Drywood termite vs. subterranean termite: How to tell the difference (2023)

Drywood termite vs. subterranean termite: How to tell the difference (1)

Florida is prone to termite damage throughout the year. If they go undetected for long, termites can cause irreparable damage to your property and other fittings inside. In Florida, the most common types of termites are the dry wood and subterranean termites. You can tell which one is wreaking havoc by looking at how and where they live and the evidence they leave behind.

Continue reading to learn how dry wood termites vs. subterranean termites compare in terms of their looks, nesting, feeding habits, and the best pest control and treatment options.

How They Differ in Looks

Termites are winged pests that look similar to ants and are closely related to cockroaches. However, you will notice their straight antennas, wide waists, and four equal-sized wings if you look keenly. This is what sets them apart from the other pests. But how can you tell if it is a subterranean or dry wood termite that has invaded your property?

One secret is in their looks.

(Video) Subterranean Termites Vs Drywood Termites: Tell The Difference

Both drywood and subterranean flying termites shed their wings as soon as they land on your property. This enables them to crawl around looking for food.

Drywood termite vs. subterranean termite: How to tell the difference (2)

West Indian Drywood termites, which are the most common termite species in Florida, travel on-air and leave their wings around windowsills and near the home lighting fixtures. Their swarmers are dark brown and have clear membranous wings with an iridescent tint. Each wing has three or four veins.

On the other hand, subterranean termites are dark brown-black and have only one dark vein on their wings. Since these termites live on soil, they enter the home through the foundation. You will therefore find their wings scattered on the ground.

Drywood termite vs. subterranean nesting habits

Drywood termite vs. subterranean termite: How to tell the difference (3)

(Video) Subterranean vs. Drywood Termite Control by Unipest - Santa Clarita Pest Control

Drywood termites and subterranean termites have different nesting habits.

Just as their name suggests, drywood termites make their nests inside the wood. They do not live in the open or travel around foraging for food. Instead, they look for wooden structures such as doors, walls, windows, cabinetry, flooring, fascia, furniture, windowsills, and attic where they make their nests. Since they live inside their source of food, you will rarely see them. However, it is their peppery frass that betrays them. You will find the six-sided frass that looks like sawdust, pepper, sand, or salt scattered around their nests.

Subterranean termites create their nests in moist, hidden places. The mating pair will find a nice moist place where they lay eggs in the rubble until they have enough workers to help create mud tubes for protection as they forage for food. They make these tunnels between their nest and the source of food or moisture because subterranean termites need protection from predators, the sun, and air. The mud tubes can go up to 12 inches above the ground or a few inches on the ground. You will find these tunnels on wooden fences, sheds, dead and live trees, crawl space, walls, and the attic.

Getting early termite treatment on your furniture is the safest pest control option against this pest.

Colony size

Termites are social pests that live in multi-generational colonies comprising workers, soldiers, and the reproductive queen and king. Workers are usually the majority as they are responsible for all work, including building mud tubes and foraging for food. Soldiers make up only 2-10 percent of the colony, and their job is to offer protection against breaches on the protection tunnels and colony. They often have big heads and elongated mandibles.

(Video) How To Tell Termites Apart!

Drywood termite vs. subterranean termite: How to tell the difference (4)

Swarmers help the queen with breeding, but in underground colonies where they often go out, they pair up to leave to make a new nest nearby. The primary queen can lay thousands of eggs daily and live as long as 15 years unless you exterminate them. Even though they grow slowly, a termite colony can also have secondary and tertiary reproductive termites.

Subterranean colonies grow faster than dry wood termites because they are not confined in a small space. You can have a few hundred to thousands of dry wood termites in one nest. Still, a mature colony of subterranean termites can have up to one million individuals, especially among the Formosan termites, a species of subterranean termites that eat any type of wood. However, it is possible to have multiple colonies of termites in a single property. Call a professional termite control company as soon as you see the first signs of an infestation and protect your home.

