The Death Watch Beetle is a part of the wood boring insect family. Its larva comes under the category of woodworm along with all other species of wood boring beetle. It is one of the most common wood boring beetles in the UK.
It is a little more imaginatively named than a lot of creatures, but don’t worry, it has nothing to do with causing death. It actually refers to the vigil, or death watch, which used to occur in houses. It would be such a quiet atmosphere that you could hear the tapping noise which Death Watch Beetles make when they are trying to attract mates. If you suspect that you have an infestation of Death Watch Beetles then, if you remain very quiet, preferably at night, you might be able to hear it. The beetles are seasonal creatures however, and are only around during summer months.
That does not mean that damage is not being done throughout the year though, as the larva, or woodworm, lives for several years in a piece of wood. They usually attack wood which suffers from wet or dry rot as it softens the wood for them. In nature, they commonly live in dead or dying wood. The further north you go, the less likely you are to find them, and there are almost none in Scotland. They prefer the heartwood of hardwoods such as ash, chestnut and oak.
The eggs are laid by the female, in clusters of 3 or 4, in cracks on the wood’s surface. The eggs are oval in shape, and just over half a millimetre big, so are just about visible to the naked eye. The eggs develop for 2 to 5 weeks before hatching.
The hook-shaped larva comes out of the egg and immediately starts burrowing through the wood. It grows to 1cm in length and usually lasts for 5 or 6 years. At the end of the larval stage, it tunnels to the wood’s surface, where it enters the pupal stage. This lasts for several weeks, before the adult beetle comes out, and chews its way out, forming a small hole of about 3mm. The adult will be just under 1cm long. Yellow-looking scales have a scattered appearance over its reddish-brown shell. It rarely flies, so infestations are slow to spread.
If you do suspect that you have an infestation of Death Watch Beetles, you should get in touch with a professional woodworm controller as soon as possible. They tunnel throughout the piece of wood, so the damage could be a lot worse than it appears on the surface. Also, there may be an infestation in timbers which are out of sight. A professional will be able to use a borescope to find even hidden infestations. Fumigation is often the only way to get rid of Death Watch Beetles so this should really only be handled by a professional for the sake of safety.