When it comes to pests that have the capability of damaging your home’s structure, termites are the first thing that comes to mind. That reputation is well deserved, as termites can cause thousands in damage by consuming wood. If you suspect that pests are causing damage to your home, however, don’t be so quick to blame the termite. There are plenty of other wood damaging pests that could be responsible.
* Carpenter Ants
Description: Carpenter ants are larger than the typical ant; they can be up to one inch in length. The most likely species to infiltrate a home is the black carpenter ant (which is, obviously, black), but some species have a reddish-black tint.
Damage: These ants typically damage softwoods (i.e. wood from seed-producing plants like conifers). Unlike termites, carpenter ants do not eat the wood. They hollow it out in order to build nests. You can differentiate from termite damage because the damaged areas will be smooth. Carpenter ants can also leave behind frass, a material that looks like sawdust.
Prevention and Elimination: Try to keep woodpiles and such away from your home, and clean your home carefully to remove food residue. Carpenter ants can make their way in through any small opening, so seal up any gaps or cracks you find in the walls, windows, foundation, etc. If ants are already in your home, you can leave out cornmeal. Ants will eat the cornmeal, but they can’t actually digest it so they will die. If you have a larger problem, using pesticides or hiring pest control services may be necessary.
Description: Wood mice, house mice, and brown rats are all commonly found in homes. Wood mice and house mice look very similar; wood mice can have slightly larger ears and lighter bellies. Brown rats can be about twice as large as either species of mice.
Damage: Mice and rats may be the most problematic pest. Rodents can burrow through and chew wood, meaning that they can make entry holes into your home. Once they are inside your house, they can also damage insulation, plumbing, or wiring, which can cause electrical fires.
Prevention and Elimination: As with most of these pests, any small openings in the structure of your home are an open invitation for rodents. You should always be careful to keep food stored away, especially in the winter when rodents are looking for a warm place to stay. As for removal, you can try traps and poisons, but for a more natural approach, I suggest using an ultrasonic device and drive out the critters with high-frequency sounds. Applying peppermint oil liberally in a space where you suspect rats or mice has also been known to help with removal.
* Powderpost Beetles
Description: There are two species of this pest: lyctid powderpost beetles and anobiid powderpost beetles. The heads of the lyctid species are visible from above; the heads of the anobiid species are not. Both insects are small and either red-brown or black.
Damage: The larvae of these species feed on starch and, therefore, will bore into wood and destroy it. Lyctid powderpost beetles like hardwoods, so your furniture, flooring, and cabinets may be at risk. Anobiid powderpost beetles are more likely to attack softwoods. Each will leave small, round holes (only a 1/16th of an inch in diameter) and a fine powder.
Prevention and Elimination: Your home, furniture, and other property can be protected from these beetles be staining or painting wood surfaces. Even if you already have had powderpost beetles in your home, it’s a good idea to paint or varnish so the pests will not lay eggs on those surfaces. Boric acid is most likely to exterminate these insects.
* Carpenter Bees
Description: There are around 500 species of the carpenter bee, with Xylocopa virginica being the most widely distributed. Carpenter bees are large and resemble bumblebees, although they are distinguishable by their shiny (rather than hairy) abdomens.
Damage: Carpenter bees will form nests by creating tunnels in doors, siding, or exterior trim. You will be able to see large, round holes at the entrance of the tunnel. This type of damage may be minimal now, but if the damaged areas are not fixed, you may have water damage or an infestation of rot fungi.
Prevention and Repair: Wood finishes will likely prevent carpenter bees from entering. The heavier the finish (like paint), the better. Damage from carpenter bees can be repaired using exterior caulk and a tapered plug. Be sure to treat the area with an insecticide first.
Lucy Markham is a graduate of the University of Florida in English and creative writing. As a recent homeowner, she considers herself a bit of an expert on home improvement and décor as she devoted countless hours to improving her new home. For more on Pest Control, including How to Identify Termites, please see our category – Pest Control. ~jb, Editor.
All images via Lucy Markham.
- Rats: englishinbsas / 123RF Stock Photo
- Carpenter ants: Photo by Makro Freak
- Powderpost beetle: Sittichaya W et al. (2009) An illustrated key to powder post beetles
- Carpenter bee: Photo by Martin Smith