Drywood Termites vs. Subterranean Termites: Level of Damage

Termites survive on cellulose, which is found in wood, paper, books, and cardboard. These insects have enzymes, protozoa, and microbes that break down cellulose into useful nutrients. Due to their large numbers and ability to forage freely around your home, subterranean termites cause damage faster than dry wood termites. They prefer softwoods such as pine. However, Formosan termites are more aggressive than other subterranean termites and munch on different types of wood available.

The first sign of subterranean termite infestation is the presence of mud tubes. These tunnels are made with termites’ saliva, soil or clay, and fecal matter, which looks like non-ridged cardboard. The tunnels can be hidden in the basement or tiny crevices on the wall, where they can go unnoticed for years. They mainly attack the building structure, including support beams, and feed on soft parts of wood, leaving a neat pattern of destruction mixed with soil and dirt. Since they use their excrement to line the mud tubes, you may not be able to suspect a termite infestation until the damage has already been done.

(Video) How to Identify Termite Species. Don't get it wrong!

Drywood termites, unlike subterranean termites, do not come into contact with soil or moisture. Neither do they need mud tunnels to survive as they are already safe inside the wood. Since they live inside their food, which is hard dry wood, they damage quietly from the inside out save for the holes they punch around their nest to push out frass and create room for the growing dry wood termite colony.

Drywood termite vs. subterranean termite: How to tell the difference (5)

Even though dry wood termites leave erratic galleries on the wood they infest, it’s not easy to detect termite infestations until the structure falls apart. By this time, the infested wood already has a warped or blistered look and is easy to puncture. Though their damage is centralized, you may have several colonies wreaking havoc in multiple structures around your home. Regular inspection services can help you get a timely termite treatment and protect your home.

How To Get Rid of Termite Colonies?

The differences between dry wood termites and subterranean termites also extend to how they’re treated. Drywood termites are easier to treat. Most pest control professionals will eliminate an entire colony through the use of small-scale termiticides. However, you can protect your home against dry wood termite infestation by treating all hardwood items early.

On the other hand, the best way to eliminate subterranean termites is by using Sentricon. The worker termites eat poisoned bait and then go back to the termites’ nest, poisoning the rest of the colony, including the queen. This poison works slowly and makes termites unable to eat or breed, exterminating the entire territory without going where they live.

(Video) How to identify termites in 10 minutes - The Houston Home Inspector

Exterminate Drywood and Subterranean Termites

Drywood termite vs. subterranean termite: How to tell the difference (6)

If you can see signs of activity around your home, but don’t know what type of termite it is, call (800) 280-5698 to arrange an inspection or book our termite treatment service for free online.


How can you tell drywood termites from subterranean termites? ›

The common sign of a drywood termite infestation is the appearance of frass. Frass is termite waste or fecal matter. Unlike subterranean termites, which build nests and tunnels for foraging out of fecal matter, drywood termites have no use for it as they only excavate tunnels in wood.

How do you identify subterranean termites? ›

Signs of a subterranean termite infestation include swarms of winged reproductives in the spring, summer, or fall, the presence of shelter tubes, and evidence of tunneling in wood. Shelter tubes (sometimes called mud tubes) are the most commonly seen evidence of a subterranean termite infestation.

Which is worse subterranean termites or drywood termites? ›

Subterranean termites are much more dangerous because they cause more significant damage than drywood termites. Their colonies can develop up to 1 million strong. Subterranean termites have a soft white body with no eyes. They are typically no longer than a centimeter.

How do I identify different types of termites? ›

Look for the most common sign - the color. Subterranean termite swarmers are solid black, drywood swarmers are solid red, while carpenter ants are usually red and black or dark brown. The other big difference is in the body. Termites all have a long body with no small segments attached.

Are drywood termites hard to detect? ›

Drywood termites are cryptic insects that are difficult to detect. They live deep inside wood; and except during periods when they swarm or when repair work is being done on infested homes, they are seldom seen.

