Understanding Wood Pests

Don't let wood pests devour your fuel supply ... or your floorboards!

| November/December 1980

  • 066 wood pests - wood stacked indoors
    Wood stacked indoors gives wood pests an even more direct route to your home's timbers.
    KATHY HURLEY
  • 066 wood pests - wood stacked on porch
    Fuel stored against the house or kindling toasting in the kitchen, though convenient to your wood stove or fireplace, may well be harboring a horde of wood pests.
    PHOTO: KATHY HURLEY
  • 066 wood pests - termites
    Termites damage wood by eating it.
    USDA
  • 066 wood pests - powder post beetle
    Timber with talcum-covered appearance is the first visible sign that the powder post beetle is feasting on your firewood.
    KATHY HURLEY
  • 066 wood pests - carpenter ant trails
    The intricate tunnelings in this split-open log demonstrate the origin of the name "carpenter ant," and a sure sign that intruders have been working in your wood. The insect can weaken a building to the point where it will collapse.
    KATHY HURLEY
  • 066 wood pests - the carpenter ant cuts wood
    The carpenter ant cuts wood. 
    USDA

  • 066 wood pests - wood stacked indoors
  • 066 wood pests - wood stacked on porch
  • 066 wood pests - termites
  • 066 wood pests - powder post beetle
  • 066 wood pests - carpenter ant trails
  • 066 wood pests - the carpenter ant cuts wood

Once you'd decided to put a rein on your ever-increasing utility bill by heating with wood, chances are that — while the cool autumn breezes were chasing away the sweltering dog days of summer — you spent many a chilly Saturday morning felling, bucking, hauling, and splitting your winter's BTU supply. But now, before you allow yourself to settle back and relax in front of that new woodburner, take a moment to evaluate just where you've stored your hard-earned fuel.

Like most folks (we all want to minimize the number of steps required to get from the woodpile to the stove), my family began its "renewable fuel" career by stacking the logs next to the house, in the garage, in the basement, and — of course — right in the kitchen. In fact, we used all four easily accessible areas as storage sites for several years until we discovered one spring that the small kindling we had so efficiently moved into the basement in early fall was alive with wood-boring insects. Further inspection revealed that the logs stacked neatly against the garage wall, the cords lining the back of the house, and the timbers toasting in the kitchen were all harboring wood pests!

Doin' What Comes Naturally

After our sad discovery — and the subsequent (costly) process of exterminating our uninvited house guests — we learned that the insect infestation (which we had assumed was a freak occurrence) was actually a predictable, natural phenomenon!

During the warm summer months, you see, the pesky critters forage for edibles in dead or dying timber. Therefore, a recently felled tree serves as an ideal nesting site ... and last season's uncovered woodpile is an open invitation for the six legged squatters to settle down. Then in the fall — about the time jack-o'-lanterns leer at passers-by — the insects slow their activity and eventually enter a dormant stage for the winter.



However, if the natural hibernation period is disrupted, you may well find the voracious vermin feasting on your firewood. When fuel is stored indoors or — by being stacked against the house — absorbs radiant heat from nearby siding, the warmer temperatures trigger a resumption of the bugs' foraging festivities. And — more likely than not — the insects' closest lunch will "just happen to be your dwelling's floor joists!

The Ants Come Munching ...

Of the various species of wood-boring arthropods, the carpenter ant poses perhaps the greatest threat to household timbers. The damage caused by this half-inch long black insect is often confused with that done by the termite ... particularly in a colder regions of the country where the latter critter is less common.






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