Deathwatch beetle

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Deathwatch beetle
Xestobium.rufovillosum.jpg
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Coleoptera
Family: Anobiidae
Genus: Xestobium
Species: X. rufovillosum
Binomial name
Xestobium rufovillosum
(De Geer, 1774)

The deathwatch beetle, Xestobium rufovillosum, is a woodboring beetle. The adult beetle is 7 millimetres (0.28 in) long, while the xylophagous larvae are up to 11 mm (0.43 in) long.

To attract mates, these woodborers create a tapping or ticking sound that can be heard in the rafters of old buildings on quiet summer nights. They are therefore associated with quiet, sleepless nights and are named for the vigil (watch) kept beside the dying or dead, and by extension the superstitious have seen the death watch as an omen of impending death.

The term "death watch" has been applied to a variety of other ticking insects including Anobium striatum, some of the so-called booklice of the family Psocidae, and the appropriately named Atropos divinatoria and Clothilla pulsatoria.

The larva is very soft, yet can bore its way through wood, which it is able to digest using a number of enzymes in its alimentary canal provided that the wood has experienced prior fungal decay.[1]


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In culture[edit]

Its nature as an ill-omen is alluded to in the fourth book of John Keats' "Endymion": "...within ye hear / No sound so loud as when on curtain'd bier / The death-watch tick is stifled."[2] ("Stifled" because the death it was portending has taken place.)

The deathwatch beetle is mentioned in the film Practical Magic, and its characteristic ticking sound serves as the harbinger of death.

The beetle is also mentioned in the History Channel series Life After People (season one, episode six) where it is shown "eating" the Mona Lisa.

Ray Bradbury mentioned them in his work Something Wicked This Way Comes wherein the antagonist carnival's speciality is claimed to be "to examine, oil, and repair Death-Watch Beetles."

German progressive rock band Hoelderlin has a 17 and a half minutes long track, titled "Deathwatchbeetle", on its eponymous album from 1975.

In Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart", deathwatches are mentioned among the list of things the old man was hearing and tried to explain practically but could not. He was terrified. He was also about to die.

They were mentioned in the BBC series Sherlock, where Sherlock is giving a toast at Watson's wedding and makes a comparison of John and Mary’s wedding to “the death-watch beetle that is the doom of our society and, in time, one feels certain, our entire species”

In Rogue Male based on a Geoffrey Household novel, Major Quive-Smith (John Standing) is staying at Drake's countryside boardinghouse while manhunting Sir Robert(Peter O'Toole). One night Sir Robert tries to steal food from Drake's dairy and falls through the rafters. Quive-Smith and Drake come out to investigate the commotion and Quive-Smith says the result of the cave-in was Deathwatch Beatle and that he had seen the results of the Beatle's work before while staying in East Riding.

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