Are drywood termite droppings white? ›

Drywood termite droppings may appear almost uniformly off-white when the food source is very light colored wood. Mounds of drywood termite fecal pellets are a tell-tell sign of a drywood termite infestation.

What color are subterranean termites? ›

Found in every U.S. state except Alaska, subterranean termites are creamy white to dark brown or black and 1/8 inch long. They live in underground colonies or in moist secluded areas aboveground that can contain up to two million members.

How far down do subterranean termites live? ›

Experts believe that subterranean termites remain 18 to 20 feet below the ground during the winter, but in neighborhoods where central heating keeps the soil surrounding houses warm, subterranean termites will remain closer to the ground surface where they can still be problematic.

How deep in the ground are subterranean termites? ›

The nests may be located between 4 to 18 inches or more underground and are made up of several rooms, called galleries. These galleries are connected by tunnels made of mud. The tunnels not only connect galleries, but also connect the termites to food sources.

Do subterranean termites only eat wet wood? ›

Most home-invading termites prefer wood with high moisture content and the presence of decay. Subterranean termites are not picky and will eat many of the common types of wood found in homes, including pine and oak.

Do drywood termites spread quickly? ›

Termites take a very short time to spread. Within a few days, they can multiply to what's considered an infestation. Homeowners need to take every percaussion possible, and be sure to act quickly in order to protect their homes.

What does subterranean termite damage look like? ›

Other signs of a subterranean termite infestation include soft wood in the home that sounds hollow when tapped, darkening or blistering of wood structures, uneven or bubbling paint, and small piles of feces that resemble sawdust near a termite nest.

What looks like a termite but isn't a termite? ›

The Imposters. The insects most commonly confused for termites are flying ants. The most common species of ants to take flight around your house are carpenter ants, but they're by no means the only ones. Other would-be imposters include moisture ants, black garden ants and pavement ants.

What looks like a termite but bigger? ›

Carpenter ants

They're typically 9.5 to 13 millimeters long. A carpenter ant has a heart-shaped head with two bent antennae and a tapered thorax (the middle segment of the body). Carpenter ant swarmers have two sets of wings. The set in front is longer than the set in the back.

What are the most aggressive termites? ›

Originally from China, Formosan termites are the most voracious, aggressive and devious of over 2,000 termite species known to science. Formosans are organized into huge underground colonies, and build intricate mud nests inside the walls of a structure.

Do drywood termites only come out at night? ›

Subterranean termites swarm during the day, particularly after rainfall. They're most active in the spring. Invasive Formosan termites swarm at night and are generally at their peak in the late spring and summer. Drywood termites are also active at night, especially around lights.

Do drywood termites eat drywall? ›

While termites prefer a diet of the cellulose in wood, they are absolutely willing to chew through other objects that contain cellulose to fill themselves up. For example, termites can and will chew through all kinds of building materials, including soil, sheetrock and, yes, drywall.

What temperature kills drywood termites? ›

For effective drywood termite control, heat must raise air temperatures to between 120 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures inside the wood – where the drywood termites live – must reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 35 minutes to kill the termites.

Why do I see termite poop but no termites? ›

If a homeowner finds a kick-out hole with termite droppings but no termites, that does not mean the infestation is gone. The opposite is often true: The termites have most likely moved onto another part of the house, wall, or room for more food.

What do drywood termite holes look like? ›

These frass piles look like tiny piles of sand. Unlike sand, a frass pellet has six concave surfaces and measures about one millimeter in length. The “kick out” holes are not always easy to see since drywood termites plug up the exit holes with pieces of frass that have been “cemented” together.

What does subterranean termite poop look like? ›

Termite droppings typically have the following characteristics: 1mm pellets – often look like piles of salt or pepper. Black, brown, and grey in color depending on the wood eaten by termites. Pellets will be pushed out of 'exit holes' in the nest to create pile-ups.

What do dried termites look like? ›

What Do Drywood Termites Look Like? The size of drywood termites range, depending on their age, from 1/4 inch to 1 inch long. Adult drywood termites have a thicker, oval-shaped waist, short legs and straight antennae with equal length wings. They are usually cream-white to light brown in color and have six legs.

