Bumble bees are one of several types of bees that live in and around Texas homes. Bumble bees, and the similar carpenter bees, are two of several types of bees that live in and around Texas homes. Bumble bees are relatively large (15-25mm-long), robust bees covered with numerous hairs. They often have black bodies covered with black and yellow hairs that create a banded pattern. Approximately 50 species of bumble bees live in North America, most of which are important pollinators of flowers and therefore considered beneficial.
Bumble bees are social insects. Nests are usually constructed underground, and consist of a series of more-or-less spherical, waxen cells–some of which hold the eggs and young. Some of the cells also serve as storage receptacles for honey and pollen. Nesting sites may be depressions in the ground, deserted mouse nests, hollow logs, cavities in rotten stumps, railroad tie retaining walls, or even piles of grass, weeds or rubbish. Bumblebee colonies are smaller than those of honey bees or yellowjacket wasps, and usually consist of only a few hundred individuals. Colony sizes increase throughout the summer. With the advent of cool weather most bees die, with only one or a few queens surviving the winter in sheltered locations.
Bumble bees can become pests when their nests are built near humans. Though not as likely to attack people as other social insects, like yellowjacket wasps, bumble bees can and will sting. In addition, unlike honey bees, bumble bees can sting repeatedly. Stings are most likely when a nest is disturbed. Bumble bees rarely sting if they are merely disturbed during pollen gathering visits to flowers.
Carpenter bees are similar in appearance to bumble bees, but lack hairs on the top surface of the last body segment (abdomen). Carpenter bees are not social insects and do not sting to defend their nests. Their nesting activities, however, can damage wooden decks, patios and other structures due to their habit of boring nest holes in soft wood.
Insecticide sprays should never be applied to flowers for bumble bee control. Such applications are not effective and can harm other beneficial insects. The most effective control for bumblebees is to treat the nest. A small amount of insecticide dust, such as carbaryl (Sevin®) or other appropriately labeled product, should be applied to the mouth of the nest. Treatments are most effective if blown into the nest using a squeeze bottle (or similar) applicator. Aerosol or liquid insecticide sprays labeled for bee and wasp control can also be used, especially when nests have been dug up or exposed. Persons with allergies to bees or wasps should avoid attempting to treat bee nests, as there is always a chance of getting stung during treatment. Another option is to contact a professional pest management company for nest extermination.
For more information
For more information about other stinging insects refer to Extension fact sheets E-239, Paper wasp, Yellowjacket and Solitary Wasps or E-346, Honey Bees In and Around Homes. These publications, and help with additional questions about other pest problems, can be obtained by contacting your county Extension office.
Michael Merchant, Ph.D., Professor and Extension Urban Entomologist, Texas AgriLife Extension Service