Unfortunately, termites are not the only wood-eating bugs that infest homes.
There are wood-boring beetles too. And one of the most notorious wood-boring beetles is the powderpost beetle.
The worst part is that these wood-eating bugs show pretty similar signs of infestation.
It can be disastrous for you if you don’t know the differences in their signs, behavior, and ways they infest.
You’ll choose the wrong treatment, which won’t do you any good.
This guide on powderpost beetles vs. termites will give you a head-to-head comparison between these two wood-damaging bugs.
You’ll find out the differences between their ways of infestation, signs of damage, treatment, and much more.
The best part?
There’re no complex terms in this guide that will confuse you.
Powderpost Beetles and Termites – A Brief Overview
Let’s begin with a brief overview of these wood-eating bugs. Knowing a little about them will help you in determining their types and habits.
You’re no stranger to termites. But do you know that four types of termites can infest homes?
These are –
- Subterranean termites
- Drywood termites
- Formosan Termites
- Dampwood Termites
Of these four, only the dampwood termites are the least damaging termites.
The dampwood termites infest only damp and rotting wood, which they find more outdoors than indoors.
The rest of the three can cause serious havoc to your home.
Subterranean termites are the most common termites that infest homes. Most of the time, it invades home from underground.
It targets floors, furniture, baseboards and can reach up to the structural beams and joists if you don’t get rid of them.
Subterranean termites can also infest walls high in dampness or heavily damaged.
Drywood termites attack homes differently.
Their reproductives, known as alates, are winged termites who quit their old colonies searching for a new target.
They’ll fly into a new home, mate, lose their wings, and bore themselves into the home’s structural lumber.
Drywood termites are more damaging than subterranean termites.
It’s because they’re more prone to infest the structural lumber of your home, ceilings, and roofs than your average piece of furniture.
Formosan termites are bigger, fiercer, and more damaging cousins of subterranean termites.
Their scope of infestation is more than subterranean termites. And they reproduce at lightning speed.
Formosan termites can be the worst type of termite your home can ever get.
They will quickly cause severe damage because they’ve got a voracious appetite.
An average Formosan termite eats twice more than a subterranean termite.
So, they can cause more severe damage than subterranean termites.
Powderpost beetles are wood-eating insects that turn wood into a flour-like powder known as sawdust.
But there’s a catch.
The adult powderpost beetles are harmless, and they’re not responsible for causing any damage.
They’ll lay eggs into the wood’s crevices. The larvae that hatch out of these eggs cause damage.
The larvae of powderpost beetles will keep feeding inside the wood.
It’ll bore tunnels in a zig-zag fashion and keep eating the wood from the inside till it matures as an adult.
When the larvae become adults, they dig holes in the wood to fly out.
There are three types of powderpost beetles whose larvae damage wooden structures –
- Lyctid powderpost beetles
- Bostrichid powderpost beetles
- Anobiid powderpost beetles
Going into each of these beetles will be like doing a master’s in entomology.
But, as a homeowner, here are the things that you must know about them –
- Anobiid powderpost beetles do more damage than lyctid and Bostrichid powderpost beetles.
- The larvae of these beetles damage wood, not the adults.
- These beetles can resemble pantry pests like drugstore beetles. But they’re not.
After a brief introduction to powderpost beetles and termites, let’s deep dive into the differences.
Powderpost Beetles Vs. Termites – The Differences
This section is essential for you. It’ll make you spot the differences between them better than a pro.
And when we talk about spotting the differences, we don’t mean figuring out the differences in their looks.
We all know they look different from each other. There’s no similarity in looks, even by a mile.
By spotting the differences, we mean –
- Spotting the differences in their ways of infesting.
- Spotting the differences in the signs of their infestation
- And most importantly, the differences in the types of wood they infest.
Sounds good? Ok, let’s move on.
Differences In Their Ways Of Infestation
Both termites and powderpost beetles make their moves inside the wood differently.
Termites can attack the wood by flying in, whether it’s a drywood termite or underground.
Termites will make holes in the wood to get inside the wood.
