Spotlight: Pests That Are Difficult To Identify

identifying pests

Identifying pests is the first step when it comes to quality pest control and management. Ensuring you’ve correctly identified the cause of the problem is necessary before exploring the treatment and management of every kind of pest. Yet, sometimes this can be difficult even if you have years of experience.

We’ve previously spoken about common pests in Australia that cause property damage – including termites, possums, ants, bees and cockroaches. This article will deal will less common pests that are harder to identify. When you’re a pest expert, you need to be across these too.

Identifying Pests: Carpenter Bees

identifying pests

Known as useful pollinators, carpenter bees also help break down dead tree limbs and logs. However, they can also apply this talent to causing serious damage to untreated wood in various structures.


These sometimes-handy, sometimes-hazardous bees cause damage by boring into wooden structures to construct their nests. When they’re present you’ll notice a circular hole about half a centimetre across in the wooden structure. This video shows these burrowing holes.

Carpenter bees prefer to find unpainted, sound timber to build their homes. The nests they create not only weaken timber; they leave holes and stains on building surfaces.

As for their looks, they’re large insects that look similar to bumblebees though their abdomens are shinier. They have hairs on some of their segments. The females are either a shiny black or metallic blue. The males are golden brown with pale hair on the thorax. 

identifying pests

Managing carpenter bees

Although they’re capable of doing damage to timber, carpenter bees are beneficial insects because they pollinate plants. Hence, insecticides are not recommended and managing carpenter bees is done in the form of prevention. 

Wherever possible, exposed outside parts of a building should be constructed out of hardwood. This helps defend against the bees building nests. Further, fill all cracks in wood surfaces on all buildings and paint and varnish exterior wood. This reduces weathering and attack by the bees.

Identifying Pests: Carpet Beetles

Adult Carpet beetles don’t present any problem in regards to structural damage. However, larvae of the carpet beetle feed on animal skin, hair and carpet or clothing made from silk or other animal products. Not only do they damage these items in the short term, over the longer term they can cause carpet beetle dermatitis. This is an allergy to the beetle’s larval hairs and blood and causes intense itching and a rash.


There are several carpet beetle species in Australia. These include the European Variegated carpet beetle, the native Australian carpet beetle, the Furniture carpet beetle and the Black carpet beetle. They all look similar in shape and size, with the Black carpet beetle being the longest, but differ slightly in their colouring.

Their larvae are known as ‘woolly bear’, and are banded in appearance with short bristles covering them. Sized up to 5mm, they look like small, hair-covered caterpillars.

identifying pests

Managing carpet beetles

Because the adult carpet beetles live outdoors, indoor treatment is not very effective in the long term. However, it’s still a valuable exercise in the midst of an infestation. When applying your chemical treatment pay particular attention to carpet edges. Check areas covered by furniture or in other shaded areas as this is where the larvae will be active.

Advise your customer that these beetles can easily get back into and infest buildings. Alongside your regular pest treatments, they should conduct frequent and thorough vacuuming. The best way of getting rid of carpet beetles is by eliminating accumulations of lint and hair.  These serve as food for carpet beetle larvae. Consider recommending synthetic fibre if the carpet needs to be replaced.

Areas to thoroughly check include the following, especially in rarely used areas:

  • Carpets
  • Rugs
  • Furniture
  • Blankets
  • Closets, cabinets and pantries

Identifying Pests: Sirex Wood Wasps

Sirex wood wasps, or just sirex wasps, are wood-boring insects. These nonstinging wasps will normally complete their life cycles in newly dead or dying pine trees. Timber salvaged from these trees can be processed into infested lumber, which can lead to adult wasps emerging in recently completed buildings or structures.

Most of the damage these wasps do is via the females drilling into and injecting fungus spores into host trees, depositing at least one egg in each drill hole. The infection creates a mucus that dries tree tissues, so fungus can grow. Trees die as fungus spreads, disrupting the tree’s vascular system. Larvae don’t feed on the tree itself but on the fungus as it spreads through the tree.


Sirex adults, while part of the wasp family, lack the thin waist found in many wasp species. The females are dark, metallic-blue with orange legs and wings. They also have a prominent ovipositor projecting from below the abdomen. Males have a blue/black head and front section and an orange abdomen with a dark tip.

