Why Do Termites Eat Wood?

Homeowners likely dread few pests more than termites. They may be tiny, but, together, they cause about $5 billion in damage to American homes each year. The thought that these invasive insects might be silently eating away at the investment you’ve made in your home can certainly be disturbing. But why do termites eat wood? Is their diet restricted to wood, or can foraging termites cause other kinds of damage in and around your home? Read on to find out.

Nutrition for Termites

Termites may eat wood, but what they’re really after is the cellulose from which wood is made. Cellulose is the main component found in the cell walls of wood, plants and grass. It’s also the most abundant organic compound on Earth. Paper and cardboard also contain cellulose.

Termites never stop eating, even once they have established themselves in your home. To feed their ever-growing colonies, they will devour anything that contains cellulose. Termites will attack lumber, books, magazines, sheetrock (or drywall), wallpaper and fabrics. In short, if you’re dealing with a termite infestation, more than the structure of your home is at risk. So too are your furniture and personal possessions.

How Do Termites Digest Wood?

Termite digestion is a complicated process. Termites cannot digest cellulose and extract life-sustaining nutrients from it on their own. They must rely on the help of one-celled protozoa and bacteria that live in their digestive tracts. These microorganisms break the cellulose down into simple sugars that keep their host termites alive.

What Wood Do Termites Prefer?

Different species of termites specialize in different types of wood.

Subterranean termites are the most common species of termite in the United States. These termites nest in moist, underground conditions and prefer soft pine (they don’t get into hardwood a lot). Therefore, subterranean termites often leave a distinct pattern of damage behind, one that follows the grain of the wood itself. They also construct mud tubes and use them to forage up from their colony and into your home.

Drywood termites normally infest dry wood, such as that found in your home’s framing, structural timbers, hardwood floors and even furniture. Unlike their subterranean cousins, drywood termites don’t have to stay in contact with the soil. Instead, they get the moisture they need from the wood they’ve invaded (and the atmosphere itself). Since drywood termites bore wood from the inside-out, the outer surface of the any infested material may still appear smooth and undamaged to the naked eye.

Dampwood termites prefer the wood found in decaying logs, stumps and wood piles. Since these termites generally infest wood that is already damaged, they aren't really a problem for most homeowners. Dampwood termites are generally found in homes with high moisture issues where the wood is decaying.

If you discover termites eating wood in or around your home, get help from the termite control professionals at Terminix®. We’ve been leading the industry in termite treatment and control for over eight decades. Contact Terminix today to let us put our knowledge and training to work for you.

Even if you don’t currently have termite activity, it’s a good idea to contact a termite control professional. Since termites feast 24/7, Terminix has plans that can help protect you from the cost of future termite infestations.