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Wood Destroying Insects

- Insects cause damage in a variety of ways -

Summary: The wood-destroying insects can damage wood and other building materials in many different ways. Termites, carpenter ants and several "powderpost" beetles are the most important wood-destroying pests overall. See the reference identification table below for a list of the major, and some minor, wood-damaging pests.

Jack DeAngelis, PhD
OSU Ext. Entomologist (ret.)

Insects that damage wood

Fortunately, only a few insects actually damage sound, dry wood. Of these, termites, both subterranean termites and drywood termites, carpenter ants and certain powderpost beetles are the primary insects that can destroy wood. Dry-rot fungi are the primary wood decay organisms where high moisture permits the fungus to grow. The potential for damage from any of these pests varies by region and climate with more damage in warm, wet climates and generally less in cool, dry climates.

Damage potential in a particular region varies by insect pest group as well. Termites, for example, tend to be of more concern in warm climates whereas carpenter ants tend to be more important in cooler climates. Damage in structural softwoods, such as posts and beams, from wood-boring powderpost beetles occurs mostly in damp/coastal climates. Powderpost beetles can damage hardwoods, like flooring and furniture, in any climate.

There are also a few wood-destroying insects  that can do significant cosmetic damage but rarely impact the wood's strength.

Characteristics of wood-damaging insects

This Wood Damaging Insects*** (pdf file) lists the key characteristics of the major and minor insect pests of both softwoods and hardwoods. Use this file to identify your wood damage then use the links below for control options and for managing the damage.

***The file is downloadable as a pdf so you'll need Acrobat Reader or equivalent to open it. This version is modified from a similar table published in 1979 by Harry B. Moore in a bulletin titled Wood-Inhabiting Insects in Houses, USDA, FS and HUD.

Control of wood-damaging pests

Most wood damage from insects and fungal rot can be prevented with relatively low toxicity insecticides and/or pest-targeted baits. Use the following links for supplies and how-to instructions.

  • Carpenter ants (see this page for id and control details) are large black ants that nest in structures causing damage. Baits combined with foundation "perimeter" sprays are generally the best approach to protect structures. Carpenter ant baits and perimeter sprays are available here (DoMyOwnPestControl).

  • Dry-rot fungi (see this page for id and control info) attack and weaken wood. Wood preservatives such as Bora Care and Timbor can be used to protect structural wood.

  • Powderpost beetle (see this page for id and control info) larvae bore in and damage hardwoods and softwoods. Borate insecticides like Bora Care and Timbor will prevent new infestations.

  • Carpenter bees (see this page for id and control details) are large wood-boring bees that resemble bumble bees. A variety of treatment options are available here (DoMyOwnPestControl).

  • Termites (see this page for id and control info) - while most people opt to hire a pest control company to treat for termites, there are now very effective DIY baits available (see this page for termite bait info).

ant control products

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Jack DeAngelis, PhD,  , email:  [email protected]

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