And they’ll remain inside the wood to eat the wood from inside, and they’ll also breed, lay eggs, rear their larvae, and increase their numbers.
A massive termite infestation in your home because their numbers increase till you get rid of them.
In contrast, powderpost beetles don’t get inside the wood except for one.
The bostrichid powderpost beetle gets inside the wood to lay its eggs. And it gets out of the wood after laying the eggs.
The other two powderpost beetles lay eggs on the cracks and gaps on the wood.
They’ll target raw or unfinished wood with gaps and cracks. These beetles will lay their eggs in the crevices.
When the eggs hatch, the larvae will drill into the wood and start chewing the wood from the inside.
On reaching adulthood, the powder post beetle will create exit holes in the wood from the inside, flying out.
There can be more than one powderpost beetle larvae inside the wood, depending on how many adult powderpost beetles laid eggs in the wood.
If there were multiple larvae inside, there would be more than one emergence hole on the wood.
But there’s no colony of powderpost beetle inside the wood.
However, it’s different when you compare it with termites.
Termites can have an entire thriving colony inside a wooden structure.
The colony will consist of termites of all castes belonging to all life stages.
Differences Between The Signs Of Infestation
When it comes to the differences between the signs of infestation that powderpost beetles and termites leave behind, they’re pretty stark.
Signs of termite infestation are more visible and easier to spot.
There’s barely any sign of powderpost beetle larvae chewing the wood from the inside except the faint chewing sounds.
You can only realize that there were powderpost beetles larvae inside the wooden structure when they make exit holes on the wood from the inside and fly out.
At that time, you’ll notice fine sawdust lying underneath the holes.
This sawdust is purely wood sawdust. It doesn’t contain any droppings or feces of the powederpost beetles.
If you notice multiple exit holes on the wood, there can be various powderpost beetle larvae inside the wooden structure.
But in the case of termites, it’s different.
There are many signs of termite infestation.
One of them is the mud tubes that subterranean termites build on the wood’s surface.
These muddy veins on the wood are tunnels the subterranean termites build by mixing their feces and saliva.
The purpose of these mud tubes is to act as a passageway for termites to commute inside the wooden structure.
In contrast, drywood termites will discard their feces by creating holes in the wood.
The feces, also known as termite frass, looks like a dust-gathering with small black pepper-like pellets or tiny coffee grounds.
That’s why fecal pellets of drywood termites are also known as termite dust.
The termite dust doesn’t look like sawdust that powderpost beetles leave behind.
The termite dust looks blackish and dirty, whereas the sawdust that powderpost beetles leave behind looks absolutely like wooden sawdust.
But remember, if you’re noticing only sawdust, there can be carpenter ants’ larvae inside the wood.
Carpenter ants also get inside the wood to lay their eggs.
And when the larvae mature into a reproductive ant with wings, it’ll drill exit holes on the wood to fly out.
But there’s a catch.
Carpenter ants will only target damp woods.
So, they are more prone to bore into pieces of wooden furniture in places like the bathroom, kitchen, and basement where there’s high dampness.
Differences In The Types Of Wood Powderpost Beetles And Termites Prefer
What makes powderpost beetles damaging is that they can infest hardwood.
Lyctid and bostrichid powderpost beetles prefer to lay their eggs in hardwoods. And their larvae eat the hardwood structures and furniture from the inside.
So, furniture made of expensive hardwoods like oak, hickory, ash, mahogany, maple, walnut, and poplar is vulnerable to powderpost beetle infestation.
Hardwood floors, door frames, wood paneling, furniture, and window frames are made of hardwood.
So, these wooden pieces are vulnerable to lyctid and bostrichid powderpost beetle attacks.
But the Anobiid powderpost beetle is even worse. It can infest both hardwood and softwood.
Wood with high moisture content attracts Anobiid powderpost beetles and termites.
That’s why wooden structures in damp places like the basement, garage, sheds, and bathroom are susceptible to Anobiid powderpost beetles and termites.
Subterranean and Formosan termites prefer softwood. But the, drywood termites can infest hardwood.
That makes drywood termites dangerous to the structural lumber of your homes, like joists and beams.
