What’s the Difference in Carpenter Bees and Bumble Bees?
Carpenter bees and bumble bees may look a lot alike, but they are very different. Graphic by Michaela Parker.
What’s the difference between a carpenter bee and a bumble bee? A lot. They look similar, but they are very different.
The most commonly occurring species in Mississippi is the eastern carpenter bee. Both males and females have a smooth, shiny body. But males of this species have white faces, while females have black faces. Males have no sting. Females can sting but usually don’t.
Females lead busy lives, building nests, gathering pollen, and laying eggs. Males are often seen flying about and hovering in mid-air to pass the time.
You may see the entrance holes to their nests anywhere on your property where you have wood, such as decks, eaves, fences, and barns.
Nesting galleries can be more than a foot long. Most of the time these galleries are harmless. However, if there are several galleries in one piece of wood, it can weaken that area and put the structure at risk. If you find yourself in this situation, you can learn more about pesticides and methods for treating the galleries in Extension publication 2331, “Control of Insect Pests In and Around the Home Lawn.”
Bumble bees are large with hairy bodies. They can be either black and yellow or black and white. They build their nests in the ground like yellowjackets, where dozens of bees can live. They are not aggressive unless their nest is disturbed. But bumble bees have a painful sting, and dozens of bees may attack if they sense the nest is threatened. They can be very aggressive in this situation.
So, before you mow or do other types of lawn care, you may want to inspect your yard for nests.
Both carpenter bees and bumble bees are important pollinators, and experts recommend only using control methods to prevent structural damage by carpenter bees or prevent stinging incidents by bumble bees.
If you’d like to attract more beneficial bees or support our bee pollinators, Extension publication 2976, “Gardening for Beneficial Bees in Mississippi,” will help you plan a landscape that bees love and that you love to look at.
Get information about a wide variety of insects found in Mississippi in the Bug's Eye View newsletter by MSU Extension Entomologist Blake Layton, and by joining the Bug's Eye View Facebook group.
If you do disturb a bumble bee nest and get stung, watch for an allergic reaction. These reactions are rare. However, get medical attention right away if you have any of these symptoms: swelling of the mouth, tightness in the throat, difficulty breathing, dizziness, fainting, vomiting, hives, or a rapid heartbeat.
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