University of Maryland Extension: Garden Q&A
Q: Two winters ago when I reached the bottom of my old wood pile, I found ants in the lower logs. I sprayed them and discarded the wood, afraid to burn it indoors after spraying. I sprayed the area for ants before and after I purchased new wood the next fall. I also sprayed this summer. This week I picked up some logs and found small black ants nesting halfway up the pile. They are hibernating but alive. Can I spray the wood with an insecticide that would be safe to burn in the house?
A: It’s not possible to eliminate every ant around your wood pile, and that’s to your benefit. Ant tunneling aerates the soil and lifts up deep nutrients to where plants can use then. Without them, we would be up to our eyeballs in accumulated dead plant and animal matter. Ants even consume insect pests—termites are their arch enemies. There is no insecticide that can be sprayed on firewood without making it useless for burning.
Elevate the pile so it does not contact soil. Use it within a year if possible. Old wood contacting the soil decomposes, becomes “doughy” and, when the ground freezes, is impossible to pry up. Small black ants would not be nesting inside good firewood (carpenter ants are big) but between logs or under bark. Dislodge with a sharp smack, remove bark, or throw directly on the fire. Do not store indoors.
Q: We are three students at Johns Hopkins. An insect is in our building, mostly at night. It resembles a silverfish, but its body does not taper, has more antennae, and is not silver colored. The young ones are light brown and 1/4 inch. The adults grow as long as 2 inches with a reddish cast. They are wingless and move like greased lightning! What are they?
A: Firebrats are similar to silverfish but are tan and like warmth. Both travel at night. Firebrats, however, tend to grow only about 1/2-inch long. Neither are predators. Your insect’s speediness may be your best clue. Fast moving insects are often predators that must outrun their prey. Your description suggests a centipede. See our publication Key to Pests in and around the Home or go to our Plant Diagnostic on our website and type in “centipede”. Color photos, life cycle, and controls are given. Another option for mystery insects (or plants) is to send us digital photos through “Send A Question” on our website. Or call us. We regularly identify species over the phone.