Dale Fort Blog Number 29

11 03 2014


They are not worms but beetles.  There are many kinds of wood-boring beetles and in common with humans usually it’s the larval stages that cause most trouble.  Often found in houses are the furniture beetle, the death-watch beetle and the powder-post beetle.

larval wood worm

It’s not the adult beetles that eat your roof-frames or furniture, their function is only to reproduce.  After copulation the females lay eggs in cracks, crevices or old woodworm holes in seasoned wood (they don’t feed on living wood).  3 weeks or so later, they hatch and the larvae tunnel into the wood feeding on the starchy parts.  They do this for 3 or 4 years.

When ready to cast aside childish things (like food and tunnels), the larvae move towards the surface of the wood and pupate.  About 2 months are spent turning into the adult form, whence they exit the wood via the small holes most of us are familiar with.  This is often the first time they betray their presence.

adult woodworm beetle  If the sawdust that comes out is a very fine powder the culprit is the powder-post beetle.  Coarser sawdust implies the furniture or death-watch beetles.  Sap-wood (with it’s higher starch and water content) is much preferred to heart-wood.  Some building regulations restrict the use of sap-wood in construction in an attempt to minimise the risk of collapse because of boring beetle infestation.

Death-watch beetles can sometimes be detected by the noise they make which traditionally was seen as a portent of death.  Adult beetles in tunnels bash their heads against the tunnel sides and make a knocking sound (described by Michael Chinnery (in his splendid book Collins Guide to the Insects of Britain and Northern Europe) as sounding like a scaled-down pneumatic drill).  This is thought to be a mate attracting device.  Readers may be familiar with a similar technique used by humans.  Young males in vehicles equipped with huge loud-speakers produce regular thudding sounds, akin to a series of small nuclear explosions that can be heard for miles around.  They believe this will attract mates although evidence that these will be of the opposite sex has yet to be produced.

Edgar Allan Poe featured the animals in his story The Tell-Tale Heart where a man is terrified to death by noises he can’t explain but knows are a harbinger of death.  If only he’d read this blog……

Boring beetles can be killed with pesticides but the chemicals have to soak well-in or they will fail to penetrate the larval tunnels.  If the item with woodworm is small enough you can kill them off by putting it in a freezer set to its coldest.  A dodgy antique dealer once conned an old lady out of a valuable bureau that had a slight case of woodworm.  He placed it in his freezer and disappeared for a few months to cheat some more people while the beetle larvae died.  On his return he opened the freezer to find a pile of firewood.  There had been a power-cut and the freezer had defrosted.  The desk inside soaked up the water and became soggy.  The power came back on.  The water froze again, expanded within the fabric of the bureau and shattered it into small pieces.  It’s nice to think that these woodworms did not die in vain and let us hope fervently that he got splinters in his hands as he cleared up the bits.

 Do not miss Blog 30.  Even I don’t know what it will be about, this blog lives that close to the edge 




One response

24 06 2015
Cory Wood Contractor

Great blog, really. I read, write and talk about woodworms and proper wood treatment but I’ve rarely found any of the content (even my own) remotely as engaging.
Apart from giving you a thumbs up and making a note of my chuckles reading your posts, I’d also like to add a few details for anyone who might be struggling with a woodworm infestations and could use some tips!
One, wood boring beetles are most active during a specific season, which is from May to October. So be on the lookout at those times. Another thing is research shows they seem to be attracted to light and especially to dry rot.
By the way, nice detail you added about Edgar Allen Poe, I enjoyed that 🙂

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