Investigating Termite Feeding Habits

Termites are one of the most destructive pests that can infest a home or building. They are tiny and difficult to detect until they have caused significant damage to your property. Investigating termite feeding habits is crucial in order to understand how to prevent and control their presence. Understanding the different types of termites and their feeding habits can help you take appropriate preventive measures to protect your property. In this article, we will explore the feeding behavior of termites, their diets, and the various control methods available to keep your property free from termite infestations. So, let’s dig deeper and explore what you need to know about termite feeding habits.

What are Termites?

What Are Termites?
Termites are small, winged insects that can cause significant destruction to property and structures if left unchecked. These pests are often referred to as “silent destroyers” because they can go unnoticed for years, consuming wood and other cellulose-based materials within a building’s walls, floors, and framing. Understanding the behavior and feeding habits of termites is crucial to identifying and preventing infestations in your home or business. Let’s delve deeper into the details about these pests. To find out what termites eat, click here.

Appearance and Behavior

Termites are social insects that belong to the order Blattodea. They are commonly known as white ants, but they are not related to ants. Termites are eusocial insects, meaning they live in organized groups with distinct castes that perform different tasks in the colony. They are usually pale or translucent in color and are about 1/4 to 1/2 inch long.

Appearance: Termites have straight antennae which are longer than their head, and they have four wings of equal size. They also have a soft body and straight-sided waists. The soldiers have an elongated, rectangular-shaped head with pincers that they use to defend the colony. Workers and nymphs have no wings and are usually cream colored.

Behavior: Termites are highly social insects and live in colonies that can be small or large depending on the species. They communicate with each other through chemical signals or pheromones. Termites travel in mud tubes or tunnels made of dirt, wood, or saliva. They are attracted to light and moisture, which makes them more likely to infest homes.

The behavior of termites is highly influenced by their diet. They are known for their ability to break down cellulose, the main component of plant cell walls, which they obtain from wood, grass, and paper. Termites have a symbiotic relationship with gut microbes that help them break down the cellulose and extract nutrients from it.

If you would like to learn more about the termite’s diet and its impact on their behavior, check out our article on termite cellulose nutrition.

Termites can cause significant damage to a structure over time if they are left untreated. It is important to be able to identify signs of termite activity early on, such as discarded wings, mud tubes, and damaged wood. If you want to learn more about the signs and patterns of termite feeding, check out our article on termite feeding patterns.

Termites are fascinating insects with complex behavior patterns that are still being studied by scientists today. Their ability to modify their landscape and shape the environment around them is a testament to their adaptability and important role in ecosystems. If you want to learn more about the impact of termites on their environment, read our article on termite landscape modification.

Termite Castes

Within a termite colony there are various castes of termites. Each caste has specific roles and responsibilities within the colony. These castes include workers, soldiers, and reproductives.

  • Workers: Workers are the smallest members of the termite colony and have a white, creamy appearance. They are responsible for foraging for food, caring for the young, and constructing and repairing the colony’s nest. Workers feed the other members of the colony, including the soldiers and reproductives.
  • Soldiers: Soldiers are larger than workers and have an elongated, yellow-brown head with strong mandibles. They are responsible for protecting the colony from predators. Soldiers cannot feed themselves and rely on workers to feed and care for them.
  • Reproductives: Reproductives are the largest members of the colony and have two types: king and queen. They are responsible for reproduction and expanding the colony. Kings and queens are winged termites that swarm and mate during certain times of the year. After mating, the king and queen shed their wings and establish a new colony. Queens can lay eggs for several decades and produce millions of offspring in their lifetime.

Understanding the different castes of termites helps us to better understand their intricate social structure and behavior. For more information on termite feeding habits, check out our article on subterranean termite diet and behavior. To learn about the fascinating relationship between termites and wood, visit our article on termite-wood relationships. Additionally, to learn the differences between drywood and dampwood termites, check out our article on drywood vs dampwood termites. For a deeper dive into the digestive system of termites and their gut microbes, learn more in our article on gut microbes and termite digestion.

