IS SAWDUST A SIGN OF TERMITES?

It's not uncommon for homeowners to find piles of what they think is sawdust around their home and assume it was produced by termites. However, contrary to popular belief, termites don't actually produce sawdust. Instead, they excrete a substance that many people mistake for sawdust. This substance is called termite frass, or termite excrement.

Of the three main types of termites (subterranean, dampwood and drywood), it's the drywood termites that can leave behind the piles of frass often mistaken for sawdust.

The appearance of frass is a sign that insects – potentially termites - are infesting your wood. So if you see what looks like sawdust in or around your home, you should contact a termite control professional for an inspection of your home.

Here's some further information on termite sawdust (frass), where it's most likely to be found and the steps you can take to help protect your home from termites.

Drywood Termites and Termite Frass

Drywood termite swarmers are usually pale brown in appearance, though they can also be dark brown or light, yellowish-tan. Their size depends on their role in the termite caste system. Soldiers protecting the colony tend to be three-eighths of an inch long, while both male and female reproductives are about one-half inch in length.

Drywood termites can be difficult to detect. They don't require contact with soil and live deep inside wood found in structures or furniture. The colonies can be made up of 1,000-3,000 insects. Because of their largely hidden habitat, they are rarely seen except during the summer and fall, when flying reproductives, called swarmers, leave the nest to create new colonies.

Fortunately, drywood termites are also detailed insects that like to keep their tunnels and colony areas clean and free of fecal matter. They bore tiny “kickout holes,” from the inside of the wood they've infested and use them to expel fecal matter (frass). This is fortunate because it can help homeowners and professionals identify a termite problem.

This frass often accumulates in areas like window and door sills and in or around porches where it can easily be seen. It's also typically one of the first signs of a termite infestation. If the termites have invaded areas like walls or ceilings, however, the frass often falls on floors and carpets and goes unnoticed.

What Termite Frass Looks Like

Because drywood termites consume dry wood (true to their name), frass excreted by drywood termites is dry and pellet shaped. When in piles, the frass can look like sawdust or sand. The color can vary from light beige to black, depending on the kind of wood the termites are consuming. If you used a magnifying glass to examine the frass, the individual pellets would look something like tiny, deflated footballs.

If you see anything in your home that looks like sawdust, stop and take a closer look. Don’t sweep or vacuum away anything that might be termite frass as this can be a sign that a termite control professional would need to see during an inspection.

Other Signs of a Drywood Termite Infestation

In addition to termite sawdust (frass), other indications of an infestation can include:

  • Discarded wings left behind by the swarmers establishing new colonies.
  • Pinhole sized kickout holes (less than 2mm in diameter), which can be near the mounds of frass. Carefully tap on the walls, and if there are termites, you may hear a hollow sound.

Termite Treatment Options

Treatment for drywood termite infestations can be categorized as either whole structure or localized, depending on the size of the infestation.

Because it can be so difficult to detect drywood termites and determine the extent of the damage, do-it-yourself treatments are not advised. If you see signs of a termite invasion in your home, such as piles of “termite sawdust,” it’s better to call in the professionals at Terminix®. Also, there are other insects, like carpenter ants and carpenter bees, that can produce frass. So, just because you see frass does not necessarily mean that you have a termite problem. Which is even more reason why calling on a professional when you spot frass is so important. Contact Terminix today for a free inspection.