What attracts subterranean termites? ›

Leaky pipes, improper drainage, and poor airflow all create moisture issues that attract termites. Dampwood and subterranean termites in particular thrive in humid environments. While dampwood termites prefer water-damaged wood, subterranean termites are unable to live unless surrounded by enough moisture.

Should I worry about subterranean termites? ›

Subterranean termites can especially cause significant damage to the structure of your home if an infestation is not eradicated quickly. As soon as you notice signs of subterranean termite damage, seek advice from a professional Pest Control Company.

Do subterranean termites eat through concrete? ›

Answer: Termites cannot eat through concrete. The issue is that no matter how well poured, concrete will crack as it settles. When poured around plumbing, it will retract or shrink from around the pipes.

What kills subterranean termites? ›

Non-repellent type termiticides (fipronil, imidacloprid, chlorfenpyr) appear to work better (especially in Texas' alkaline, heavy clay soils) compared to termiticides that are repellent to termites (e.g., permethrin, cypermethrin, bifenthrin).

Do subterranean termites eat furniture? ›

Unless your furniture is somehow making contact with the outside soil, you should not have to worry about America's most destructive termites eating your furniture. In very rare instances, subterranean termites may nibble through wooden items that are kept in your basement as long as they can easily return to soil.

What is the most destructive subterranean termite? ›

Formosan termites are one of the most aggressive and destructive types of termites. Like other termites, these termites are known for destroying wood by boring tunnels through walls. Just one Formosan termite colony can potentially contain more than 10 million individual termites taking up residence in a plot of soil.

Do subterranean termites eat across wood? ›

Eating habits differ, too: drywood termites eat all of the wood structure they inhabit, eating across the grain, whereas the subterranean kind eats the softer parts of wood and always with the grain.

Do subterranean termites eat pressure treated wood? ›

Termites can damage pressure-treated wood. This typically happens if the wood gets damp and starts to decay.

What smell do termites hate? ›

Clemson University scientists reported that 'Termites hate smells of cedarwood, geranium, and tea tree oil. It has also been found that clove bud, cinnamon, and garlic oils can also repel termites.

Do subterranean termites come out in the rain? ›

In California, we have three main types of termites. These likely are subterranean termites that, as the name implies, live underground. They commonly swarm after an autumn rain followed by a warm day.

Do subterranean termites eat cardboard? ›

While they don't eat concrete or plastic, termites have been known to eat through materials to get cellulose-rich products. In addition to regular wood, termites will also consume anything that is made of wood such as paper, some fabrics, and cardboard.

What time of year do termites do the most damage? ›

Spring is the swarming season for most subterranean termites. Most species of subterranean termites swarm during the spring and summer months, typically on a warm day with calm winds after a rainfall.

What happens if you disturb a termite nest? ›

If you spot a termite infestation, do not disturb them; the sharp survival instincts of these pests allow them to sense disruption and immediately move to another spot close by to build a new colony site.

How long can drywood termites stay dormant? ›

Drywood termites can stay dormant for extended periods of time (more than a year) and then re-emerge stronger and hungrier than ever. They also are creatures of habit and will re-infest the exact same location in a home, causing further damage.

What does mild termite damage look like? ›

Termite damage sometimes appears similar to water damage. Outward signs of termite damage include buckling wood, swollen floors and ceilings, areas that appear to be suffering from slight water damage and visible mazes within walls or furniture. Termite infestations also can exude a scent similar to mildew or mold.

Can a house with termites be saved? ›

Although termite damage may be reversed through professional repair, homeowners should first call a local termite specialist. Repairs should not be made until a licensed pest professional has confirmed that there are no longer termites present and the risk of further infestation has been eliminated.

Can there be just one termite? ›

But termites are not usually on their own. Instead, a single termite typically means a colony of potentially thousands of other termites are nearby. So while the damage that one termite can cause may be small, together, termites can cause significant damage to building structures.

