The term ‘woodworm‘ is sometimes used generically to describe woodboring insects, and this can lead to myths building up about what to expect if you do have an infestation and how it can be treated.
Myth 1: Woodworm are the causes of all timber infestations
Although people use the term ‘woodworm’ there isn’t actually a species with this name. The majority of infestations in UK properties are actually caused by Common Furniture Beetle (Anobium Punctatum). This is the one which tend to cause all the little holes in floorboards, roof timbers, sometimes furniture etc.
The other main culprits which cause damage to timbers within a building include: Woodboring Weevil (Euphryum Confine and Pentarthrum Huttoni), Deathwatch Beetle (Xestobium Rufovillosum) and, if you live in the Surrey area, particularly around Camberley, House Longhorn beetle (Hylotrupes Bajulus).
There are other wood-boring insects which are identified in buildings, including Lyctus Powder Post beetle and Bark Borer (Ernobius Mollis) but these are less typical. With regards to Bark Borer, this only affects the bark and just the timber beneath the bark. Generally found on the corners of rafters and does not require any remedial treatment.
Myth 2: Woodboring insects can be heard in timber
There is a common misconception that you can hear insects ‘eating timber’, but in fact, only one type of woodboring insect makes a noise at all. This is the Deathwatch Beetle, which can sometimes be heard making a tapping sound during the warmer, summer months. The purpose of the tapping, or ticking sound, where there is an infestation, is believed to be to attract mates.
Myth 3: Holes in timber are made by beetles eating wood
The holes aren’t actually made by the beetles but are formed following pupation of the larvae and subsequent emergence from the timber. If the holes are recent then you are likely to find a powdery substance called ‘frass’ which is the excrement of the larvae.
If you believe that you have an active infestation then it is best to arrange a survey with a CSRT (Certified Surveyor in Remedial Treatments) qualified Surveyor, who can identify the type of beetle and suggest how the affected areas can be treated, which differs dependent on the type of insect which has caused the damage.
Myth 4: New homes can’t have timber infestations
Although timber is now pre-treated before being used in buildings in the UK, any reclaimed timber that is used has the potential to become infested, or may already be infested when it is installed. As stated above, Powder Post Beetle attacks timbers in the storeroom / stockroom and therefore can result in new (un-treated) timbers being brought into buildings, which could be infested. This tends to be a rara occurrence
Myth 5: If you leave an infestation untreated it will eventually go away
Unfortunately, once you have an infestation it is unlikely to go away without some form of remedial action, as the beetles will continue to breed which simply perpetuates the life cycle. One way in which the life cycle can be stopped is by treating the affected timber appropriately, which will differ, depending on the type of beetle found. It could also be a matter of reducing, or removing, the source of moisture/damp.