Carpenter bee, friend or foe?
May 22, 2020 10:51 AM   Subscribe

My house (which I rent out) has carpenter bees, and my tenants are concerned. Do the bees pose a threat to my house and if so, how do I GENTLY get rid of them?

I recently bought a 150 year old house, which I'm renting to tenants. The tenants have informed me that there are carpenter bees buzzing around the porch.

First of all, I am a friend to bees! I know how important pollinators are and I don't want to hurt the little guys. HOWEVER, I also dont want damage to my house on which I just spent every dollar I have, and intend to live in some day. The house is old and in decent but not amazing shape, so I dont think it could withstand lots of little holes.

Should I just leave them alone and hope they don't do much damage? Can I gently dissuade them from living in my porch? I found various suggestions online to use citrus, garlic, vanilla, etc to discourage them from hanging out there. I do NOT want to use poison or anything else that will kill them. But is pushing them out of their nest the same as killing them?

Last question - do I as a landlord have the responsibility of dealing with this "pest", so they don't bother my tenants? If there was a rodent or bedbug problem, I'd have to deal with it. Are bees considered an infestation that I have to resolve?
posted by silverstatue to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
They don’t do much damage but they also aren’t very good pollinators.

I have no idea what your legal or ethical responsibilities are but they are harmless. The aggressive ones are males that can’t sting, the females will try to avoid people and only sting if you catch them or attack their nest.

Look for holes about 1/4”-3/8” diameter on exposed wood near eaves, if you don’t see any I’d tell the tenants to ignore them and notify you if the see damage.

They are not social like other bees, and they can make several nests in a season. Moving them along is not a death sentence, fans may also help with that.
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:57 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]

Carpenter bees don't often sting, but they do sting. Someone with an anaphylactic bee sting allergy could die. Do your best to get them (the bees, not the tenants) to move on. Might need to hire an apiarist to get them to move on without killing them.
posted by juniperesque at 11:03 AM on May 22 [4 favorites]

Then there's the fact that they could eventually destroy your property. See How Much Damage Can a Carpenter Bee Cause?

This isn't something that your tenants can easily deal with, and it does make their lives worse too. You should deal with it. That's what they're paying you for :)

You can provide an alternate, easier-to-colonize home for them, then take the other home options away. I'm afraid you will have to block the holes, and if they're already completed, then there might already be larva in there, sadly. However, once you fill the holes, if you treat/stain the wood, that will discourage them from burrowing into it again.
posted by amtho at 11:08 AM on May 22 [7 favorites]

You usually spot the holes because they like to poop down the side of your house just outside the hole. I love bees, but I'm not willing to let carpenter bees damage my house, personally. I vote they are enemies.
posted by Lame_username at 11:22 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]

Apiarists (bee handlers) are fond of bees; there's probably a organization in your area; the Cooperative Extension Service is a good place to ask. Someone might be willing to xome and help re-home them.
posted by theora55 at 12:23 PM on May 22

Carpenter bee traps work - they mistake the holes for their tunnels and then can't get out. I don't know how gentle it is, but it doesn't use chemicals at least. At the peak of the season, we get a dozen or more a day.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 2:11 PM on May 22

They are better at pollinating apple trees than honeybees because they don't mind getting whapped in the face by a sticky, spring-loaded pollen package the way apple blossoms do it, and honeybees do mind.
posted by jamjam at 3:11 PM on May 22

Blasted things bored right through new wood windows in our office. Only took a couple years.
posted by rudd135 at 5:20 PM on May 22

Seconding that this is your responsibility to solve. I'm not sure how you could construe it to be otherwise, tbh. Leaving aside potential property damage, it's your responsibility to ensure a livable property, and even if they don't usually sting, they can, and you'd likely find yourself liable if you were informed about them and didn't deal with them. I appreciate your desire to help pollinators, but your tenants and their safety are more important than the comfort of some bees that happened to find the wrong place to live.
posted by Aleyn at 11:35 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]

Anecdotaly, I've lived with carpenter bees all my life and have never once had them make a hole in any structure. They always nest in other types of easier-to-burrow-in wood. The stalks of yuccas seem to be their favorite. If your property has nice soft, decomposing wood anywhere, that's probably where they will nest. If the soft wood is the building structure, I guess that might be a problem. I would think if you offered them a better place to nest they might move out on their own, especially if you sealed up their current nests. I do want to thank you very much for being sensitive to this issue, and to the plight of bees in general. Even a single individual insect makes a difference in the survival of some populations. We need more people like you, and we need to try to change the behavior of people who use words like "the enemy" to describe an insect that they see as bothersome. Insects are not enemies, they are literally the next steping stone between us and environmental disaster.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 2:15 PM on May 23

OK, maybe not literally...
posted by WalkerWestridge at 2:24 PM on May 23

We have an infestation of these that I'm dealing with right now. They are boring holes into the underside of our raised deck. We got the trap and so far we've caught only one of the dozen I've seen. We think they like our yard because there is a bunch of honeysuckle that's been untamed for a few years; they pollinate it or whatever and then they come over and make nests in the deck.

They are huge and can be scary if you haven't seen them before; we hadn't. I understand your tenants' worry. I'm going to cut back the honeysuckle and see if it helps but I was very disappointed by the trap. Their holes are super obvious so I think if it were me I'd go look around the house at any exposed wood. If you have them you will definitely know. They bore these perfect circles that almost look like someone actually drilled them. If they're just hanging around and not nesting in your house, you're lucky. I don't have a good solution yet but I wouldn't ignore them.
posted by possibilityleft at 8:41 PM on May 23

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