What Do Carpenter Bees Drill Holes With? How These Bees Build Nests

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In our previous post, we talked about how you can keep carpenter bees from drilling holes into the wooden surfaces in your house. For this one, we’re going to take a look at how they do it in the first place. So what do carpenter bees drill holes with? Let’s find out.

what do carpenter bees drill holes with

Carpenter bees have special mandibles that can penetrate wood. CC Image courtesy of arian.suresh on Flickr

Carpenter bees chew wood using their mandibles

Carpenter bee mandible

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As you’ve probably seen in monster movies and nature films, mandibles are part of an insect’s mouth. It’s a pair of frontal appanages that look sharp and jagged. Since insects don’t have hands and an opposable thumb, they rely on their pointy mandibles to grasp things and pick them up. And they can use them for more convenient things like crushing prey, cutting up plants and food, digging through dirt and building nests.

The carpenter bee’s mandibles can definitely build nests. It’s so powerful; it can even tunnel its way through one of the toughest plants in the world, bamboo.

A female carpenter bee that’s looking to build a nest positions her body on a wooden surface and uses her mandibles to drill into it. She rasps her mouthpart against the wood and vibrates, tearing through the wood’s fibers and following a circular pattern. She’ll do this with one small piece at a time. And after a few days, a small hole will from, one that’s only big enough for the bee to squeeze into, about 1/2 inch in diameter.

They know how to clean and reuse extra wood shavings

Say what you will about carpenter bees, but these buzzing insects know how to build a clean and well-furbished nest.

When excavating wood, carpenter bees know how to keep their nest tidy. They discard wood shavings from their tunnels, pushing them back into the entry hole and out of the nest completely.

However, they also use plenty of the same wood bits to divide the cells that their brood are going to say in. The female carpenter bees cleverly use the extra wood shavings to partition the chambers they built in order to keep the larvae from having undesired contact with one another.

what do carpenter bees drill holes with - cross section wood with nest

This is what a carpenter bee nest looks like on the inside. CC Image Cemx86 on Wikipedia

It takes weeks to build a nest

According to Carpenter Bee Control, the drilling process can take some time. Specifically, it takes 5 to 6 days for a carpenter bee to penetrate just 1 inch of the wood. However, that 1 inch is just the entrance hall. Once the female bee successfully drills into the wood that deep, she usually changes direction. She switches into a right angle and digs from there. The result is a set a of tunnels that are connected by one entryway. And in a span of a several weeks, the nest can grow up to a few feet long with a bunch of chambers filled with stored food, eggs and larvae.

So that’s everything that covers the question, “ What do carpenter bees drill holes with? ” In the end, carpenter bees are hardy creatures that really know their way around woodworking. And if it wasn’t for their pollinating contributions to the world, we would have lumped these bugs with termites and proceeded to eradicate them.

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