Bumble Bee vs. Carpenter Bee

Large, colorful pollinators -

Summary: Both bees are large and colorful. Bumble bees nest in small colonies often in the ground while carpenter bees are solitary and build their nests in wood, sometimes causing minor damage. Carpenter bees are also called wood-boring bees.

Jack DeAngelis, PhD
OSU Ext. Entomologist (ret.)

What are bumble bees?

Bumble bees (right) are large (3/4"+), hairy, often colorful bees. They can be easily confused with carpenter bees but the best way to tell these bees apart is to look at the top of the abdomen. Bumble bees have a colorful, hairy abdomen while in carpenter bees the top surface of the abdomen is bare and shiny (see What Do Carpenter Bees Look Like?).

Bumble bees live in small, social colonies, often in the ground, where work is divided among colony members. Like other Hymenoptera (wasps, bees and ants), bumble bees are able to sting intruders in defense of their nest. Bumble bees feed on pollen and plant nectar much like honey bees do and as such are good pollinators. See this excellent British Museum of Natural History site for photos, maps and distribution lists for bumble bees.

other spelling: bumblebee

bumble bee

bumble bee on goldenrod; photo by David Cappaert, www.forestryimages.org

Bumble bees are normally very docile and don't sting unless the nest is disturbed. On occasion, however, gardeners will encounter an agitated colony. At these times simply leaving the area is usually enough to avoid stings. It is almost never necessary to remove or destroy a bumble bee colony.

Since bumble bees compete with honey bees for plant nectar and pollen, when honey bee numbers decline, such as during an outbreak of bee parasites, bumble bee numbers often increase. Bumble bees are beneficial and should be encouraged by gardeners where ever they occur.

Bumble bees do not nest in wood like carpenter bees and therefore don't draw the ire of homeowners the way that wood-boring carpenter bees can.

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