One of the best parts of living in the Desert Southwest is being able to find not just authentic Mexican food, but also living in and around the actual Mexican culture. Many of us have chosen to decorate our homes, even construct our homes in the local style using materials straight out of Mexico. The lodge poles crossing our living rooms and the saguaro ribs forming the ceilings give an old Mexico feeling to a home. Others choose the furniture, finding imported armoires or Arches. I have seen ornate doorways that have been brought all the way from Mexico City or other parts of Central America all the way here to Arizona. While all of these do lend an air of the old Southwest to our homes, the unintended consequence can also be the introduction of wood destroying pests that are native to not just Mexico but also here in the Desert Southwest right into our homes.
So how do we know when something like this is going on?
I asked Rick Rupkey, Sr., owner of University Termite & Pest Control, what he looks for around a home. “Generally there are two different signs a homeowner will see. One is piles of relatively fine powder being ejected from firewood that has been left in the home. Beetles have laid their eggs in this wood prior to it being taken into the home. This wood will sit outside for some time and the eggs will wait for the right time to mature. This time is often when the temperature and humidity is just right. They bring this firewood inside as a decoration over the summer to sit in their fireplaces and this triggers the growth process. The larvae in the firewood will mature and begin to grow. Sometime later they will exit as beetles. People will see these beetles in the fireplace…long antennae, gray and black, slender bodies about an inch or so long. These beetles are often called long horned beetles or mesquite borers. They are essentially harmless to people, but quite unnerving to find in your home. They are a lot less humorous to discover if you suspect that they are emerging from your recently purchased mesquite furniture brought up from Mexico! You do not need to worry–they are not going to cause any more damage to the rest of your house, but they should be escorted outside as soon as possible.”
“Other times homeowners will see a fine, powdery, light-colored dust forming in small piles, or even filtering down onto the surfaces below in their house. It will have the consistency of finely milled flour. May times a homeowner will not be able to detect where this is coming from. This is because the holes that the dust is coming from are very small and can be originating from the lodge ples in the ceiling, the ceremonial mask on the wall or from various parts of the armoire. This dist is the result of one of several wood destroying beetles that are native to the are and are responsible for causing damage to the wood as part of their life cycle.”
The eggs for these beetles were laid long before the wood was furniture, or even part of the house. Because of the way this furniture is intended to look “rusting” and the construction members to look “rough”, they are minimally processed. This often means that the eggs in the wood can remain there after the wood is harvested and turned into lumber for building, or a piece of furniture for your home. As time goes on, these eggs mature and turn into larvae, which tunnel through the wood (causing damage) and mature into beetles which then exit into your home. These are most likely powder post beetles, and the can be both very simple and very challenging to address.
On one hand, if the beetles are in a piece of furniture or ornamental decoration, the item can be isolated and treated. Through a variety of methods, it can be subjected to cold, heat, or fumigation to isolate and eliminate the beetle infestation. Once this has been accomplished, the item can be returned to the home without worry of re-infestation.
On the other hand, beetles in structural members like lodge poles, can be a much more complicated issue. These beetles and their larvae run the risk of gaining access to the entire structure and its supporting integrity. As such, depending on the situation, it may be required to have the structure fumigated in its entirety. This involves placing tarps with an air-tight seal all around the structure, evacuating the structure of all its inhabitants, plants, etc., and injecting a fumigant for a specific period of time–long enough to ensure that all of the beetles and their eggs have been eliminated. The next step involves removing these tarps, clearing the structure of the fumigant, and then allowing safe access to the structure. As you might imagine, this is a very involved and very expensive endeavor.
The important thing to keep in mind is to contact your University Termite and Pest Control Professional and let them come by and take a look. They will be able to determine just what is going on, and after an inspection and diagnosis, recommend to you the right course of action you should follow.