June 19, 2013 § Leave a comment
“The so-called ‘wormholes’ found in wood — including furniture, rafters, oak floors, and woodblocks that were used to print art in books — are not made by worms as the word suggests; rather, most are ‘exit holes’ made by those newly transformed adult beetles boring up to the surface and flying away,” Hedges said.
When these wormholes were present in an artist’s woodblock, they resulted in empty circles within the inked prints made from the woodblock. “These tiny errors or interruptions in the print serve as ‘trace fossils,'” Hedges said. “They aren’t the animals themselves but they are evidence of the animal’s existence. They show that beetles invaded a particular piece of wood, even if that wood no longer exists.” Hedges added that studying the prints, rather than the much rarer woodblocks themselves, provides better and more accurate information. A piece of wood can acquire new wormholes throughout the years, and it is difficult to know whether a particular hole was made 10 years ago or many centuries ago. Even a museum specimen that has been protected in recent years could have wormholes from beetles that landed on it just a few years prior to its arrival in the museum.
“By studying printed wormholes, we are seeing only the wormholes that were made at a specific moment in history,” Hedges said. “Because most prints, including those in books, have publication dates, we know that the wormholes in question were made very close to that date, or at least between that printing and the first printing. It’s an almost perfect biological timestamp. And in most cases, we also know where the book was printed. For example, if printed wormholes appear on a print made in Bamberg, Germany in 1462, then we know that the beetles that made the wormholes in the corresponding woodblock must have lived in or around that place at that time. So wormholes can tell us when and where a species existed with fairly good accuracy, more than 500 years ago, and that is amazing.” read more
PHOTOGRAPH: Susannah B