“Grandma, do you and Papa Gene play tennis? On each porch I see several tennis rackets in the rocking chairs,” my granddaughter said to me a few weeks ago.
“No, honey, we do not play tennis. We play a game called bat the bees,” I answered her. “Come outside with me and I will show you what I mean.”
We went to the back porch and I picked up a tennis racket. I told her to stand back and watch me. Just then, several of the ugly yellow-and-black pests came buzzing by and flew toward the rafters. I swung at one and missed, but then I swung at another one and knocked him down onto the floor. Quickly, I stepped on him and squashed him under my foot.
This is the game that Gene and I often play this time of the year, bat the bees. The game begins early in the spring and lasts for several weeks into the summer. It is one that I wish we did not have to play.
The pests I am referring to are carpenter bees, which buzz around, look for places to construct their nests and search for mates.
Carpenter bees look a lot like bumblebees, but the upper surface of their abdomens is bare and shiny black. Bumblebees have hairy abdomens with some yellow markings and are a little smaller than carpenter bees.
Bumblebees also live in the ground, and the carpenter bees tunnel into wood to lay their eggs.
Carpenter bees are prevalent throughout the United States, and there are different species. The bumblebee look-alike is the one that we have to deal with in this part of Georgia.
The male bees do not have stingers. They are very aggressive and often hover in front of people who are near their nests. The females can inflict painful stings, but they seldom will unless they are handled or pestered. The male has a yellow face and the female has a black face.
Now, tell me, how are you going to know which one is going to sting you as they buzz by you so quickly? I say, kill them all!
Naturally, the female seems to do all the work. She will forage for pollen in the blooming plants in the yard. Right now, we have many plants blooming, including red and yellow honeysuckles, knock out roses, several other varieties of roses, azaleas, yellow and white Lady Banks roses, pear blossoms and dogwood trees.
The female carpenter bee gathers the pollen and rolls it into small balls, which she puts in the nests for her babies to live on when they hatch.
The male may be seen hovering around the flower bushes, also hoping to attract a receptive female who still is interested in finding a mate.
The male bees are very curious and will fly around anything that moves. I guess they have a good time on my porches with the many mobiles that hang from the rafters and move in the wind.
Carpenter bees bore holes into wood overhangs, rafters, trees, fence posts and anything else made of wood. Decks and outdoor furniture are choice spots. They also like to crawl and make nests between cracks of siding and roofing.
Carpenter bees prefer bare, unpainted or weathered softwoods, especially cedar, redwood, pine and cypress. Pressure-treated and painted wood is much less susceptible to the bees’ attacks.
However, I personally know the bees will drill those perfect holes in painted wood just as fast as unpainted because we have plenty of evidence.
When they bore in wood, the hole will be perfectly round and about the size of a dime, or half an inch wide. The hole will go straight for an inch or two and then turn 90 degrees.
The trouble begins after carpenter bees mate. The fertilized female excavates tunnels in wood and lays her eggs within a series of small cells. She places a little ball of pollen in each cell to feed the larvae, which will emerge as adults in late summer. The cell is capped and sealed tightly.
Sometimes the egg chamber is more than 2 feet long with 10 or more sub-chambers. I must say, the carpenter bees are smart!
One can find the fresh sawdust on the floor beneath the entry hole. I have to use my electric yard blower to remove all the sawdust from my porch. They also excrete all over the wall and make a mess.
The female carpenter bees may excavate new tunnels for egg laying or enlarge and reuse old ones. This increases the wood damage considerably if the bees use the same tunnels year after year, enlarging them each time. Carpenter bees overwinter as adults in wood within abandoned nest tunnels and emerge in early spring, usually April.
After the aggravating bees have drilled holes all in the rafters and laid the larvae eggs, another pest arrives. I have woken up many mornings to the loud pecking sounds of the big redheaded pileated woodpeckers pecking more holes in the wood where the bees laid the eggs. They sense where the larvae are. We have some splintered rafters where the woodpeckers have torn into the board and eaten the larvae.
I declare some of those woodpeckers are as big as bantam chickens!
I like to see the woodpeckers, but I prefer them to peck on the dead trees in our woods and leave our houses and porches alone. Several times I have shooed them off.
I researched on the Internet how to get rid of the carpenter bees. One website recommends a dust called Drione, which costs $65 per pound and only covers 25-50 holes. It has to be put in each hole and then capped with a cork.
I never would get through doing that and would have to go to the bank to borrow money to get enough of this chemical to cover all the bee holes we have.
One chemical I’m familiar with is Sevin dust, which can be sprayed directly into each hole. The problem is that I would have to climb on a stool to reach these holes and probably would fall and break a limb before I finished. I have several cans of wasp spray that work pretty well when I can hit them with it.
Someone told us to hang cricket cages under the porches so the bees would fly into them and get stuck. One person said to stop each hole with a dab of white toothpaste or wood putty. We then would have polka-dotted rafters. And of course, another solution is to call an exterminator. This probably is the cheapest and wisest thing to do.
We have a large, three-year-old hornet’s nest under the eave of the back room. I was outside batting the bees recently when I noticed they were going and coming from the opening in the hornet’s nest. It was about dusk and I guess they were going to bed for the night so they could rest their chompers.
I grabbed the can of wasp spray that I keep handy and shot it up into the opening until the spray was dripping out. The wasp spray will shoot up to 20 feet. Many of the carpenter bees began to fall out of the nest, and I hope the others died in it.
I often watch Lucky, our cat, jump into the air, and sometimes she catches one of the bees and kills it. Maybe she will just catch the ones with the bright-yellow faces so she won’t get stung.
In the meantime, I guess Gene and I will keep practicing our game of bat the bees. I know I surely get plenty of exercise jumping around and trying to hit them!
If any of you readers have a surefire suggestion for getting rid of these house-devouring creatures, please let all of us know.