Have you ever wondered to yourself: "How do I know if I have termites?" These creatures are small and difficult to detect, but they do leave some tell-tale signs. Read more about signs you have termites, what they eat, and how to tell if you have termites in your house.

termite mud tube

Termites that have been nesting in your home for years can cause thousands of dollars in damage. This type of damage is not usually covered by homeowners insurance.

If you’ve ever seen a single termite, it might seem improbable that they could cause that amount of damage. They’re small, after all, normally only about a quarter of an inch to a half inch in length. But termites are not usually on their own, instead, surrounded by thousands of other termites within their colony. So while the damage that one termite can cause may be small, together termites can wreak havoc on building structures, floors, and other wood-based items such as furniture.

Termite colonies

To understand termite damage, it’s first important to understand how termite colonies work. Termites, like some other insects, live in well-organized colonies. Depending on the species, the number of termites in a colony can range from a few thousand to in the millions. Believe it or not, a Formosan colony of up to 15 million termites can live for several years. In a termite colony, there are different castes: the queen, in charge of reproduction; the soldiers who guard the colony and the workers, which do the majority of the colony’s labor along with nymphs, the younger termites.

What do termites eat and why?

This probably seems like a trick question. Everybody knows that termites eat wood. But in fact, termites have also been known to chew their way through plaster, insulation, and some soft metals. Termites eat wood because they seek the cellulose and other nutrients within it to live. They have a special kind of bacteria in their gut that allows them to break down cellulose within wood, which is why it’s no problem for them to munch through floors. What they eat and how they feed will also vary slightly based on the species of termite. In the United States, there are three types of termites, all found in different locations with different feeding habits:

  1. Subterranean termites: These are the most destructive termites. They form the largest colonies, eat rapidly through wood, and live in the ground. They typically only come in the home to feed.
  2. Drywood termites: These termites can form multiple colonies within one home. They most commonly go for wooden structures including frames, flooring, and furniture.
  3. Dampwood termites: As their name might suggest, this type of termite likes wood with high moisture content, including decaying wood and woodpiles.

How do you know if you have termites?

Be proactive about preventing termite damage by searching for termite signs in your home on a periodic basis and maintaining a termite protection plan by a reputable company that includes an annual termite inspection. This helps remove the worry of having to repair new termite damage in your home.

Take a look at the top five signs of termite activity below:

1. Blisters in Wood Flooring

These areas or blisters can indicate termites feeding within or below. Subterranean termites can cause damage to the subfloor, which can make your wood flooring appear as if it has water damage.

2. Hollowed or Damaged Wood

Wood damage can be found below and behind surfaces like walls, floors and more. This can be caused by termites chewing through wood in search of cellulose, leaving behind long grooves. Over time, these grooves weaken the wood and create structural damage. Hollowed wood usually has a honeycomb interior and an empty sound.

3. Evidence of Swarms

Discarded termite wings can be found near closed windows, doors and other home-access points. This is caused when termites swarm out of their nest to mate and find a place start a new colony. When they land, termites intentionally twist their wings off because they will never need them again.

4. Mud Tubes

Pencil-sized mud tubes can be found wherever the ground meets your house or any other possible food source like a tree or shed. This is because subterranean termites nest underground and forage up to their food source, which is often a house structure. These termites require certain temperature and humidity levels to survive. Their tunnels help block out cool, dry air, effectively turning your home into an environment where they can thrive.

5. Drywood Termite Droppings

Drywood termites nest inside of wood. While tunneling and eating the wood they’re infesting, they create galleries that they like to keep them clean. To keep them clean, they create kick out holes where they remove their excrement. And since drywood termites eat wood, their excrement is wood, which essentially creates mounds of pellets. These mounds of pellets, resembling sawdust or coffee grounds, may indicate the presence of drywood termites. 

How long does it take for termites to cause damage?

The termites’ large colonies paired with their voracious appetites make for a formidable pest. The specific timeframe that termites need in order to cause damage can vary based on several factors. A colony of about 60,000 termites could eat a 2x4 piece of wood in about 5 months.

Again, this doesn’t seem like a huge amount—and it’s not when you think about how many pounds of wood make up a house. Termite damage happens slowly and over time, and that’s where the problem lies. Once a termite colony makes themselves at home in your home, they can stay there for years.

While termite damage is rarely irreparable, it can be extensive and very expensive to repair—especially when termites damage the structural integrity of a home. And sometimes in the cases of furniture, you might lose a lot of the original piece. That’s why it’s important to know the signs of various termite species.

Unfortunately, even if you don’t see signs of termites, that doesn’t mean they’re not there. Termite damage can go unnoticed for a while, and by the time damage is noticed, significant structural damage may already be done. That’s why it’s best to be proactive and act quickly when it comes to termite control. Help protect your home by contacting Terminix® today to schedule your free termite inspection.


Termite Signs Resources