-- 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 insect pests overall. See the reference identification table below for a list of the major, and some minor, wood-damaging pests.
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. There are also a few that can do significant cosmetic damage but rarely impact the wood's intrinsic strength.
The potential for insect damage in any particular geographical region also varies by insect pest. 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.
Download this Wood Damaging Insects*** table that lists the key characteristics of the major and minor insect pests of both softwoods and hardwoods. The table can help to identify your wood 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.
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.
Professional perimeter sprays, baits and wall void treatments generally are not available in home and garden stores but can be found at DoMyOwn, our affiliate.
This DK Smithsonian Handbook is an excellent general guide to insect identification (available through Amazon, our Affiliate):
For additional resources see our Insect Identification article.
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