Bumblebees vs Carpenter Bees : What’s The Difference?

April 25, 2023

Carpenter bees and bumblebees are mistaken for each other quite often due to their similar appearances. In reality, they behave quite differently from one another. Read on to learn exactly how to tell a carpenter bee from a bumblebee. 


What Is a Carpenter Bee?


Carpenter bees are one of the 4,000 kinds of bees that are native to North America. They can be found across the United States and are so named because they nest in wood. As solitary bees, they each build individual nests rather than living together in a hive. Their nests consist of a series of long, segmented tunnels and are most commonly built in softwoods. 


An adult carpenter bee is around 1 inch long and plump. Its round abdomen is shiny and black or blackish-blue. Its thorax, where its wings are attached, is covered in yellow, orange, and white hairs, and its legs are covered in darker hairs. Carpenter bees have two pairs of wings and one pair of antennae. Female carpenter bees have black faces while males have yellow faces. 


Only female carpenter bees have stingers and they are able to sting multiple times. Male carpenter bees do not have stingers, but they are very territorial and act far more aggressively than females. When they sense a threat, they will put on a menacing display, hovering close to and diving towards the threat in attempts to scare it away. Due to their territorial tendencies, males are more commonly encountered than females.


What Is a Bumblebee?


Bumblebees are the only social bees native to North America and they are one of the few social bees that nest underground. Their nests often look like piles of debris due to the materials they use for insulation- i.e. leaves and animal fur. They tend to nest in pre-existing holes like abandoned rodent tunnels and burrows and they almost always nest underground, however they will occasionally build aerial nests. 


Bumblebees range from ¼ to 1 inch in size and are also rather plump. They are striped with yellow and black and they are hairy all over. Female bumblebees have a shiny, flat segment on their back legs called a pollen basket. Males do not collect pollen so they do not have pollen baskets. 


Bumblebees can be found in most states, however their populations have been rapidly declining in recent years; there are a number of bumblebee species on the endangered species list and more may be added soon. The American bumblebee is not yet on the list, though it is dangerously close to being added as their populations have decreased by 90% since 2000 and they have completely disappeared from eight states.


What Is The Difference?


In many ways, carpenter bees and bumblebees are rather alike. Here is how they differ:



Carpenter bees and bumblebees are comparable in size and shape. They are similar in color as well, though they have different color patterns. Carpenter bees have a shiny black abdomen and a hairy, yellow-orange thorax, while bumblebees are hairy all over with black and yellow-orange stripes. Both kinds of bees have two pairs of wings and a pair of antennae. 


Signs of Activity

Signs of carpenter bee activity include small sawdust piles; smooth, round holes in wooden structures; and a buzzing sound coming from inside walls or wooden structures. Bumblebee activity is usually marked by an abundance of bumblebees. Bumblebee nests, especially those that are built in wall or structure voids, emit a consistent buzzing sound. 



In New Jersey, carpenter bees are active from late March until October whereas bumblebees are active from February until November. 



Only female carpenter bees can sting, and fortunately for us, they do not sting often. Much like carpenter ants and termites, carpenter bees are most dangerous to wooden structures. Their nests consist of tunnels which are built into softwood. The more nests that are built into a single softwood structure the more compromised the structure becomes. Infestations in the walls of a building can diminish an entire building’s structural integrity. What’s more, woodpeckers love to snack on carpenter bees, and they will gladly peck even more holes into a wall to reach their meal. 


Bumblebees are mostly harmless. As is the case for carpenter bees, only female bumblebees can sting and they will only do so if they feel threatened. Neither type of bee loses their stinger so they are able to sting multiple times. A sting from either a carpenter bee or a bumblebee typically results in a sharp, burning pain and a welt at the site of the sting. Bee stings contain venom which can cause allergic reactions in some people. 



Carpenter bees typically build their nests in softwood, and they commonly build in areas like eaves, rafters, walls, roofs, and wooden furniture. Bumblebees nest underground either in grassy fields or underneath debris piles, wood piles, or porches.


What Attracts Them

Both carpenter bees and bumblebees are attracted to flowers of all kinds. Carpenter bees are also attracted to untreated and unpainted softwood.


Carpenter bee on the leaf

How To Prevent Carpenter Bees


  • Paint or varnish untreated wood. When building new structures, use hardwood or pressure treated wood if possible. 
  • Fill any tunnels, holes, and cracks you find in wooden structures with steel wool or caulk. Be sure the tunnels are empty before filling them, as any bees trapped inside will simply create a new tunnel to escape. 
  • Scare them away by hanging a fake wasp’s nest. Or, hang a wind chime near their nesting area. 
  • Use essential oils to repel carpenter bees. Spray susceptible areas with a mixture of water and an essential oil like almond, citrus, peppermint, or tea tree. 
  • Landscape with plants that carpenter bees hate like basil, citronella, cucumber, eucalyptus, geraniums, mint, and thyme. 


How To Prevent Bumblebees


  • Fill empty burrows and holes in the ground with dirt and pack the soil down. 
  • Remove debris piles, pull up weeds, keep grass mowed, and rake up leaves. 
  • Flood their nests by using a hose or sprinkler to saturate the soil with water. 
  • Use vinegar or citrus oil to repel bumblebees. Spray susceptible areas with a mixture of one part water and one part vinegar or citrus oil.
  • Sprinkle cloves, cinnamon, or garlic in gardens or around potential nesting areas. 
  • Landscape with plants that bumblebees hate like basil, bougainvillea, citronella, dahlias, eucalyptus, geraniums, marigolds, mint, pennyroyal, roses, wormwood, and yews. 


When you encounter bees on your property, avoid killing the nest if you can. Bees are extremely important pollinators and should be protected whenever possible. That being said, nests can be dangerous and should be taken care of immediately if they pose any threat at all. If you find any nests that are a little too close to home, give Twin-Boro a call today. 

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