Termite Colonies

Termites are social insects that never exist alone; they are communal insects living in colonies. A termite colony consists of different types of individuals, each contributing to the survival and well-being of the colony. The roles of these individuals are divided based on their castes.

The three primary castes in a termite colony are reproductive, worker, and soldier termites. There can be thousands or millions of termites in a single colony, depending on the species. The table below shows the differences between the three termite castes.

Termite CasteDescription
Reproductives (also called “Swarmers”)The only termites that can reproduce, they develop into Kings or Queens after mating flights.
WorkersResponsible for tasks such as feeding the colony, building and maintaining tunnels, and taking care of the young. Workers make up the vast majority of a termite colony.
SoldiersDefend the colony from predators and invaders. Soldiers have large mandibles and heads that they use to protect the colony.

Each termite caste has a specific role in the colony that contributes to the success of the group. Without the cooperation and contribution of each caste, the colony would not survive.

To learn more about how termites work together to survive and the impact they can have on their environment, read our article on termite diet, behavior, and impact.

Feeding Habits of Termites

Feeding Habits Of Termites
When it comes to pest infestations, termites have a reputation as one of the most destructive and invasive species around the world. Understanding the feeding habits of termites is crucial, as it can give you insight into how to detect infestations and control them effectively to protect your property. In this section, we’ll explore the fascinating and complex world of termite feeding habits, including their preferred diets and behavior. Keep reading to learn more!

Cellulose-based Diet

Termites are known for their unique diet, which primarily consists of cellulose. Cellulose is a complex carbohydrate found in plant cell walls and is the most abundant organic compound on Earth. Termites have evolved the ability to break down cellulose with the help of certain microbes in their gut. This diet allows termites to thrive in environments where other animals would struggle to survive.

Cellulose-Based Diet of Termites

Termites get their cellulose from a variety of sources, including:

WoodThe most common source of cellulose for termites is wood. Termites will tunnel through wood to access the cellulose.
GrassSome termites, particularly those in Africa, will feed on grasses. These termites are known as grass-feeding termites.
LeavesCertain termites will also feed on leaves. These termites are usually found in tropical and subtropical regions.
SoilSome termites, such as subterranean termites, will also eat the cellulose found in soil and other organic debris.

It’s important to note that not all termites feed on cellulose. In fact, there are some termite species that have evolved to feed on other materials, such as fungus or other insects. However, the vast majority of termites have a cellulose-based diet.

Breaking Down Cellulose

As mentioned earlier, termites are able to break down cellulose with the help of microbes in their gut. These microbes, which are typically protozoa and bacteria, produce enzymes that can break down the complex cellulose molecule into its simpler components, such as glucose.

Once the cellulose has been broken down, the termites are able to absorb the nutrients from it. In some cases, the microbes in the termite’s gut can even produce additional nutrients, such as proteins or vitamins, that the termite may not be able to get from the cellulose alone.

The Importance of Cellulose for Termites

Cellulose is an incredibly important part of the termite’s diet. Without it, termites would not be able to survive. In fact, the unique ability to break down cellulose has allowed termites to become one of the most successful groups of animals on the planet.

However, this ability to break down cellulose is also one of the reasons why termites can be such a nuisance for homeowners. Termites that have infested a home will feed on the cellulose found in its wooden structures, causing extensive damage over time. It’s important to take steps to prevent and control termite infestations to protect your home and property.

Subterranean Termites Feeding Habits

Subterranean termites are known for their relentless destruction of wooden structures. They have unique feeding habits that must be investigated to understand their behavior and control measures. Here are the key features of their feeding habits:

  • Foraging: Subterranean termites forage continuously for sources of cellulose. They build mud tubes that allow them to traverse above ground and find food. Their mud tubes protect them from predators and help to maintain humidity, which they need to survive.
  • Prefer Softwood: Subterranean termites prefer to feed on softwood. They will scavenge for cracks in the wood and dig tunnels to create galleries where they can feed. The damage can become extensive if it goes unnoticed.
  • Moisture: Subterranean termites are attracted to moisture and will seek out damp areas near wooden structures. They will burrow in the earth to find soil and moisture, using mud tubes to travel between their nest and food sources.
  • Size of Colonies: Subterranean termite colonies can range from a few thousand to several million individuals, and the size of the colony will impact their feeding habits. Larger colonies will require more food and may be more destructive, as they forage over a wider area.

