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Death watch beetle (Xestobium rufovillosum) identification guide

The death watch beetle (Xestobium rufovillosum) is a wood boring beetle within the family Anobiidae. This species is well known for being a pest species - the larvae feed on deadwood in their natural habitat and when introduced to a home they feed on wooden items.

Identification

There are three species in the genus Xestobium in central Europe with the death watch beetle being the one representative species in England. The beetle ranges from 5-9 mm in length. They have cylindrical bodies and head which is characteristic of a wood boring species. The top part of the thorax (the beetle's mid-section) usually covers the head when viewed from above the beetle.

Possible confusion

The common furniture beetle (Anobium punctatum) can be confused for the death watch beetle. The common furniture beetle is smaller and has longitudinal rows of pits on its elytra (the beetle's wingcases), which the death watch beetle lacks. Adult death watch beetles also produce a characteristic tapping and ticking sound inside the wood they infest.

Distribution and habitat

The death watch beetle is common and widespread in the south of England. Outdoors it can be found in the deadwood of trees. Indoors, it can be a pest of furniture and structural timber.

Life cycle

During spring the adults can be commonly found in wood and deadwood. Females lay their eggs into small holes in wood or in trees. The larvae then develop inside the wood, tunneling in the wood as they feed until they begin to pupate in a pupation chamber. After pupation the adult beetle tunnels out of the wood, where they leave characteristic exit holes which can be useful in determining their presence.

The length of time to complete a life cycle in this species varies, some individuals have been reported to take over 4-5 years, whereas others have completed their life cycle in one year.

Signs of an infestation

Holes in wood are the most likely piece of evidence to suggest an infestation: the holes and tunnels are circular and around 3mm in diameter. The larvae produce distinctive small bun-like pellets of faeces (frass) which you might spot around the holes.

Prevention and Control

Avoid the introduction of decayed or damaged wood into the home. For smaller infested items, freezing can be productive.

Three view of an adult death watch beetle: from the top, side and bottom

The adult death watch beetle. The beetle is dark brown with golden hairs giving it a mottled pattern. The adult beetle has a body length of 5-9 mm. © Malcolm Storey (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) via BioImages. Composite of three images.