of them buzzing around your house -- and after all, they don’t look that different. The main physical difference are: 

 

  • Carpenter bees have hairless, black, shiny abdomens. Honey bees are fuzzy bees, with a hairy abdomen (and a hairy thorax and head to boot) which has bands that are colored either orange and brown or brown and black. 
  • Carpenter bees usually measure just around 1 inch long; honey bees are anywhere from ½ of an inch to ⅝ of an inch in length. 
  • Carpenter bees sometimes have a yellow-colored thorax (some species have a blue, brown, black or white instead); honey bees have the classic yellow thorax with black bands. 

 

Honey Bee and Carpenter Bee Stinging Habits 

 

In terms of stinging habits, carpenter bees and honey bees are actually quite alike. Only females of both species will sting (which is actually true of all species of bees), and female honey bees and female carpenter bees are both not aggressive stingers: they will typically only sting when they feel their hive is threatened. 

 

There is one major difference in the actual stinging habits of these two bee species, though. Carpenter bees might not sting often, but when they do they can sting multiple times; in other words if you manage to agitate a carpenter bee enough to have it sting you, you may be in for multiple venomous stings. Honey bees, on the other hand, can only sting one time; once the honey bee applies its sting it cannot remove its sting from human skin, and so is forced to what is called “self-amputate”, which ultimately kills the bee. 

 

Carpenter Bee and Honey Bee Nesting Habits

 

As their name implies, carpenters bees will nest in trees and man-made wood structures, tunneling inside to lay their eggs. 

Honey bees choose instead to nest in external hives, like many other species of bees.

 

Potential Carpenter Bee and Honey Bee Damage

 

Carpenter bees absolutely can cause structural damage, but it takes time -- and a whole lotta bees. When carpenter bees tunnel into wood, create a series of tunnels that are anywhere from 4 to 6 inches long each, only revealing a small hole on the exterior but creating a tunnel network on the interior. Over time, these tunnel networks can grow to as long as 10 feet, which over a period of years can cause structural collapse, although this is rare. In the video below you can see the sort of damage they can cause: 

 

Honey bees are less likely to cause home and property damage, but that doesn’t mean that they’re totally innocent. Colonies of honey bees can set up their nest in the cavities of your walls, inside of roofs, and on fences. As these honeycomb nests grow the weight of the nests can start to cause damage to walls, and honeycomb spillover (think honey, waste, and wax) can start to actually seep through the walls. This video does a good job illustrating some of these issues: 


Worried bees might cause problems in or around your home? It’s time to call in the professionals; contact the experts at Thomas Pest Services for a free estimate!


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