Through the joist and beams, drywood termites can infest ceilings and compromise the structural integrity.
However, there are some woods that termites don’t eat. Using these woods can deter termites from infesting homes.
Powderpost Beetles Vs. Termites – The Similarities
When it comes to similarities between termites and powderpost beetles, there aren’t many.
But there are three similarities between them –
- Both are wood-eating bugs and wood-boring insects.
- Glowing light bulbs attract drywood termites and powderpost beetles.
- Swarming drywood termites and powderpost beetles can fly.
Drywood termites enter your home in swarms. They swarm when they’re looking for a place to make a new colony. In other words, to infest.
How Powderpost Beetles Enter Your Home
Three possibilities can lead to the presence of powderpost beetles in your home –
- Glowing light bulbs attract adult powderpost beetles causing them to fly inside your home through open doors and windows. They find unfinished wood pieces with cracks and holes where they lay eggs.
- Powderpost beetle larvae are already present in the new pieces of wood that you introduce to your home.
- Powderpost beetle larvae are already present in the new home that you just bought or moved in.
The second way is more dangerous.
It’s impossible to tell if a new piece of furniture has powderpost beetle larvae in it unless you can find holes in them.
How Powderpost Beetles Select Wood To Lay Their Eggs
Powderpost beetles use two criteria to select woods to infest –
- Timbers with high starch and moisture content.
- Unfinished woods.
Female powderpost beetles look for woods with at least 3% starch and 10% moisture content to lay eggs.
Starch and moisture are critical for the larvae’s growth inside the wood.
That’s why powderpost beetles prefer new pieces of hardwood furniture. These woods have enough starch and moisture to sustain the larvae.
Many manufacturers and makers of furniture handle wood callously without proper storage and drying facilities. It leads to powderpost beetle infestation, for which you’re not responsible.
Female powderpost beetles avoid finished wood because there are no cracks or holes on the dead wood’s surface.
So, varnished, stained, polished, waxed, and painted woods are immune to powderpost beetle infestation.
But if larvae are underneath the surface of finished wood, they can emerge out of it through the holes they create when they turn into adults.
As the wood ages, the starch and moisture content in the wood decreases.
Less starch content and moisture in aged wood make the wood less vulnerable to powderpost beetle infestation.
Why Powderpost Beetles Avoid Softwood?
Powderpost beetles avoid softwood because softwood has low starch and moisture content than hardwood.
Powderpost beetles are not like termites. Termites’ primary food source is cellulose present in softwood.
But there’s an exception – Anobiid powderpost beetles.
Anobiid powderpost beetles tend to infest softwood too. They can easily survive on cellulose, just like termites.
Anobiid powderpost beetles don’t need much starch and moisture. That’s why they are likely to infest even old pieces of wood.
How Long Powderpost Beetle Larva Take To Turn Into An Adult?
The growth of larvae inside the wood depends on the amount of starch and moisture in the wood.
If the wood piece is new, with an optimal level of starch (3%) and moisture (10%), then the larva will reach the adult stage in less than a year.
But with old pieces of wood that are low in starch and moisture, the larva may take up to 5 years to come out from the wood as an adult.
That’s why they say powderpost beetle rise from nowhere.
How To Check For Powderpost Beetle Infestation?
The first step you must take before treating for powderpost beetle infestation is to check out if the infestation is still active.
Here are the signs of active powderpost beetle infestation –
- If the powder out of the holes has a color of freshly sawed wood, it’s a sign of active infestation.
- Active infestation makes the holes look fresh, with wood dust on the edges of the holes.
The key lies in determining if there are more powderpost beetle larvae inside the wood.
And you can do it by a straightforward method. Seal the round exit holes on the wood with a sealant.
If you observe any new holes in the wood after a few days, there are more powderpost beetle larvae inside the wood.
It’s a sign of active infestation.
You’ll need to call a pest controller to remove the active larvae inside the wood.
How to tell if it’s a termite infestation or powderpost beetle infestation?
Here comes the trickiest part. How to distinguish between a powderpost beetle infestation and a termite infestation?
