For the common nature lover, the death of a tree is a sorrowful moment. For these wood-munching insects – it’s a necessity. Saproxylic insects are invertebrates that depend on dead and decaying wood for their survival. Some of these insects consume the wood while others burrow into it to build their nests or to lay larvae. What may seem like pests to us are actually beneficial insects that aid in a balanced ecosystem.
Similar to other decomposers, saproxylic insects play a vital role in the food chain and provide crucial ecosystem services. The breakdown of dead wood by insects or fungi allows nutrients to make their way up the food chain. Unlike harmful aphids or scale bugs, most saproxylic bugs do not warrant treatment. The truth is, these insects will not kill your tree, they only show up once the tree is already declining. The presence of these bugs can be a great bioindicator of your tree’s health!
Common Saproxylic Bugs
Let’s get familiar with some of the most common saproxylic insects that we may find on our trees. .
Contrary to popular belief, carpenter ants do not eat wood. Instead, carpenter ants tunnel through dead wood to create their nests. They create two kinds of nests. There are parent nests, typically in moist decaying wood outside, and satellite nests, which can be found in drier areas – such as doors to your home! To help keep these critters outside and away from damaging indoor wood, be sure to prune back tree branches that overhang or touch your home. That way they cannot travel from infected trees inside.
Beetles make up the majority of saproxylic insects. In fact, there are over a thousand species of these wood-loving beetles! These beetles are large with frightening mandibles or horns, like the Bess beetle or stag beetle. They are harmless and rarely cause any trouble for man-made wooden structures such as decks or sheds.
Perhaps the biggest nuisance on this list is termites! They can cause the most damage to man-made structures, leaving holes in your home and your wallet. On an average year, termites cause 1 billion to 2 billion dollars in damages to Americans! While most saproxylic species don’t warrant much control, we recommend seeking treatment for these crawlers if you see them around your home.
These lesser-known wood dwellers make their nests in weak wood. Similar to carpenter ants, these pollinators will burrow tunnels to make their nests. You can spot their activity by noting the sawdust outside the entrance of their nests which are guarded by a hovering male bee! Carpenter bees do not live in colonies like carpenter ants, so their effects are less destructive.
What You Can Do About Saproxylic Insects
If you notice a few of these bugs on your trees, there is no need to be alarmed. Remember, these insects have an important role in the ecosystem – seeing a few of them is a good thing! On the other hand, if you are noticing high populations, it is likely an indicator that your tree has significant decay or deadwood present. Unfortunately, if you are seeing that many saproxylic insects, your tree is likely beyond repair.
At RTEC we never want to take down healthy happy trees, but we would recommend the removal of a tree with significant decay. The longer a tree decays, the more hazardous it can become. This increases the risk of a tree toppling over unexpectedly and can make removal a complex task. Don’t let your dead tree decay further, call us to safely remove it! Other ways to reduce the presence of saproxylic insects on your property include removing stumps and pruning out the dead wood from trees.
Remember, saproxylic insects are not the source of a problem – they are the indicator of a problem! If you want to avoid inviting these hungry bugs into your tree, the best step is to maintain your tree’s health!
Meet with one of our certified arborists.