Can Woodworm Bite Humans?

One of the questions we deal with fairly regularly is whether woodworm can (or will) bite humans, or sting, or otherwise hurt people. The short answer is that they can’t. However, what sometimes will sting is a species of “cuckoo wasp”, Sclerodermus domesticus. This tiny wasp (3-5mm, basically the size of an ant) preys on woodworm larvae, giving it the nickname of “antiquarian’s friend”. It doesn’t seem to have any other common name. Since they prey on the woodworm, where you find woodworm, you find these particular wasps. And they can sting.

Unfortunately, distinguishing between predator and prey isn’t always clear for non-specialists, and there are even a few medical papers wherein Sclerodermus domesticus is mistaken for the woodworm itself. In one of these, a man turned up at a hospital in Rome in August 2017 with some marks of “an intense reddish color that disappeared with diascopy” (pressing on them) all over his abdomen, back, arms and thighs (we’ll spare you the pictures!). He said he’d been helping his mother-in-law dispose of a woodworm-riddled piece of furniture from her country villa. The clinic eventually diagnosed “woodworm bites”, and were able to treat him – except that the “woodworm” were actually Sclerodermus domesticus. The piece of furniture must have been absolutely jammed with them, considering the number of bites.

File:Sclerodermus domesticus 02.jpg

(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Usually, we don’t see many of these cuckoo wasps in Ireland – they prefer warmer climates like Italy and Spain. But they’re becoming more frequent in the South of England, and as we see warmer summers here, it’s likely we’ll see more of the wasps, too. They arrive in, much as woodworm do, in timber – usually old, dry furniture, but sometimes building supplies or even wood destined for burning. If you’re importing Italian beech for your pizza oven, be careful!

If you’re having problems with woodworm (or their associated wasps), you should give us a call immediately on  01 4511795 or fill out our contact form, and someone will give you a call back as soon as possible.

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