What does termites feed on

What Do Termites Eat?

By Chris Williams on February 9, 2012.

Subterranean termites eat wood and other materials that contain cellulose. In the forest termites are primary decomposers. Termites feed on dead trees, fallen limbs, and stumps. Termites are able to return nutrients from the cellulosic materials to the soil and atmosphere. Without the work of termites and other agents of decay like fungi, beetles, sowbugs, ants, and millipedes, the surface of the earth would be littered with downed trees and debris. By working to break down this mass of wood termites and their ilk clear the way for new growth, and recycle the nutrients within the old trees.

Termites are able to digest cellulose with the help of a symbiotic protozoan that lives within the hindgut. These protozoa, known as mastigophoran flagellates(in principle pest families of termites found in North America, Rhinotermitidae and Kalotermitidae) have evolved with the termites throughout their evolution. Newly hatched termites do not poses the protozoa, and must obtain them from an older termite. The process by which this is accomplished is called proctodeal feeding. Proctodeal feeding involves taking a small amount of liquid intestinal content from the anal opening of an older termite. During the molting process, a termiteโ€™s skin is shed as well as the hindgut lining. Molting results in a loss of the protozoa as well, and requires the termites to replenish the hindgut through proctodeal feeding. This is termed โ€œrefaunationโ€.

Termites are highly social insects that live together as a colony. Colonies start when winged reproductive, or allates, leave the nest in what is called swarming. Swarming takes place in spring to early summer, on warm days following a rain. Worker termites sense the environment for the right conditions and when the time is right, the swarm leaves the nest. Allates, male and female termites, leave the nest and pair up. Once paired the wings are shed, and the royal couple finds a suitable place in or near a food source(bark mulch, stumps, wood piles, etcโ€ฆ). Mating quickly takes place and the queen termite begins to lay eggs. Egg laying is slow at first, but increases with time. More workers are born and begin to find more food. It generally takes between 4 and 6 years for a termites colony to reach maturity and produce a swarm.

As the colony grows, a nest is made below the surface of the soil. A subterranean termite nest is like a big ball of hardened soil, made from a mixture of soil, termite feces, and saliva. A labyrinth of underground chambers and tubes make up the nest proper. Foraging tunnels extend out in all directions from the nest. Termites forage just below the surface of the soil, locating food through contact and other cues. Certain fungi and molds in decaying wood create chemicals that attract termite workers. As workers forage, they are able to use the earthโ€™s magnetic field to navigate around the colony, they also have a strong sense of gravity. Sometimes workers within a structural piece of wood, such as a beam, will create working tunnels that extend straight down to the soil from above called suspended or drop tubes. Drop tubes form a more direct route back to the colony to speed up feeding, and are quite astonishing to view.

Eastern subterranean termite colonies require about 1 cubic foot of wood per year, or more, depending on the size of the colony. Although many food sources contribute to this, if the termites are solely feeding on a structure, damage can become quite severe over time. Because of termites cryptic lifestyle they often go unnoticed until damage or a swarm is noted. Typical indications of termite activity within a structure include: swarming events, the presence of mud tunnels or tubes coming up the exterior or interior foundation walls, visible swarm slits in wood members, and soil where it should not be. If you think that termites are attacking your house, call a Pest Control Professional as soon as possible!


What Do Termites Eat?

Typical Feeding Habits of Termites

Cellulose Digestion

Termites eat cellulose material including the following:

In nature, this is helpful because the pests are able to break down decaying trees and dying plants. However, the digestion of cellulose is no easy task. Even large animals such as cows and goats have difficulty stomaching the substance. To get past that, those animals chew grass for long periods of time until the cellulose is more easily digested.


Termites are able to live off cellulose thanks to the organisms found in their stomachs. Bacteria and protozoa form a mutually beneficial relationship with the pests by producing a special enzyme that naturally breaks down cellulose. They digest the cellulose, and termites receive their nutrition in the form of sugar. Additionally, some termite species favor wood that’s already being broken down by fungi to make digestion easier.

Immature termites that don’t yet have the bacteria and protozoa in their stomachs, soldiers, and reproductives are fed by workers. Worker termites pass on the cellulose-turned-sugar substance via a mouth-to-mouth feeding process.

The pests become problematic for homeowners when they feed on wooden structures in buildings. As social insects, termites typically live in large colonies and target different types of wood depending on the species. In most circumstances, infestations of the pest can grow unnoticed until the serious structural damage is already done.

Diet of Drywood Termites

Drywood termites infest decks, fences, furniture and structural wooden members of homes that remain dry. The pests tend to nest aboveground and usually will not come into contact with the soil. Lumberyards and other areas that store and sell wood can unwittingly pass termite infestations onto homeowners. Drywood termite species also infest utility poles. These termite species typically enter the home directly through attic vents or by penetrating wooden shingles.

