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Several insect species contribute to the decomposition of dead wood and other forms of decaying plant matter in the natural environment. These insects are of particular importance in forested areas where soil fertility can only be maintained by insect-assisted wood-decomposition. The wood-inhabiting insects that are most important for maintaining forest ecosystems include termites, wood-boring beetles, and some moth, ant, and bee species, though several non-insect organisms like fungi are also essential. Unfortunately, several termite and beetle species are pests in urban and suburban areas where they infest finished woodwork including interior structural wood and exterior decorative wood of homes and buildings. The most destructive wood-boring beetle pests in the US, old house borers and true powderpost beetles, can both be found throughout the northeast. However, these beetle pests do not inflict nearly as much damage to structures as the eastern subterranean termite (Reticulitermes flavipes), which is the only termite pest species inhabiting Massachusetts.

Termite pests cause more than five billion dollars in structural damages annually in the US, and residential homes sustain the lion’s share of this damage. Each year in the US, termites infest more than 600,000 residential homes, and more than two million US homes require professional termite treatments annually. The annual economic cost of repairing termite-related property damage is far greater than the annual cost of repairing damages caused by all natural disasters combined. This is largely due to the fact that the vast majority of insurance companies do not cover property damage caused by termites or any other “wood-destroying organism.” Insurance companies justify this position by categorizing termite damage as a “maintenance issue,” as opposed to an “accident.” Unlike property damage that results from accidents like a sudden storm, maintenance issues are preventable, and therefore, a homeowner’s sole responsibility. This is why Massachusetts homeowners should have a licensed pest control professional inspect their property for wood-destroying organisms once per year, as the US Department of Agriculture recommends for the state.

 

Have you ever encountered insect pest-related damage on your property?