Death watch beetle

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Deathwatch beetle
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Coleoptera
Family: Ptinidae
Genus: Xestobium
X. rufovillosum
Binomial name
Xestobium rufovillosum
(De Geer, 1774)

The deathwatch beetle (Xestobium rufovillosum) is a species of woodboring beetle. It lives in pieces of wood and can sometimes be found in the wooden parts of old buildings. The adult beetle is brown and about 7 mm (0.3 in) long. Eggs are laid in dark crevices in old wood inside buildings, trees, and inside tunnels left behind by previous larvae.[1] The larvae bore into the timber. Larvae feed for up to ten years before pupating, and later emerging from the wood as adult beetles. Timber that has been damp and is affected by fungal decay is soft enough for the larvae to chew through. They use enzymes present in their gut to digest the cellulose and hemicellulose in the wood.

The larvae of deathwatch beetles weaken the structural timbers of a building by tunneling through them. Treatment with insecticides to kill the larvae is largely ineffective, and killing the adult beetles when they emerge in spring and early summer may be a better option. However, infestation by these beetles is often limited to historic buildings, because modern buildings tend to use softwoods for joists and rafters instead of aged oak timbers, which the beetles prefer.

To attract mates, the adult insects create a tapping or ticking sound that can sometimes be heard in the rafters of old buildings on summer nights; therefore, the deathwatch beetle is associated with quiet, sleepless nights and is named for the vigil (watch) being kept beside the dying or dead. By extension, a superstition has grown up that these sounds are an omen of impending death.

References[change | change source]

  1. Fisher, Ronald (1937). "Studies of the biology of the death-watch beetle, Xestobium rufovillosum De G. I. A summary of past work and a brief account of the developmental stages". Annals of Applied Biology. 24: 600–613. doi:10.1111/j.1744-7348.1937.tb05856.x.