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Why do termites eat wood?



As most homeowners know, termites eat wood, and in doing so, these silent destroyers can cause so much damage to a house, structural timbers, furniture, and wooden structures, and all it takes is a single termite colony to eat the wood in your home.

There are around two thousand different types of termites in the world, and forty-five types are found in the United States. The most common termite in the U.S. is Subterranean termites. Termites prefer warm tropical areas where the soil does not freeze. Many people think termites look like ants, but in fact, termites are closely related to cockroaches.

You may be wondering why do termites eat wood. In this article, we will discuss why termites eat wood and how to spot signs of a termite infestation.

How do termites digest wood?

The workers in the colony feed on wood and take it back to the termite colony. Termites have mouthparts that can chew through wood and other sources of cellulose fibers. It is the cellulose fibers contained in wood, leaves, bark, paper, cardboard, and any other plant materials that termites feed on for food. Unlike humans and most bugs, a termite is able to eat and digest wood.

After eating wood, a termite’s gut breaks it down. When termites consume wood, it is digested, and the gut contains microorganisms, bacteria, and organisms called protozoa to enable a termite to break down cellulose into digestible substances.

When termites consume the cellulose fibers, it gives termites the nutrients they need for them to survive. It is difficult for other species of insects to eat wood and digest cellulose. The advantage of termites over other species of insects is that wood is abundant, and they rarely have to compete against others for it.

Many species of termites live inside wooden structures, like trees, tree stumps, and lumber, and some live in the soil.

Do termites chew through metal?

Termites can eat through soft metal, drywall, insulation, and even carpet so that they can eat the wood in a building.

What is cellulose?

  • Cellulose is found in the cell walls of all living plants.

  • Cellulose gives plants their structure.

  • Celery has an exceptionally high cellulose content.

  • It is an indigestible carbohydrate that does not have a smell or taste to it.

  • Cellulose was first discovered in 1838 by a French chemist.

Why do I not see a termite infestation?

Drywood termites live inside wood for long periods of time; they eat wood and will cause damage to a wooden structure within a property. Drywood termites will continue to eat wood until they have finished or someone is called to eliminate the pests.

Colonies of termites can go undetected for long periods because they can glean moisture from wood and their feces and do not need to risk foraging for food. This species of termites prefer dry wood, whether healthy or decayed; therefore, Drywood termites infest furniture, doors, flooring, framing, and structural timbers.

What types of wood do termites eat?

Termites technically don’t eat the wood. It’s the cellulose they need within the wood to survive.

Termites are drawn to:

  • Untreated hardwoods like Oak, Hickory, Pecan, Sweetgum, Maple, and various others lose their leaves during the fall.

  • Subterranean termites prefer untreated softwood like Cedar, Cypress, Fir, and Pine.

  • Particle board.

  • Plywood that has not had a pressure treatment.

  • Drywall, sheetrock, or plaster with a paper containing cellulose covering it.

Do termites eat Cedar?

It is commonly thought that Cedar is a termite-repellent wood. These pests will eat Cedar if they have to.

Termites are, however, less attracted to eat wood like Cedar than other types of wood. This is because Cedar contains natural allelochemicals that the tree produces to repel insects.

This dark and dense wood with a resistance layer makes an ideal building material for some homeowners.

Will termites eat wood that is pressure-treated?

Wood that has been pressure treated with chemicals like preservatives is less likely to rot or be destroyed by termites or an insect. Pressure-treated wood is often used in parts of a property that come into contact with the soil. It is used to protect the exterior of basement walls, decks, fence posts, and other outdoor wooden structures.

It is worth remembering, however, that pressure-treated wood is termite-resistant wood. It is not foolproof against termite infestations. There is a chance over time that the wood can get damp and start to decay, and a termite colony can cause damage to the wood.

Which type of wood do termites prefer?

Subterranean termites like to eat the softer fibers of springwood. The wood eaten by them appears to be like honeycomb as many of the galleries within contain dirt and feces.

Drywood termites eat wood that is dry, like structural timber, furniture, and wood floors. When these termites are eating wood, the surface of the wood looks smooth.

Dampwood termites eat wood that is moist and is often found eating it when it is dead and decaying, like a tree stump or logs. It is rare for dampwood termites to infest a building.

Signs of a termite infestation

As you know, termites eat wood, and when these tiny insects do, they eat the wood from the inside out, creating colonies as they do so. If you tap on wood that sounds hollow or looks crumbly, it could be due to termite infestations.

Subterranean termites build mud tubes leading from the ground to their wood food source to help them retain moisture as they travel. Without mud tubes to travel through, Subterranean termites would die of dehydration. Look around your property for signs of these pencil-width mud tubes. Mud tubes can appear in basements, the garage, and foundation walls.

Here are some other signs of termites to look for:

  • Small piles of Frass (feces) near a wooden structure.

  • Bubbling, peeling paint is a sign of termites.

  • Buckling and blisters of wood flooring boards.

  • Piles of discarded wings left by reproducing termites. Termites reproduce when colonies mature; discarded wings could mean a colony has been eating away at wood nearby for a long time.

Call a pest control specialist

If you discover any of the above signs or think you could have termites in the house or yard, you should call a pest control specialist. Failure to do so could result in costly repairs to your house. Termites will not go away on their own.

And finally,

We presented why do termites eat wood and discussed the signs of termites and what you should do if you discover them. We hope you have found our article helpful and informative.

Good luck!



Ronald has 25 years of pest control experience under his belt. He scrutinizes each control method, product and process to prevent infestations effectively. 

Read more here.

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