Do flying termites mean you have termites? ›

If there is a swarm of flying termites in your home, that usually means a colony of termites is present nearby. The presence of swarmers means that a colony either may have already matured after spending time within your walls, or this new flight of swarmers is planning to set up shop in or near your home.

What looks like a termite without wings? ›

If you're seeing bugs that look like termites without wings, they might be powderpost beetles. A powderpost beetle is a bug that looks like a giant termite. It's another wood-boring insect, but it only eats unfinished wood, whereas termites aren't as picky.

What does an infestation of termites look like? ›

As the termites consume wood, they burrow mazes of tunnels and chambers within walls and furniture. The pests leave small piles of feces that resemble pellets where they have eaten or nested. Drywood termites also cause sagging floors, walls, and ceilings and may leave behind areas which appear to be water damaged.

Can you tell me what termites look like? ›

Workers: Like subterranean termites, drywood worker termites are cream to white in color. Soldiers: These have darker, orangish-brown heads and opaque bodies, and are much larger than subterranean soldiers. Reproductives: Drywood swarmers have amber-colored heads and dark brown abdomens with smoky gray wings.

What is a termites worst enemy? ›

Insects, Nematodes and Arachnids. The greatest hunters of termites are their slightly larger insect cousins, the ants. Megaponera analis is an ant species that only eats termites, which it does by raiding termite colonies for hours at a time.

What states have the worst termites? ›

We harbor every several different types of termites — subterranean, drywood, and dampwood. The most pervasive problem for homeowners is subterranean termites.
In case you're curious, here is the full ranking of worst termite States:
  • Florida.
  • Georgia.
  • South Carolina.
  • Alabama.
  • Mississippi.
  • Louisiana.
  • Texas.
  • California.
Sep 16, 2022

What do subterranean termites nests look like? ›

The nests may be located between 4 to 18 inches or more underground and are made up of several rooms, called galleries. These galleries are connected by tunnels made of mud. The tunnels not only connect galleries, but also connect the termites to food sources.

Can subterranean termites live in dry wood? ›

Do Subterranean Termites Live in Wood? Eastern subterranean termites do not live in wood; they feed on wood and take the food back to their colony, which is their home. They can sometimes be found infesting moist logs, trees, mulch, and firewood, but again, only temporarily.

What does a subterranean termite mound look like? ›

Subterranean termites live below ground, so you wouldn't be able to find a termite mud nest. Instead, what you can see are termite mud tubes. These look like rounded lines of dirt running up from the ground to the wood part of your home, whether it be siding, the frame or lattice used in gardening.

How deep in the ground do subterranean termites live? ›

These termites have the ability to adjust the depth of their colony (nest) in soil depending on temperature and moisture requirements. The colony may be 18-20 feet deep in the ground. The ground serves as a protection against extreme temperatures and provides a moisture reservoir.

How do you know how extensive termite damage is? ›

But what's the extent to which termites can damage your walls? Some clear indicators of active termites and wall infestation include a hollow sound within your walls, mud tubes by the base of your wall, wood debris, paint damage that typically looks like water damage, and much more.

Do subterranean termites swarm at night? ›

Subterranean termites swarm during the day, particularly after rainfall. They're most active in the spring. Invasive Formosan termites swarm at night and are generally at their peak in the late spring and summer. Drywood termites are also active at night, especially around lights.

Do subterranean termites eat treated wood? ›

Termites can damage pressure-treated wood. This typically happens if the wood gets damp and starts to decay.

Should I knock down termite tubes? ›

While it can be tempting to remove termite tubes as you find them, the repair or removal of termite tubes doesn't take care of the termite infestation. Most eradication experts say that termite tubes should be left alone until you have managed to call in local exterminators.

How far do termites travel from nest? ›

How Far Do Termites Forage From Their Colony? Termites can travel up to 100 feet from their colonies in search of food. However, termites do not prefer to travel long-distance, and will usually stop foraging once they locate food.


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