The death watch beetle, which is known to scientists as Xestobium rufovillosum, is a small species of wood-boring beetle. While native to the entire country, death watch beetles are more common in the south of England than the north.
Death watch beetles primarily feed on the cellulose in wood. Like most animals, they cannot digest this material on their own, and they rely on symbiotic intestinal microbes to help them break down the tough cell walls of the cellulose. They are commonly found in old homes, but they also inhabit dead trees in forests. The adults deposit their eggs near suitable wood. When the young hatch, they begin tunneling into the wood. Once the larvae grow into adults, they tunnel out of the wood, leaving characteristic holes in the surface. Often, this is the first clue that property owners have of a death watch beetle infestation.
The common name for these beetles comes from the clicking sound they make by banging their heads against wood. Historically, these sounds were thought to represent the ticking of a clock that represented the time left in a person’s life. Some scientists believe that the clicking sound the beetles make is a mating call that helps them to find other members of their species.