20121107-082017.jpgTHE SOURCE

Some time ago I was passing a pile of unstacked firewood when I heard a rasping, gnawing sound. I turned my head from side to side in an attempt to pinpoint the source. It appeared the source was the wood itself but this didn’t jive with the world as I know it. Vocalizing wood? But closer inspection revealed that to be the case. And not just one piece of firewood. There were multiple chunks that were sounding off. Strange indeed – strange sounds coming from wood.

Well, as you can imagine this bizarre phenomenon got me curious. Further inspection revealed something else I hadn’t noticed about this stack of firewood: it was permeated with many small mounds of sawdust. Many of these mounds were suspiciously near small holes in the bark of the pieces of wood. Suspecting a connection between the sound, holes, and sawdust, I split several pieces of wood and discovered that the external holes connected via channels to cavities in the wood in which caterpillars (larvae?) reposed – each one complete with gnawing paraphernalia on one end of their disgusting little bodies.

That was several years ago. Well, the gnawing larvae are back and with a vengeance. My current pile of un-split firewood, which has been drying through the summer, is covered with sawdust from these unwelcome wood eaters. Undoubtedly entomologists have long ago deciphered the life cycle of these creatures and published their findings but it’s all new to me. My guess is that growing up in a cavity of wood is an excellent way to avoid predators and possibly a source of nutrition. Talk about a high fiber diet!

We have had a number of our pine trees up and die in recent years and I’m thinking these guys may be the culprits. When these trees die it isn’t after years of struggling against drought. One year they will be luxuriantly green and suddenly their needles turn brown and they’re dead.

It is worth noting that they attacked the firewood with a vengeance while I haven’t noticed similar evidence of them attacking live trees. I surmise the living trees put up a fight in the form of defensive measures like sealing the probe holes with sap – measures which dead wood cannot manage. This raises the question of cutting firewood early in the summer and leaving it around to dry if this process provides a nesting place for these larvae. Am I sowing the seeds of destruction of our beautiful pine forest?

Any entomologists among my legions of readers? Comments welcome.