To prevent subterranean termites from feeding on your wooden structures, it is important to eliminate sources of moisture and keep the area around your home dry. Regular inspections by a professional exterminator can also help catch infestations early. If you suspect an infestation, it is crucial to act promptly and contact a professional pest control company that specializes in termite control.

Dampwood Termites Feeding Habits

Dampwood termites are one of the three main types of termites that can invade our homes. These termites are larger than drywood termites and subterranean termites, and they typically inhabit damp or decaying wood. Here are some facts you need to know about dampwood termites feeding habits:

1. Dampwood termites prefer wet wood: As their name suggests, dampwood termites thrive on wood that has a high moisture content. They are often found in logs, stumps, and other types of wood that are in contact with moist soil. These termites can also eat through wet or decaying wood in a home.

2. Dampwood termites do not need soil: Unlike subterranean termites, dampwood termites do not need soil to survive. They can establish a colony in a log or a tree trunk and feed on it for years without ever touching the soil. This makes them particularly difficult to detect until the damage is already done.

3. Dampwood termites digest wood with the help of gut protozoa: Dampwood termites rely on protozoa in their gut to help them digest wood. The protozoa break down the cellulose in the wood, allowing the termites to extract the nutrients they need. This symbiotic relationship allows dampwood termites to feed on wood that is considered too wet or too decayed for other termites to digest.

4. Dampwood termites can cause significant damage to a home: If dampwood termites are left unchecked, they can cause significant damage to a home’s wooden structure. They can chew through walls, floors, and even furniture. Signs of dampwood termite infestations include small holes in wood, piles of sawdust, and weakened or damaged wood.

To prevent dampwood termites from feeding on your home, it’s important to keep your wooden structures dry and well-ventilated. Remove any decaying wood or tree stumps near your house, and fix leaky pipes or other sources of moisture. If you suspect that you have a dampwood termite infestation, it’s best to consult with a professional pest control service to determine the best course of action.

Drywood Termites Feeding Habits

Drywood termites are a type of termite that, as their name suggests, live and feed in dry, sound wood. Unlike subterranean termites, the drywood termites don’t require contact with soil moisture to survive. Here are a few feeding habits that characterize drywood termites:

  • Target dry wood: Unlike other termites that need moisture to survive and feed on the wood, drywood termites prefer to feed on dry wood that is above the ground, such as dead trees, logs, and wooden structures. They usually nest within the wood themselves, making it difficult to identify their presence.
  • Favored wood species: Drywood termites have a preference for feeding on hardwood species such as oak, walnut, and maple. However, they can also survive on softwood species such as pine, spruce, and cedar.
  • Feeding patterns: Drywood termites chew along and across the wood grain, excavating large galleries where they live and deposit fecal pellets. These pellets are usually similar in color and size to grains of sand and can be found below infested wood.
  • Colonization: A single drywood termite colony can contain several thousand individuals, and they often go unnoticed for years because of their inconspicuous nature. They can easily spread from one piece of wood to another, thereby causing widespread damage to a building or structure if not detected and eliminated early enough.

It’s important to know the feeding habits of drywood termites because they can cause significant damage to wooden structures. The damage caused by drywood termites is usually localized and affects small areas of wood, but it can quickly spread and compromise the integrity of entire structures if left unchecked.

If you suspect that you have a drywood termite infestation, it’s essential to contact a pest control professional as soon as possible. Professional pest control services can help to assess the extent of the infestation and recommend suitable treatment options, including localized or whole-structure fumigation, heat treatment, or other non-chemical methods. It may also be necessary to carry out repairs to damaged woodwork or insulation to prevent future infestations.

