Difference between a Bumblebee and a Carpenter Bee

January 19, 2017 by Editorial Team

Bees may be small, but that does not mean they are unimportant. They play a significant role in our lives although we may not always see them in action. Bumblebees and carpenter bees are two of the most common types of bees that we see around us. But many of us do not know how to distinguish one from the other. In this article, the difference between the two will be discussed.

Descriptions

A bumblebee perched on a flower

Bumblebees are fuzzy-looking bees with stout bodies coated in “pile,” a term for their soft tiny hairs. They are generally large bees and can grow up to 2 inches. There are about 250 species of bumblebees, all belonging to the genus Bombus. Most of them have contrasting colors that repel predators, like black and yellow, black and red, or black and orange. They do not have ears but are able to communicate through vibrations.

Bumblebees collect nectar by using their long tongues. The food they collect is not stored for winter but is used primarily to feed their queen and its young. They build their homes close to gardens and in the wild. Typically, they are found in areas where there is a mild climate. They have a unique ability to regulate their own body temperature.

Bumblebees can ignore human presence but may sting if harmed. However, only the queen and female workers have the ability to sting humans. They are able to sting repeatedly because their stings do not have barbs.

Bumblebees are social insects. They gather in colonies with 50-100 workers headed by one queen. By the end of the summer, the colony dies. The queen builds a new nest underground until it is ready to start a new colony in the spring. The queen can live for a year, but her workers only last for a few months.

Carpenter bees
A carpenter bee perched on a flower

Carpenter bees are bees that belong to the genus Xylocopa. They have yellow, black, or red markings and smooth abdomens. They have short tongues that they use to feed on open-faced flowers. They are called “carpenter bees” because of their ability to burrow tunnels using their sharp teeth. These perfectly round tunnels are usually 1/2 inch in diameter and are usually in soft untreated wood, rotting wood, and damaged wood.

Carpenter bees are generally territorial and solitary. Females build their nest alone and they do not usually gather in groups, although the young stay with their mothers until maturity. When the season transitions from spring to summer, their search for food and mating partners begin. After mating, egg-carrying females burrow tunnels in wood, lay eggs, and supply the young with pollen. The young bees come out as adults in the late summer.

Carpenter bees may look menacing, but they usually only sting when they detect harm. Males are safe, as only females have the ability to sting.

Comparison

Both bee species are great pollinators, but they are different in terms of appearance, nest type, and behavior.

Bumblebees and carpenter bees are almost the same size and color. However, bumblebees have hair (called “pile”) all over their bodies, while carpenter bees have bare and shiny abdomens. Bumblebees have long tongues so they are able to collect nectar from funnel-shaped flowers. Carpenter bees have short tongues that are perfect for open-faced flowers.

When it comes to behavior, bumblebees are social insects. They love the company of each other and live in colonies of 50-100 bees. Carpenter bees, on the other hand, are solitary bees. They do not live in colonies, but a mother and its young may cohabit until the young ones are ready to leave when they are mature. Additionally, bumblebees build their nests underground, whereas carpenter bees burrow tunnels or holes in wood where they take care of their young.

Comparison Chart

BumblebeesCarpenter Bees
Stout and hairy bodiesHairy bodies with a bald, shiny abdomen area
Have long tongues that can lap up liquid from funnel-shaped flowersHave short tongues that are best for open-faced flowers
Social bees; live in coloniesSolitary bees; do not live in colonies (but the mother and its young may cohabit)
Build nests undergroundBurrow tunnels or holes in untreated, rotting, or damaged wood for their nests