Quick facts

Common name: deathwatch beetle

Scientific name: Xestobium rufovillosum

Family: Anobiidae

Habitat: woodland, gardens, buildings

Diet: dead wood

Predators: birds, bats

Origin: native

What do deathwatch beetles look like?

Adults: are brown, hairy and cylindrical. The deathwatch is a small beetle, measuring around 5-9mm in length. 

Larvae: are small, pinkish-white grubs, measuring up to 11mm in length. 

Credit: Manor Photography / Alamy Stock Photo

What do deathwatch beetles eat?

Deathwatch beetles are considered a common pest due to their penchant for chewing up wood. They have been known to tunnel and bore through the wood in buildings, causing damage to floors, beams and furniture. The noise of their tapping was once associated with quiet, sleepless nights and their name derives from the vigil they kept beside the dying or dead.

Did you know?

Hearing the rhythmic tapping of the deathwatch beetle was believed to be an omen of death.

How do deathwatch beetles breed?

The male deathwatch beetle attracts its mate by bumping its head or jaws against wood, making a tapping noise. The noise, which attracts the females, is similar to a clock ticking and is often heard from the rafters of old houses.

Females lay their eggs in holes and crevices in wood which hatched larvae then feed on. The larval stage may last for between one and 13 years, during which time the larvae tunnel and bore through the wood. It’s only the larvae that live within the wood, and they emerge as adults leaving a 3-4mm hole in the wood behind them.

Credit: John Mann / WTML

Where do deathwatch beetles live?

Deathwatch beetles favour dead wood habitats in buildings and old trees. They are widespread across the UK.

Did you know?

This beetle has featured strongly in literature over the years, including the works of John Keats, Mark Twain and Edgar Allan Poe.

Signs and spotting tips

The best time to see the deathwatch beetle is between March and June, when it is active. They can be seen on the wing, but are not great flyers so look out for them walking on or around dead wood instead. Listen out for the signature tapping noise that adult males make.

Credit: Avalon Photoshot License / Alamy Stock Photo

Threats and conservation

Deathwatch beetles are common throughout the UK and not considered to be under threat.