Signs of Termite Feeding

Termites are notorious for causing severe damage to wooden structures, and it’s crucial to be able to identify early signs of termite feeding in order to take effective control measures. Here are some tell-tale signs of termite feeding that you should look out for:

  • Hollow-sounding wood: When termites feed on wood, they leave behind papery or hollow channels that can cause the wood to sound hollow when tapped with a screwdriver or hammer.
  • Frass: This is a fancy term for termite droppings, and can be identified as tiny, powdery pellets that resemble sawdust. They are often found near termite tunnels or exit holes.
  • Mud tubes: Subterranean termites build mud tubes that run from the soil to their feeding sites in wood. These mud tubes can resemble dried mud or clay and are about the width of a pencil.
  • Swarmers: Winged termites or “swarmers” are reproductive termites that fly in search of new locations to establish a colony. If you see them near your home, it’s a sign that there is an established termite colony nearby.
  • Uneven or bubbling paint: Termites feed on the cellulose in wood, causing the paint and drywall to bubble or become misshapen.
  • Sagging floors or ceilings: When termites feed on the wooden structures that make up your floor or ceiling, it can weaken them and cause them to sag or buckle.

If you notice any of these signs of termite feeding in your home, it’s important to take immediate action in order to prevent further damage. Contact a professional termite extermination company to inspect your home and recommend the appropriate control measures for your situation.

Termite Control Methods

As fascinating as it is to learn about termite feeding habits, it’s equally important to address the issue of controlling their population in homes and buildings. The damage caused by termites can be costly, and it’s crucial to take steps to prevent them from infesting your property. Termite control methods come in several forms, from preventative measures to chemical treatments to professional intervention. In this section, we’ll explore the various methods available for controlling and preventing termite infestations.

Preventative Measures

Taking preventative measures is key to avoiding termite infestations. Here are some measures you can take to prevent termites from entering your home:

  • Eliminate moisture sources: Termites thrive in damp environments, so make sure to fix any leaks or water damage in and around your home. Keep gutters clean and free of debris to prevent water from pooling around your home’s foundation.
  • Remove food sources: Cellulose-based materials like wood and paper attract termites. Keep firewood and other wood debris away from your home, and store paper products like cardboard boxes and old newspapers in dry, elevated areas.
  • Seal entry points: Termites can enter your home through cracks and crevices in the foundation, walls, and roof. Seal these entry points to keep termites out.
  • Monitor your home: Regularly inspect your home for signs of termite activity, such as mud tubes or damaged wood. Early detection can prevent a small infestation from turning into a large and costly problem.
  • Use treated wood: If you’re building a new home or making additions to your current home, use pressure-treated wood that’s been treated with chemicals that repel termites.
  • Consider a professional inspection: A professional termite inspection can detect early signs of termite activity and identify areas of your home that are vulnerable to infestation. Consider having a professional inspection done annually.

By implementing these preventative measures, you can greatly reduce your risk of a termite infestation and protect your home from costly damage.

Chemical Treatments

Chemical treatments for termite control have been widely used for decades to protect homes and buildings from termite infestations. These treatments involve the use of strong chemicals that are deadly to termites and other pests. Here are some of the most commonly used chemical treatments for termite control.

  • Termiticides: Termiticides are chemicals that are used to create a barrier around the perimeter of a structure to prevent termites from entering. These chemicals are usually applied to the soil around the foundation of the building. They work by either repelling termites or killing them on contact.
  • Borate: Borate is a natural mineral that is commonly used as a wood preservative. Borate can be applied directly to wood to protect it from termites and other pests. Borate works by absorbing into the wood and poisoning the termites that try to feed on it.
  • Fipronil: Fipronil is a powerful insecticide that is used to control a wide range of pests, including termites. Fipronil is usually applied in a liquid form to the soil around the foundation of the building. It works by killing termites that come into contact with it.
  • Imidacloprid: Imidacloprid is a systemic insecticide that is used to control a variety of pests, including termites. It is usually applied to the soil around the foundation of the building. Imidacloprid works by poisoning the termites that feed on the treated soil.

