Carpenter bees get their name from their habit of making holes in wood. There are several species of carpenter bees in the United States. One of the most common species is Xylocopa virginica (L). This is probably also the most destructive carpenter bee. Its range extends from Kansas to Texas and eastward to the Atlantic.
Carpenter bees are fairly large, 12.5 to 25 mm in length. They resemble bumblebees, except that their abdomen is smooth and mostly hairless. Male carpenter bees are very territorial, but they have no stinger. Females have a potent stinger, but seldom sting.
Female carpenter bees make holes in wood in order to deposit their eggs. They make their galleries in almost any wooden object they find. They attack decks, siding, landscape timbers and even lawn furniture. They seem to prefer unpainted and unstained wood, but they will also attack painted or stained wood.
The female carpenter bee makes a hole in the wood about the same size as her body. The female bores a hole to a depth of 25 mm, makes a right angle turn, and burrows along the grain of the wood. Galleries may extended 10 to 15 cm. Older galleries that have been reused may extend up to 3 meters long. The sawdust and wood shavings on the ground are often a clue that carpenter bees are active.
The female carpenter bee puts some pollen and other food in the gallery and then deposits an egg. She seals the compartment with chewed wood pulp and then repeats the process. When she has finished, the gallery will have several compartments with an egg in each one. Depending on the species and the climate, the eggs develop into adult bees in 36 to 99 days.
Carpenter bees are not social insects. Each female lays her own eggs. However, several females may attack the same piece of wood. In many cases, they even share a gallery. Over time, carpenter bees can cause significant damage.