"death-watch beetles"

Death-watch beetle
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeDeath-watch beetle - Credit: Sarefo
The death watch beetle (Xestobium rufovillosum) is a wood-boring beetle that attracts mates by making a tapping or clicking sound that can be heard in old wooden buildings on summer evenings. Thus, it has been associated with sleepless nights and vigils for the dead, and has been taken as an omen of oncoming death. When Mr. Halloway says the carnival people “set their clocks” by death-watch beetles, he ties together the ticking sound with the death omen.