Understanding Wood Pests

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

| November/December 1980

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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