Entomology Filter: What are these these seed-like pods? Bug eggs?
January 25, 2009 4:46 PM   Subscribe

Entomology Filter: Ant-hill structures in my bedroom. Do I have ants or some other kind of bug? Strange that I haven't seen ONE bug in the three months I've lived here. (pics inside)

I recently moved into a new apartment in Venice, California (four blocks from the beach). When I moved in, there were two piles of what looked like sawdust or bird-seed on my bedroom floor. The piles were about the size of ant hills and were against the wall. I thought maybe sawdust had come from my ceiling and landed in these piles (woodpecker, or some kind of bug).

Even if they were ant hills, there were no bugs around or ants. I was not really alarmed by this and just vacuumed them up.

Two months later, I now see two more piles against the wall in basically the same area on my carpeted floor. Now I'm alarmed.

Pile 1
Macro shot of Pile 1
Pile 2

The piles are dry, the pellets/eggs/whatever are not a uniform color. I've taken pictures. Any entomologists out there recognize these things? One is a macro shot, these pellets are absolutely miniscule - smaller than bird-seed.
posted by plasticbugs to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer:
drywood termite fecal pellets
posted by aquafortis at 4:58 PM on January 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

That looks like some kind of tiny bug poos to me. I would guess that maybe the previous tenant had a piece of furniture that was infested with something and when they carried it out, the piles were left behind.
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:59 PM on January 25, 2009

absolutely can confirm that is drywood termite frass.
posted by Edubya at 5:01 PM on January 25, 2009

Response by poster: drywood termite fecal pellets

Oh no! Bug poop? Okay, next steps to eliminate these pests? I guess I need to call our groundskeeper.

Also, that was really fast! My macro shot looks exactly like the picture that aquafortis posted a link to.
posted by plasticbugs at 5:05 PM on January 25, 2009

...oh, missed the fact that you've still got them. If you tell the landlord, you may want plan ahead to get the hell out of Dodge because fumigation is a nightmare.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:06 PM on January 25, 2009

Glad we could help! Here's a really comprehensive list of treatment options from UC Irvine:

Drywood Termite Management Guidelines

I was looking for some DIY-type stuff you could do yourself, but unfortunately, all their recommendations seem pretty hardcore and expensive. Good luck!
posted by aquafortis at 5:28 PM on January 25, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the additional links! How do these pellet piles form? Do termites as a group actually defecate in one small area or do they defecate and then move their droppings after into neat little piles? It just seems like an odd behavior.
posted by plasticbugs at 5:46 PM on January 25, 2009

Best answer: It's common for colonial insects to deliberately carry waste and refuse out of the hive and to deposit it in a single place as an organized effort. Most of the bugs doing it are following a scent trail left by early ones who decided to do it.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:58 PM on January 25, 2009

Best answer: The thing you want to look for next to the piles are "kickout holes", small holes the size of BB shot through which termites push fecal pellets out of the wood. (Post a pic if you find one, this is cool...)
posted by aquafortis at 6:04 PM on January 25, 2009

See here - it looks to me that these termites have a network of tunnels in the wood and do indeed push the pellets out of specific exit portals to keep their tunnels clear.
posted by nanojath at 6:05 PM on January 25, 2009

Response by poster: Found the kickout holes! They're in the wood trim under my windowsill. There are two specific holes about two feet apart and that's why the piles formed in the exact same places. I'm at my girlfriend's house, so I can't post pics of them, but I will tomorrow so you can see them.

Also, I'm going to tell my landlord tomorrow about the situation and see how he wants to handle it. I'm guessing they'll want to spray instead of bug-bombing the whole townhouse.

Thanks for all the great info, everyone! I love Metafilter.
posted by plasticbugs at 7:50 PM on January 25, 2009

Late to the party, but yes, termites. See what your landlord wants to do, but know that fumigation isn't the only way to handle it. I use to live in a townhouse in Marina Del Rey, and our condo had a contract with a company that uses the dehydrating stuff for spot treatments. They come over and cut a small hole in the ceiling/wall, and squirt this weird goo inside. IIRC the termites carry it back to the nest, eat it, it dehydrates them and they all die. Fumigation is pretty expensive and inconvenient, so depending how long ago it was last done, your landlord may not want to do that. Search the floor near where you saw the poop piles to look for others (inc inside closets) and neighboring rooms. Keep an eye out for this in future, coastal areas are very termitey! You also often see activity just after it has rained, for some reason.
posted by Joh at 8:35 PM on January 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is a bad infestation. This is an active, live colony of not-inconsiderable size.

I'm guessing they'll want to spray instead of bug-bombing the whole townhouse.

If you have a bad landlord, they'll just spray and pray the problem isn't quite so noticeable to you.

If you have a good landlord, the remediation process will be quite a bit more extensive. The structure will need to be professionally inspected to determine the scope of the damage and what repairs, if any, the physical structure will require. That would be on top of efforts to actually kill the bugs themselves.

If you don't get a carpenter crawling around in the attic with a flashlight, the landlord ain't doing it right.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:39 PM on January 25, 2009

CPB is right that termites (and carpenter ants) can challenge the structural integrity of the building itself, if they do enough damage to the wood.

But the landlord is more likely to be concerned about the building than about you, because if the termites do too much damage, they can reduce the value of the structure, to his detriment. In the extreme case, the structure could be condemned.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:26 PM on January 25, 2009

Oh-oh. I had this in my house in South Africa. Fortunately, I was renting.

Anyone besides me remembering the old cartoons, where termites would disintegrate the chair you're sitting in, before you could get up?
posted by Goofyy at 9:03 AM on January 26, 2009

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