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Insecta Order Coleoptera
Beetles are the largest and most diverse group on insects on Earth. Over 300,000 species have been described worldwide, with over 20,000 occurring in Australia. Their enormous success can be linked to their remarkable body design. Beetles have modified their fore wings into a hard shell, folding over their delicate hind wings and abdomen. This feature makes beetles incredibly tough and allows them to burrow through dirt and wood without damaging their gauzy flying wings.
With their strong chewing mandibles, beetles can eat a wide variety of food and some species are serious pests of agricultural crops, stored food products and timber. Two species that are of great concern to us are wood boring beetles that attack timber and wooden furniture in our homes.
The Powderpost beetle (Lyctus brunneus), and the Furniture beetle (Anobium punctatum) are both small (4-7 mm in length), dark brown beetles with cylindrical bodies to help them burrow through wood. However, it is quite easy to tell them apart by looking at their heads. The Furniture beetle keeps his head tucked up underneath the thorax – in fact, it looks as though he is wearing a little hoodie!
The females of these species are usually active in the warmer months and often target sawmills where freshly harvested logs and timber provide an ideal place for egg laying. The beetles use a long slender tube or ovipositor at the end of their abdomen to deposit up to 80 eggs in the timber. The Powderpost beetle lays her eggs in tiny pores within the timber, whilst the Furniture beetle cements her eggs onto cracks, rough surfaces and cut edges.
The beetles have a complete lifecycle, with an egg, larva, pupa and adult stage. From the eggs emerge small white grubs which will remain hidden within the wood, boring small holes through the timber as they feed. It may take several months or even years for them to grow, at which time they will move towards the surface and form a tiny cocoon. After a few weeks the adults emerge from their pupa, burrow out of the timber and fly off in search of a mate.
Both species of beetles are distributed world-wide, preferring warm, humid environments. They can be found in dead logs and stumps in natural environments, as well as domestic dwellings. Within our homes they will target:
- Wooden crates
- Antique furniture
- Wall panelling
- Structural timber
- Ceiling battens
The beetles are usually nocturnal and shelter in cracks and crevices within timber during the day. They are attracted to light and can be seen flying around lights on warm evenings.
Both beetles consume wood when they are larvae, targeting the thin, nitrogen-rich layer of sapwood located just underneath the bark. But the way in which these beetles lay their eggs in timber determines the type of trees they can utilise. Powderpost beetles are unable to lay their eggs in pine trees as the pores in the timber are too small to accommodate their eggs. Instead they feed on the sapwood of various hardwood timbers such as oak, ash, mahogany and teak.
Furniture beetles usually target pine timbers and avoid hardwoods. They will also consume the inner layer of heartwood in birch and beech trees.
The feeding behaviour of the larval stages of these beetles can cause numerous problems such as:
- Cause aesthetic problems with holes in the timber surface from emerging beetles and piles of frass accumulating around emergence holes
- The larvae bore holes through the wood giving it a honeycombed appearance and cause structural weakness
- Due to the secretive behavior of the larvae, we usually only notice infestations once severe damage has been done
- Severe infestations can cause flooring collapses, especially when heavy objects are placed on the surface.
- Evidence of these pests can reduce the resale value of your house
- Furniture beetle larvae carry tiny parasitic mites on their bodies which can bite humans – often referred to as woodworm bite.
The following measures can be taken to reduce the likelihood of infestations:
- The beetle eggs are unable to hatch in dry conditions, so try and limit moisture by fixing any leaking taps, improving drainage around your yard and using dehumidifiers to reduce dampness in your home
- Be vigilant! Look out for emergence holes and powdery frass on or near timber
- Only use “immunised” timber for building & furnishing, which has been impregnated with preservatives to discourage wood boring beetles
- Be wary when purchasing antique or second-hand furniture and recycled timbers
- Replace any infested timber and furniture
- Remember, most infestations begin while the timber is at the lumberyard, so choose suppliers and manufacturers with sound treatment practices
- Coating the timber’s surface with varnish, shellac, paraffin wax or paint will make it less attractive to egg-laying females. However, this will not help if the timber is already infested.
1300 Pest Control treatments are environmentally friendly, child and animal safe and can be specifically tailored to suit your needs. Fast acting fumigants are used to treat infested timber, killing adults and larvae and preventing females from laying their eggs in the future.
Is my infestation Powderpost or Furniture beetles?
Here’s a tip. Look for the frass which will often drop from the emergence holes of the adult beetles. Rub some between your fingers. If it is fine and powdery like flour, you have a Powderpost beetle infestation. If it feels gritty between your fingers, a Furniture beetle is causing the damage. Now go and wash your hands!
Interesting Facts about Beetles.
Did you know?
- Before laying her eggs, the female Powderpost beetle will chew a small area of the wood, assessing the starch and moisture content. Only once she is satisfied with the quality of the timber will she deposit her eggs.
- The female Furniture beetle supplies her eggs with a small patch of living yeast cells. The hatching larvae will consume the yeast, which will then reside in their gut, helping them to break down the tough cellulose in their wood-based diet.
Written by Michelle Gleeson, Bugs Ed.
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