It’s important to note that these chemicals can be harmful to humans and pets, so it’s essential to use them with caution and follow all instructions provided by the manufacturer or pest control professional. Some termites have developed resistance to certain chemicals, so it’s important to use a variety of control methods to effectively manage a termite infestation.

Bait Stations

One of the options for termite control is the use of bait stations. These are small containers that have been filled with bait that will attract termites. The termites will feed on the bait, and in doing so, they will transfer the bait’s active ingredient back to the colony. As a result, the bait will slowly eliminate the termite population over time.

The use of bait stations is considered to be one of the more eco-friendly ways of controlling termites. These stations don’t rely on the use of harmful chemicals, but instead rely on a more strategic approach that is less disruptive to the surrounding environment.

Here are some things that you should know about bait stations:

  • They are typically installed around the perimeter of a building or home.
  • They must be checked and monitored regularly for signs of termite activity.
  • Once termite activity has been confirmed, the bait will be replaced with a more potent mixture to control the colony.
  • It can take several months for the treatment to be effective, but it is a non-invasive method that can provide long-term results.
  • Bait stations can be used in conjunction with other treatment methods for more effective termite control.

If you are considering using bait stations as a form of termite control, it’s essential to understand that this option requires both patience and persistence. It may take several months before significant results are noticed, and monitoring must continue over an extended period to ensure that the colony has been completely eliminated. However, when used correctly, bait stations can be an effective method for controlling termite populations while also being kind to the environment.


Fumigation is a technique used to eliminate termites from a building. It involves enclosing the entire structure in a tent and then fumigating the internal space with a toxic gas, usually sulfuryl fluoride. This gas is highly effective in killing termites, as it penetrates all wood and masonry surfaces. However, due to its toxicity, it can also be dangerous to pets and humans if not handled correctly. Here are some important points to keep in mind if fumigation is deemed necessary:

– Only trained professionals should carry out fumigation, as they will have the necessary equipment and knowledge to protect themselves and others from the gas.
– The home will need to be vacated for a certain period of time during the fumigation process, usually around 24 to 48 hours.
– All living things, including pets and plants, should be removed from the home prior to fumigation.
– All food and consumed products must be sealed away or removed from the building.
– Upon returning to the home after the fumigation process, it is important to air out the property thoroughly before re-entering.
It is important to note that fumigation is not always the best solution for termite control and should only be used as a last resort. Fumigation does not prevent termites from returning to the property, and it can be quite expensive. Additionally, it can also harm the environment. If you are unsure about whether fumigation is necessary, it is best to consult with a pest control professional who can advise on alternative termite control solutions.

Natural Treatments

Looking for natural ways to control termite infestations? Fortunately, there are several organic and eco-friendly options available. These natural treatments are less invasive and less damaging to the environment as compared to traditional chemical treatments.

Here are some natural remedies that you can use to control the spread of termites in your home:

Plant Essential OilsPlant essential oils like orange oil and neem oil are popular natural remedies to combat termites.May need to be applied frequently. Not as effective as chemical treatments in severe infestations.
Boric AcidBoric acid is an effective natural remedy for termites. It is an odorless and non-toxic solution that causes dehydration and death in termites.May take several weeks or months to take effect, and not as effective in severe infestations.
Beneficial NematodesBeneficial nematodes are microscopic worms that feed on termites. They do not harm humans, plants, or animals.May not be effective against all species of termites, and can be killed by high temperatures.
Vinegar and Lemon JuiceVinegar and lemon juice contain acids that can kill termites. They are also readily available and inexpensive.May need to be applied regularly, and not as effective in severe infestations.

While natural treatments can be effective, they are not recommended to be used as the sole method of termite control in severe infestations. It is best to consult a professional pest control service for the most effective and comprehensive solution to termite problems.

