Insects that damage the wood around your home don’t all eat the wood. Termites do, so do wood-boring beetles. But carpenter bees, and carpenter ants? Nope – wood isn’t food for them. They don’t actually eat it.
So how is it that these pests that I often run across pose a threat to the integrity of your home?
The answer’s pretty easy in the case of termites, don’t you think? Most of us know that these insects eat wood. They’re made that way. And if you don’t do something about these guys as soon as you discover them in your home they’ll eat away until the walls come tumbling down.
Some termites like to start at the top of a building. Up there just under the roof they start munching away at the beams, and they eat their way downward. Others start in the basement or crawlspace, and devour the framework upward from there. Either way their path is destructive.
Some set up housekeeping right inside the wood frame itself, and just start eating away.
Some build their home in the ground, under the foundation. To get to the wood they create mud tunnels from the ground up to the building frame. Those tunnels are easy enough to see when you do an inspection of the area under your main floor. And the tunnels are a pretty sure indication that you have termites.
But you have to make sure with a closer look at the insect itself because a termite looks very much like an ant. The two major differences are that ants have pinched waistlines, and elbowed antennae. Termites have oval bodies, and straight antennae.
Wood-boring beetles eat the wood too. They get into your furniture more than the frame of your home. You find out you have these guys when you notice a bunch of tiny holes all over your furniture legs.
Or when you sit down on one of those pieces of furniture, and it collapses on you.
You might not know what’s making those holes, or why that chair leg crumbled out from under you. But you know something’s wrong there.
The carpenter ant is a different story though. That bug don’t eat the wood. It just chews a tunnel through, spits out the wooddust (looks like sawdust), and pushes it out of the way to make a living space for growing a colony.
Carpenter ants prefer to build their home inside trees. Over time the tree dies from all that tunnel chewing, and it falls over. When those ants run out of space inside the tree because they have too many babies, or the tree topples, they go looking for a new space to live. They don’t mind making that new place inside the framework of your home if it’s the closest wood available.
Carpenter bees are much the same as the ants. They don’t eat the wood, but they do chew tunnels in it. Their tunnels are bigger – the entry hole is perfectly round, and about the size of a quarter, or nickel.
These bees tunnel upward from the bottom of a board for about a quarter-of-an-inch. (They need a rough surface to hang onto while they start their hole.) Then they start sideways. They tunnel along the length of the board for a couple feet or so, and then they start building compartments back along the length of their tunnel. They lay an egg in each compartment. That’s how they grow their families.
Carpenter bees don’t push all the wooddust out of the way. This bee uses some of that to build walls to close off each compartment as it backs out of the tunnel.
Of course by this time the damage is done. With that tunnel running through the center of the board it’s no way near as strong as it was before that bee got to munching on it.
Most of the time you don’t even know these wood destroyers are in your home either. That’s the scary part about it. Termites, wood-boring beetles, carpenter bees, and carpenter ants just chew away at your home, quietly out of sight, until sometimes your first indication of a big problem is the roof caving in on you.