It can get confusing because both drywood termites and powderpost beetles discard dust out of the holes.
To spot the difference, you need to pay attention to the sawdust.
Powderpost beetles discard sawdust that looks like a fine talcum powder in beige color.
But termites don’t discard sawdust.
Termites discard their feces from the holes.
Their feces have a mix of both brown and black particles. It’s not fine powder-like sawdust. Instead, it’s grainy.
But the good part about powderpost beetle infestation is that the infestation signs don’t mean that your property needs immediate treatment.
Seeing sawdust doesn’t mean that the powderpost beetle larvae are still inside the wood.
Maybe, they have moved out.
Or, if the wood is old enough, the powderpost beetle larvae have died because of lack of nutrients.
Powderpost beetle larvae also need moisture and starch to survive like the termites.
If the powderpost beetle doesn’t get either, it can die inside the wood.
To deter powder post beetles from infesting your home, reduce the basement, laundry room, crawl spaces, and bathroom moisture levels.
You can do it with proper ventilation or by using a dehumidifier in these places.
Powderpost Beetles Vs. Termites – Differences And Similarities In The Treatment Process
You know a lot about the differences and similarities between termites and powderpost beetles.
The final thing you must know is the differences and similarities in their control processes.
Let’s talk about similarities between the anti-termite and anti-powderpost beetle treatment processes. It’s the heat and fumigation processes.
But the difference is the time these processes take to get rid of each of them in your home.
And the amount of pesticide needed to kill them.
The termites ‘ fumigation process will take three to four days for an average two-bedroom home with 2600 sq feet living area.
Whereas for powderpost beetles, it’ll take six days on average.
Also, the amount of poison needed during the fumigation process to kill powderpost beetles is ten times more than you need to kill termites.
The problem arises when you confuse powderpost beetle infestation with a termite infestation.
That’s why it’s always a good idea to call a pest controller for an inspection to accurately determine the type of wood-boring insect infesting your home.
The best DIY method of killing powderpost beetles is to use a good quality Borate Powder.
You need to mix the borate powder with water and spray it on the wood’s surface, especially in the cracks and holes.
When the powderpost beetle’s larva ingests the borate mix, it destroys its digestive system and kills it.
Powderpost Beetles Vs. Termites – Which One Is More Dangerous?
Without a doubt, termites are more destructive than powderpost beetles.
Termites infest in large numbers. The sheer quantity makes them more destructive than the powder post beetles within the same time frame.
Termites also cause more damages ($5 billion per year) than powderpost beetles.
Termites don’t get out of the wood till they’ve eaten away the entire wood from inside.
But the powderpost beetle larvae get out when they turn into adults.
There’s one type of powderpost beetle that can cause as much damage, and sometimes even more damage than termites cause, to your property.
And that’s Anobiid powderpost beetle.
Anobiid powderpost beetles are nasty destroyers. They re-infest the same wood after turning into an adult.
The worst part about Anobiid beetles is, just like termites, that they can survive on cellulose. They also take more time (2-3 years) to become adults from the larval stage.
If Anobiid beetles are inside your home, it’ll take you at least a couple of years to see the signs of infestation.
These traits of Anobiid powderpost beetles make them a lethal infester of your home’s beams, joists, and structural components.
Whereas the other two types of beetles – Lyctid and Bostrichid beetles don’t cause damage to the structural components of your property.
This guide revealed the differences between the powderpost beetles and termites in the simplest way you can read.
It includes their differences in their ways of infestation, destruction, and wood preferences.
To know if a powderpost beetle is infesting your home or a termite, the critical thing to look at is the wood dust.
Termites will discard their fecal pellets from the infested wood. Powderpost beetles will discard fine sawdust.
The best way to eliminate these pests is by calling a pest controller.
DIY ways on these hardy pests don’t work, and in many cases, they can have an opposite effect.
Nang Chen is an Entomologist and Arachnologist who is associated with Vienna’s museum of natural history. He’s also a consultant with real estate groups, insecticide conglomerates and law enforcement groups as a forensic entomologist. Nang Chen holds an M.S. from South China University and he’s a regular contributor to our site.