The Stories A Log Of Wood Could Tell

When “the days begin to lengthen and the cold begins to strengthen,” one draws up close to a blazing fire and settles down with a book for a cozy winter’s night of relaxation.

Now and then, as you add a fresh log to the fire, pause a moment and examine it. If the outer bark is pulled off, strange hieroglyphics will stand revealed; engraved designs on the inner bark and in the sapwood designs made by small beetles known as engraver beetles or bark beetles. 

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Engraver Beetles “Bark Beetles”

The adults are blackish or brownish beetles, not more than a quarter of an inch long, and in most species considerably less, which channel out the central tunnel.

Along the sides, the female makes little niches in each of which she deposits a tiny egg. 

As The Larvae Hatch

They begin to feed upon the bark and sapwood, making smaller tunnels roughly at right angles to the main tunnel made by the female, and also usually parallel to each other. 

As the larvae grow, they gnaw their way forward, literally “eating up the road” they traverse; hence the tunnels begin small and grow larger towards their ends. 

When the larvae reach the ends of their tunnels — the largest part as it is now — they transform into adult beetles that gnaw their way out, passing at once into the great outer world through a multitude of small holes.

These pepper the bark as though someone had fired a large charge of very small bird-shot into the tree. 

Within a short time after this emergence, each female beetle burrows into a tree of the same species from which she emerged, and here, partly in the bark and partly in the sapwood, she repeats the making of the broad egg tunnel, and the laying of the eggs, as her mother had done before her. 

One beetle may lay as many as 280,000 eggs, and the voracious larvae that emerge may soon girdle and kill the tree.

At this stage, several of our native woodpeckers do good service by drilling into the tree and eating out the larvae in large numbers.

Engraver Beetle Species

There are many species of engraver beetles, and each of them inhabits a particular kind of tree. One prefers fruit trees, such as apple, quince, plum, and peach; many others prefer forest trees. 

Each species makes its characteristic designs or hieroglyphics, tunnels that are diagnostic of the species. The damage to orchard trees, timber trees, and trees, in general, is vast and serious.

Maple Borers

The beautiful maple borer lays her eggs in the bark of sugar maples; the locust borer in the bark of locust trees; the painted hickory borer inhabits hickories; the round-headed apple borer on the bark of apples, hence they are all good botanists.

Because of its hardness and fragrance and the fine glowing coals it produces, Apple tree wood has long been a favorite for fireplace burning.

You may be treasuring up some fine old heavy logs of apple wood. If so, you may see in these the work of one of the most destructive orchard pests, the round-headed apple-tree borer just mentioned. 

With their powerful jaws, the whitish larvae of these beetles make cylindrical tunnels that are characteristically round in cross-section, which frequently result in the tree’s death.

The adults possess very long feelers or antennae and hence are known as longhorns or longicorns. In the early days of Summer, they bask in the tops of the apple trees, where they sip the dew, gnaw the bark of the smaller twigs, and nibble the edges of the leaves. 

Later the female goes about her business of providing for her coming large family — her two dozen or so active children!

First, she gnaws a slit in the bark, deposits an egg therein, and seals it with a glandular secretion. This goes on until some 25 eggs are laid and sealed.

As the larvae hatch, they begin to gnaw and gnaw, increasing the diameter of their cylindrical tunnels as they go and grow. 

In the South, two summers are spent in this larval stage; in the North, three or four summers before they have attained their full larval size.

Then they pupate for the winter — a rest period before their great debut! When spring arrives, and the apple trees blossom, they come out as adults.

Flat-Headed Borers Tunnel

Tunnels of flat-headed borers or metallic wood borers may also be found in your apple tree logs.

These tunnels are also commonly seen in the wood of the sycamore, basswood or linden, beech, hickory, maples, birches, and numerous other deciduous trees, as well as in some conifers. 

The adult beetles are hard and show bronze or metallic reflections. They are often prominently pitted, spotted, and banded with red or yellow — handsome fellows. But the reader may exclaim (and rightly so): “Handsome is as handsome does!” 

The bodies of their larvae are large and much flattened at the head; hence their burrows are also flattened instead of rounded. 

Not only are these burrowing and engraving beetle larvae destructive of the trees in which they live, where they feed and grow to maturity, but their adults render the trees ill service in another quarter! 

The adults flying from tree to tree often disseminate diseases over areas where they did not occur before — that is, they carry upon their bodies and legs the spores of various injurious fungi. 

The elm bark beetle, for example, carries the deadly parasitic Dutch elm fungus to the ruination or, as some think, to the ultimate extinction of our graceful elms over an ever-broadening area in this country.

Within Your Wood Box

You may find quantities of fine, flour-like powder, particularly if your box contains logs of hickory, oak, ash, or other old seasoned hardwoods.

This is the work of the powder-post beetles, small beetles whose very tiny larvae burrow throughout the wood in such enormous numbers that the solid timber is reduced to a tightly compacted powder, and only a thin hard shell remains. 

Hosts of tiny holes show where the adults have emerged. These larvae also ravage the wood of the furniture, rafters, beams, and other structural elements of frame dwellings. They also ruin the wooden parts of farm implements and tools in general. 

Some faked “antiques” are filled with small drill holes to make it appear to the uninitiated buyer that the wood is old and historic!

Some other “antiques” are made up of old wood filled with the holes of the Beatles! Thus, the destruction that the Beatles produce is turned again to the profit of unscrupulous men! 

Grim Reaper

As your fire dies down and quiet reigns in the house, mysterious clicking sounds may often be heard from nowhere. In particular, it would seem — weird, ghostly, and sound like the irregular ticking of a small watch. 

Usually, one hears 7 or 8, or 11 clicks, silence; then the sounds begin again. Formerly these sounds were supposed to be prophetic of death or disaster to the inmates of the dwelling, taps, measured out by the Grim Reaper himself. 

What these taps and clicks mean in a prophetic or prognostic way, we will not say, but at least we do know that they are made by the little death-watch beetle calling for its mate. No dire omen is this, then, but in reality a love song! 

The tiny death-watch beetle passes its hidden life within its little tunnels in furniture, wainscoting, or other woodwork.

The clicking sound is produced by the adult beetle as it rises on its hind legs, taps its head, and jaws violently against the walls of its tunnel. 

It is the old story, told by the beetle in a sort of Morse telegraphic code of dots and dashes: click, click, click — I love you, I love you! 

44659 by Ethel H. Hausman