Do carpenter bees sting? The simple answer is yes.
Speaking from experience, it can be quite painful! However, this painful defense is only given to the female carpenter bees -- often described as ‘wood bees’ by some.
Since the male’s main duty is to protect the nest while the female builds it, you are more likely to interact with male carpenter bees. Ironically, as the protector, the male bee is not equipped with a stinger. Instead, he uses his substantial frame to body slam and intimidate other creatures he deems as a threat.
His defensive behavior is something you may have viewed from time to time. For instance, have you ever been sitting or walking past a carpenter bee nest and suddenly got hit in the head by one of these guys? That is the male telling you to get out of his territory. Since he does not have a stinger, this is most you would expect from him, so you should not you be afraid of him.
The female on the other hand spends most of her time constructing the nest and laying eggs. Therefore, they are much more docile than the males. They will only sting if they are provoked, such as putting your finger inside their nest.
In addition to the behavioral traits discussed above, there are a few physical traits which can help you distinguish if a carpenter bee is a male or female. A male will typically have a white spot on its head between the mandibles. A female’s head will not have this spot and is all black. The male’s eyes should be a bit larger than the female’s, but that trait might be harder to spot.
Male Carpenter Bee - Notice the white spot between the mandibles.
Female Carpenter Bee - Notice head is all black.
To avoid a bee sting from a female while dealing with their nest, the best precaution to take is wearing protective gear such as thick gloves. When treating the nest with a pesticide or bee butter, try to use an applicator instead of your finger. In addition, you can use our wooden corks to easily plug the nest of the burrowing wood bee.
Overall, if you are cautious around the nest, you should be successful in avoiding the female’s painful sting.