Love Bugs and Carpenter Bees

Frances Bellard  |  5/3/2012 7:11:01 PM

Love bugs can be damaging to the paint on your vehicle.

Carpenter bees are not aggressive and seldom sting unless trapped in clothing, hair, or the hands.

There is little to love about love bugs. Love bugs start their life cycle in decaying vegetation with each female love bug laying between 100 to 350 eggs. Once the larvae (immature stage) hatch, they feed on decaying plant material. The larvae are beneficial in helping break down decaying organic matter into a form that can be used by plants. Once they are adults they feed on nectar of different plants, especially sweet clover. Adult females only live for 2-3 days.

Large swarms of love bugs are a danger to motorists, creating a terrible film on windshields and damaging the paint on their vehicles. They are attracted to the high level of carbon monoxide fumes along roadways. This is why we have such a problem with them hitting our vehicles. Love bugs only travel during the day when the temperature is above 68°F. They reach peak activity around 10:00 am and stop flying at dusk. The easiest way to remove love bugs from vehicles is to clean it off as soon as you arrive home, while they are still fresh. If they have dried, wet them with soapy water, let it sit a few minutes and then wipe them off. Another simple trick is to use a fabric softener sheet to scrub off the love bug residue. This works best if you wet the vehicle first and then use the fabric softener sheet to remove the bugs. This will help reduce any damage to the paint on the vehicle.

The living drill, as carpenter bees have been appropriately named by many homeowners, have the ability to bore into and structurally damage timbers and other painted or unpainted wooden materials. These holes they drill are used for nesting sites and to raise their young. They will drill into the eaves of houses and barns, the handles of yard tools, lawn furniture, wooden gym sets, fences and even dead branches or stems of large reeds and plants. Infestation is first detected by the piles of fresh sawdust from the newly chewed tunnels. The holes are neatly chewed and ½ inch in diameter; each hole is identical. They form the tunnels to first go across the grain of the wood then turn at right angles to go with the grain and extend for 4 to 6 inches. Bees will sometimes use the same tunnels and will occasionally extend the tunnels. Some are up to 10 feet long!

The extensive and multiple tunneling in wood can cause structural damage. Once they create the tunnel, the bees fill the cells with pollen and regurgitated nectar and form it into a ball about 2/3 the diameter of the tunnel. Females lay their eggs on the pollen and then close off the cell with chewed wood pulp. They repeat this process until five or six cells are completed. Each cell is about 1 inch long. The pollen that the egg is laid on is the food that the larva uses to complete its development in about 36 days.

Adult carpenter bees are often confused with bumble bees, but there are several ways to tell them apart. The carpenter bee has a fuzzy yellow thorax and a shiny black abdomen. Bumblebees have a band of yellow hairs on both the thorax and abdomen. Bumblebees live in colonies, whereas carpenter bees are solitary with only a single pair per tunnel. Bumblebees tend to be very aggressive when disturbed and will sting repeatedly. Carpenter bees are not aggressive and seldom sting unless trapped in clothing, hair, or the hands. The males, which have white faces, tend to guard the tunnels and their tendency to hover in your face and buzz around your head gives the impression of attack. This is a defensive mechanism the male uses to keep people from going near the nesting site. The male has no stinger, so these actions are merely for show. The female, however, does have a very painful sting.

Carpenter bees overwinter in the tunnels. The ones that survive emerge in the spring to feed on nectar. Mating then begins and continues until nesting or drilling begins. Seven different species of carpenter bee can be found in the United States. The eastern carpenter bee is the most destructive of them. Despite being an aggravation and a nuisance, carpenter bees are effective pollinators of many flowers and crops.

Initially it was thought that painting exposed wood was effective in preventing the drilling, although it is not preferred, painted wood will still be infested. Infestations can be treated by applying appropriate insecticide with the addition of liquid soap into the gallery. This will stop the adults and control the emerging young when they develop. Do not seal the holes immediately after spraying, this will allow the adult bees to come into contact with the insecticide. A preventive treatment can be made using a borate formulation (Timbor or Bora-Care) on existing structures and by using borate pressure-treated wood when building new structures. This develops borate crystals in the wood and damages the bee’s mandibles (what they chew with) when they bore into the wood, causing them to look elsewhere.

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