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How to identify wood eating insects

Updated April 17, 2017

If you notice damage to wooden areas of your home, identifying the cause of the damage is essential to determining the best course of treatment. Many people assume they have termites after discovering damage, but several other pests, such as carpenter ants and beetles, also eat or destroy wood. Don't panic if you discover signs of damage; harm from wood-eating pests usually occurs slowly, so you can take the time to accurately identify the problem.

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  1. Identify whether the pests leave pellets or dust behind. If there is no debris or dust, often called frass, you probably have carpenter ants. Carpenter ants typically leave clean tunnels that appear smooth and sanded.

  2. Examine any frass or debris left behind. Finely powdered frass is likely caused by powderpost beetles, which typically infest hardwoods. Grittier frass is caused by other types of beetles, such as deathwatch and false powderpost beetles. Larger, pellet-like debris indicates a termite infestation.

  3. Look for tiny holes in the wood. These holes, caused by beetles boring out of the wood, indicate a beetle infestation.

  4. Poke the tip of a ballpoint pen into beetle holes. If only the tip fits, you have powderpost beetles. If you can fit the tip and part of the angled face into the hole, you have deathwatch beetles. If you can fit the entire point of the pen into the beetle hole, you have false powderpost beetles.

  5. Tip

    Contact a licensed pest control company if you cannot identify the insect or if you cannot treat the infestation.


    Always follow label instructions when using insecticides or pesticides.

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Things You'll Need

  • Ballpoint pen

About the Author

Rebekah Richards is a professional writer with work published in the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution," "Brandeis University Law Journal" and online at tolerance.org. She graduated magna cum laude from Brandeis University with bachelor's degrees in creative writing, English/American literature and international studies. Richards earned a master's degree at Carnegie Mellon University.

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