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How To Recognize The Three Most Destructive Carpenter Bee Pest Species That Nest Within Woodwork

A Giant Hairy Scorpion native to Arizona climbing on a cactus.

How To Recognize The Three Most Destructive Carpenter Bee Pest Species That Nest Within Woodwork

Insects that inflict damage to the ornamental and/or structural woodwork of homes and buildings are the most economically costly indoor pests. Insect pests of structural wood, or “wood-destroying organisms,” as the experts call them include termites, carpenter ants, wood-boring beetles, and to the surprise of many, carpenter bees. Entomological knowledge varies depending on the individual, but some people are entirely unfamiliar with bees beyond the honey bees that serve as major pollinators, and of course, producers of honey. However, more than 20,000 bee species have been documented worldwide, more than 500 of which are carpenter bees that carve out nesting galleries within wood.

According to a recent nationwide survey of pest management professionals, carpenter bees were the third most commonly controlled wood-destroying insect pests on residential and commercial properties during the 2016 year. The results of this survey revealed that carpenter bee infestations were reported far more frequently than most other wood-destroying insect pests, including Formosan subterranean termites and all drywood termite species combined. However, unlike termite infestations, carpenter bee infestations tend to be readily noticeable because the damage the pests inflict often take the form of holes in wood fences, wood siding, and other finished wood sources that are in clear view of homeowners. Carpenter bees are also unusually large in size, and the males of many species, while unable to sting, aggressively dart into people that approach their nesting sites.

Carpenter bees belong to the genus Xylocopa, and there are three carpenter bee species in Arizona that are considered major pests. These species include the valley carpenter bee, (Xylocopa varipuncta), the western carpenter bee (X. californica), and the mountain carpenter bee (X. tabaniformis orpifex). The largest of these three species, the valley carpenter bee, is about an inch long, and the females that excavate nesting tunnels within finished woods are entirely black. The western carpenter bee is the largest pest species of its kind in California, but in Arizona, this species is represented by the slightly smaller X. arizonensis subspecies. X. arizonensis females are easy to recognize due to their dark blue or violet body color and dark wings. The smallest of the three, the mountain carpenter bee, is between ½ and ¾ of an inch in length, and both males and females are black with smokey-colored wings. Carpenter bee damage is usually superficial, but successive generations often nest within the same finished wood sources where they continue to excavate, which can result in significant and costly damage.

Have you ever found damage to finished wood that you believe had been inflicted by a carpenter bee female?

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