We own a log cottage and have noticed a pile of what looks like sawdust on our counter. It’s piled up to a peak as if it has fallen from above. Could this be from ants chewing on the logs, or something else? How can we get rid of them?
—Chewing It Over
Sawdust could definitely mean ants, specifically, carpenter ants, the largest of the ants that you’ll commonly get at the cottage. They don’t eat the wood, but they do burrow into it to create their nests. Carpenter ants like damp and decaying wood, because it’s easier to excavate, so they’ll often go after spots where there are moisture problems: leaky window and door frames, cedar shingle roofs, or counters around sinks and dishwashers.
The culprits could also be woodworms, a.k.a. the larvae of wood-boring beetles. They attack all kinds of raw wood, from logs to flooring to furniture. Both woodworms and carpenter ants leave piles of fine shavings from their boring, called “frass.” (Termites, on the other hand, don’t leave shavings behind. They eat the wood that they destroy.)
You can treat your wood to get rid of the pests, but first of all you’ll need to determine who you’re dealing with. Carpenter ants are recognizable enough to the average non-expert, because they’re so huge (well, bug-wise). But there are several types of wood-boring beetles, and they have different host preferences and life cycles, making them trickier to treat. Unless you’re very confident in your ID skills, you probably need a professional opinion.