Carpenter Bees vs Honey Bees: How to Tell These Bugs Apart

To get rid of the bees terrorizing your home, you have to be able to tell them apart. And in the case of carpenter bees vs honey bees, you’ll have no problem identifying one from the other. That’s because each of them is unique both in appearance and behavior.

Carpenter Bees vs Honey Bees: How to Tell These Bugs Apart

Carpenter bees are bigger than honey bees. CC Image courtesy of Ysmad on Wikipedia and Pixabay

Differences in Appearance

Carpenter bees come in many shapes and colors while virtually all species of honey bees carry out a signature look that’s always been known to them.

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Honey bees (Apis) have a trademark black and yellow stripe. They have yellow hair covering most of their bodies, but those are usually less visible on their black legs. These bees also have elongated abdomens that carry those aforementioned stripes.

Carpenter bees (Xylocopa) can also come in black and yellow. So if they fly right by you or if they’re far away, they can sometimes be mistaken as honey bees or bumblebees. However, you should remember that these bugs are bigger than honey bees and smaller than fuzzy bumblebees.

Wood-loving carpenter bees don’t have stripes, and each species has different patterns and colors. Some have metallic black abdomens that give off a blue-green sheen and visible yellow thoraxes with a little black dot in the middle. Others are black all over while there are a few that look very exotic, sporting glossy metallic blue exoskeletons or fuzzy orange bodies with big green eyes.

Differences in Behavior

What really sets these two insects apart is their behavior. One bee follows a clear social system while the other usually lives alone.

Honey bees are known for being part of a huge group, a colony that’s made out of thousands of workers and one queen. They live together inside a hive that’s mostly made up of infertile females, each designated to be part of a working force with a specific task like guarding, nursing and foraging. Meanwhile, the only fertile member of the hive, the queen, is mainly responsible for birthing more of their kind. With their complex way of living, they can last even through winter.

Carpenter bees are completely different. They’re mostly solitary, non-hive dwelling bees that make up for a vast majority of the bee kingdom. Each female carpenter bee finds wood that she can drill into and make chambers for her young. She feeds them all by herself until they’re old enough to chew through their chambers and reproduce.

That’s the usual case. But carpenter bees can sometimes live with a group. We mentioned “mostly” in our previous paragraph because there are instances that carpenter bees can live following a simple social structure.

When quite a number of females bore into the same wood to build their nests, they can make a community of bees made up of mothers and daughters with no queen, just everyone living together in one place.

Differences in Stingers

Finally, the last major difference between the bees are their stingers.

When it comes to self-defense, only the females of both bee groups have stingers. However, honey bees have a more fatal way of fighting for themselves. They are the only bees that usually die after they sting. That’s because their stingers are curved and have microscopic barbs carved into them. A stinger of this design attaches itself to an animal’s skin very tightly, mostly rendering the honey bee unable to escape. It then ends up ripping its abdomen apart because its stinger is deeply connected to many of its organs inside the abdomen.

A carpenter bee, on the other hand, has a more convenient stinger. It’s straighter and smoother, so the bee is capable of stinging multiple times without harming itself. You can see this type of stinger in many insects like bumblebees and hornets.

So in the case of carpenter bees vs honey bees, the major differences mostly come from their behavior and how we humans see both insects. Honey bees are generally loved by the public because of their honey and wax. And on the other end of the spectrum, the carpenter bees are hated because of their destructive tendencies towards wood.

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  • September 11, 2017
  • Bees