Professional Treatment

Professional termite treatment is the most effective and reliable way to get rid of termite colonies. It involves hiring a professional pest control company to assess the extent of the termite infestation and come up with a treatment plan that works best for your situation. The following are some of the popular professional termite treatment options:

  • Soil treatment: This involves applying a termiticide to the soil beneath and around the structure to create a barrier that prevents termites from entering or exiting the building.
  • Baiting: This involves installing bait stations around the structure, which are filled with cellulose material that attracts termites. Once the termites feed on the bait, they carry the poison back to their colony, causing the entire colony to be eliminated.
  • Fumigation: This involves covering the entire structure with a tent and filling it with a gas fumigant that kills the termites. Fumigation is usually a last resort when other treatments have failed.
  • Wood treatments: This involves treating exposed wood surfaces with chemicals that prevent termites from feeding on them. This is an effective method for preventing future infestations.
  • Non-toxic treatments: This involves using non-toxic and environmentally friendly methods to control termite infestations, such as heat or freeze treatments.

It is important to note that professional termite treatments can be costly and time-consuming, but the investment can save you thousands of dollars in the long run by preventing extensive termite damage to your property. Additionally, it is essential to hire a licensed and insured pest control company with a proven track record of success in termite control.


After delving deep into the world of termites and the intricacies of their feeding habits, it’s clear that these pests can cause a great deal of damage. It’s important to be aware of the signs of termite infestation, such as finding mud tubes or piles of discarded wings, as well as to understand the different types of termites and their feeding preferences.

Preventative measures such as keeping wood off the ground and fixing leaks promptly can go a long way in deterring termites from invading your home. In the event of an infestation, chemical treatments, bait stations, fumigation, natural treatments, and professional treatment are all options to consider. It’s important to choose the best course of action based on the severity of the infestation and the type of termite present.

Termites may be small, but their impact can be huge. By being informed about their feeding habits and knowing the warning signs, you can take proactive steps to protect your home and prevent costly damage. Don’t wait until it’s too late – start taking measures to prevent termite infestations today.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can termites cause damage to my home?

Yes, termites can cause significant damage to homes and other wooden structures if left untreated. They feed on cellulose-based materials, which include wood and paper.

What are the signs of a termite infestation?

Signs of a termite infestation include mud tubes on exterior surfaces, discarded wings, and wood that sounds hollow when tapped. You may also notice small piles of wood shavings or droppings.

Can I prevent a termite infestation?

Yes, there are preventative measures you can take to reduce the likelihood of a termite infestation. These include keeping wood away from your home’s foundation, fixing leaks and moisture problems, and having regular professional inspections.

How do subterranean termites feed?

Subterranean termites feed on wood and other cellulose-based materials in the soil. They create tunnels to reach their food sources and can cause significant damage to wooden structures.

What do dampwood termites feed on?

Dampwood termites feed on moist wood, including decaying logs, stumps, and fallen trees. They are typically found in areas with high moisture content.

What is the best way to control termites?

The best way to control termites depends on the severity of the infestation. Preventative measures, chemical treatments, bait stations, fumigation, natural treatments, and professional treatment are all effective methods.

Can I treat a termite infestation on my own?

While there are do-it-yourself termite treatments available, it is generally recommended that you seek professional assistance. Termite infestations can be difficult to identify and treat, and professional pest control experts have the knowledge and resources to effectively eliminate termites.

How long does termite treatment take?

The length of time it takes to treat a termite infestation varies depending on the severity of the problem and the treatment method used. In some cases, treatment can take as little as a few hours, while more extensive infestations may require several days or more.

Will termite treatment harm my family and pets?

When handled properly by a professional, termite treatments are generally safe for humans and pets. However, it is important to follow all safety instructions provided by the pest control expert to minimize any potential risks.

Can termites come back after treatment?

There is a possibility that termites can return after treatment, especially if preventative measures are not taken. Annual inspections and routine maintenance can help to ensure that your home remains termite-free.


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Nicholas Martin

Nicholas Martin

I am Nicholas Martin, and I am an entomologist. I combine the insect survey work with the consultation for private pest control agencies. My narrow specializations are both urban pests and agricultural pests. I studied their control over the previous 25 years. More about Nick

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