Sirex wasps are quite small, measuring around 15–35mm long. Their larvae are creamy white and have an obvious head, three pairs of very short legs and a body with a typically dark spine at the rear end. These larvae will spend their entire life inside the nest inside the host tree.

Interestingly, the adults live for only a few days yet these wasps’ entire life cycle takes around a year and sometimes even longer. They’re present from late November to April, although more so around January and February. 

Managing sirex wood wasps

The first line of prevention is thinning and maintaining healthy trees. Then inoculations are done, with nematodes the most widely used (they’re said to have almost a 100% success rate against wood wasps). These nematodes have a fungal feeding stage, the parasitic stage within the wasp larvae. The spreading of these nematodes can then either occur naturally when infected wasps lay packets of nematodes instead of fertile eggs into trees or by inoculating laboratory-cultured nematodes into the trees.

If a building is found to be infested, even though these wood wasps can be noisy they aren’t a threat to living beings. Waiting out the life cycle, which as mentioned is only a few days once they reach adulthood, and repairing cosmetic damage is about all that can be done.

Identifying Pests: Spiders

Lastly, let’s cover some of the spiders you’re most likely to come across in a household, how dangerous they are and how to manage spiders in homes.

The ones we’re exploring below aren’t particularly difficult to identify for professional pest managers but many customers will get them confused so it’s worth going over them. Plus, they’re fascinating.

Huntsman spider

Low risk and non-toxic to humans. Non-aggressive.

The huntsman likes to live under tree bark and in foliage as well as logs and rock walls. They’re often seen inside houses on walls and ceilings – and on cars parked under trees. While being quite large, these spiders get their name from their agility and speed. Although they might seem scary to the average person, they’re frighten easily. Because of this they’ll probably move quickly when encountering you; trying to catch one can be difficult due to their speed.

Black house spider

identifying pests
ID00004black house spiderArachnidaAraneaeDesidaeBadumna insignisadultCanberra, ACTKRPDMCC8/07/2002.

Venomous, not lethal. Non-aggressive.

The black house spider makes webs in window framing, under eaves, gutters, in brickwork, and garden sheds. Their web will often look quite messy. Their prey consists of those insects attracted to artificial light, like moths, flies, mosquitoes. While bites from black house spiders are rare, they can cause severe pain around the bite site. It can also cause heavy sweating, nausea and more.

Wolf spider

Venomous, not lethal. Non-aggressive

Wolf spiders are more commonly found in garden areas, where they live on the ground amongst fallen leaves or in burrows. They do not spin webs, and will pounce on prey as they find it or chase after it over short distances. They may also wait outside the mouth of a burrow for their prey to pass. Unlike most spiders, the Wolf will wander to find prey, usually at night. These spiders are rather small, around 15 mm to 30 mm long when fully grown. Although they’re not aggressive they can bite if provoked and the bite may be quite painful. It may cause pain, swelling and numbness, though this is only an issue in very rare cases.

Golden orb spider

identifying pests

Low risk (not toxic) to humans. Non-aggressive.

The golden orb spider can be found most often in summer, with its big bulbous abdomen and long spindly legs making it rather easy to identify. It prefers to be outdoors where it has space to spin larger webs up high. They’re well known for their impressive, semi-permanent webs, which can be up to 2m across. They’re very reluctant to bite but if they do you may experience very mild localised pain, numbness and swelling.

Managing spiders 

Spiders will usually enter houses and other structures through cracks, windows or gaps under doors. To prevent spiders from coming indoors, seal cracks in the foundation and other parts of the structure. Pay attention to gaps around windows and doors. Good screening will keep out many spiders and discourage them by keeping out the insects they prey upon.

Regularly vacuum or sweep windows, corners of rooms, storage areas, basements, and other seldom used areas. Vacuuming spiders can be an effective control technique. Their soft bodies usually do not survive the tumbling process through the hose.

Although valuable in the shorter term to kill spiders and discourage their return, insecticides will not provide long-term control. This is why spider-focused pest treatments should be done every six to 12 months.

Keep Track Of Your Insurance

Identifying pests, treating them and setting up management plans are all key elements of a professional pest business. So too is making sure you have adequate insurance on the job. Keeping your insurance valid and up to date is crucial if you conduct any sort of pest control or building services activity. Letting your pest control insurance expire can be very costly.

Why not see what cost-effective insurance Rapid Solutions has to offer, such as our professional indemnity insurance and general liability insurance?