Diets of Dampwood & Subterranean Termite Species

By contrast, dampwood and subterranean termites infest wood that is already decaying or is in contact with a suitable source of moisture. Homeowners usually find mud tubes on exterior walls that lead from underground termite nests to their food source. Finding infestations of subterranean and dampwood termites can indicate a leak somewhere in the home. Dampwood and subterranean termites build large galleries in infested wood that may cause extensive damage.

How Do They Find Food?

The food-finding habits of subterranean termites seem to be based on where they think wood should be, not on knowing where it is exactly. (In most species, the worker termites do not have eyes and therefore, cannot “see” the location of wood.)

A termite colony’s strategy goes something like this:

  • Cellulose (wood and other similar material) is extremely abundant above ground and below ground – if you tunnel randomly and long enough in the soil, you are bound to find some.
  • Follow objects (like rocks and tree and shrub roots), cracks or gaps in the soil – this will likely help you locate a food source.
  • Follow increasing amounts of soil moisture – this is best for survival (termites need moist conditions) and more likely to lead to organic matter.
  • Follow the scent of fungi associated with food – many of these microorganisms attack and break down wood. You can often find more termites where there is fungi.
  • Finally, the colony sends out a large number of workers in search of food – the more you send, the better chances you have to get a hit.
  • As soon as someone gets a hit, they return to get help, but they leave a chemical trail behind so the new recruits can find their way to the food.

When one of the wandering workers locates food, the sharing and cooperation behavior kicks in. The individual worker or a small group of workers will be at the food for a short time, but then return to the nest or go out and recruit other workers to the food. Sharing food is key to colony survival. Because workers feed and groom each other, the energy put into foraging by individuals pays off for everyone.


What Types of Wood do Termites Eat?

Termites, or the silent destroyers, will attack any part of your home where is wood, without the homeowner even knowing. Shelter, food, moisture and anything else necessary for a termite to survive are all located in one spot-your home.

To survive, termites are constantly looking for types of wood to eat. Theyโ€™re looking for cellulose, which is the most ample, organic compound that can be found in the wild. It is found in plants and in various materials that we use daily. Termites will feed on anything with cellulose: cotton fibers, plants, paper products and the most popular, wood. To break down the cellulose fibers from wood, termites have bacteria and protozoa in their gut. This bacteria and protozoa transform the cellulose fibers into food and gives termites a food source that is usually overlooked by other species.

Subterranean termites enjoy eating on the softer fibers of springwood and donโ€™t bother with the harder summerwood. The springwood that subterranean termites like looks like a honeycomb, containing dirt and fecal particles.

Drywood termites will look for dry wood. This could be wood you find in your homeโ€™s framing, timbers, floors and furniture.

Dampwood termites look for moist wood such as dead or dying tree stumps and logs.

If you believe that your house has been infected by termites, contact Ultrafast Pest Control today! You can schedule an inspection by calling us at 781-894-7700 or by filling out our contact form.


15 Surprising Things Termites Eat (And Donโ€™t Eat)

Curious to know what termites like to eat?

Well you’re in for a treat because we break down everything you need to know about termites and their dietary habits!

From concrete to plywood, what WON’T a termite chomp on?

Termites and Their Eating Habits

Have you ever noticed that you only seem to see termites infesting wooden structures?

Why is that? Do they eat anything else?

Want to skip all this research and just hire a decent exterminator for your termite problem?

Click here to check out our exterminator search tool where we instantly send you free quotes from trusted (and thoroughly vetted) exterminators in your local area.

(Process takes about 30 seconds)

Why Do Termites Like Wood?

Studies of the gut of a termite have been performed on a microscopic level to reveal something unexpected: these pests actually have bacterial protozoa living in their stomachs, digesting their food for them.

These protozoa break down cellulose, a biological compound found in wood, and create fuel from this unlikely resource. Because cellulose is found most abundantly in wood and tree roots, termites gravitate toward it.

Check out this video to learn more about WHY termites like wood!

Will Termites Eat Concrete?

Termites will NOT eat through concrete.

However, because termites will crawl through pre-made cracks in concrete structures and surfaces in search of wood, many people will fall to the misconception that the termites themselves have created the cracks.

Will Termites Eat Plastic?

While termites only feed on items with a cellulose compound, it’s not uncommon for termites to use their serrated jaws to chew through plastic barriers. When it comes to wood, termites will do whatever they can to gnaw through blockades.

The termites aren’t eating the plastic, however. This will not give them sustenance; they are using their jaws more as a weapon than as a vehicle for food.

What Wood Will A Termite Eat?

Okay, so termites are really only in search of cellulose, which is found primarily in wood.

But is all wood created equal to termites? Keep reading to find out.

Will Termites Eat Cedar?

These pests will stay away from cedar at first, however, this won’t always be the case. Over time, the wood will begin to break down and the resinousโ€‹โ€‹โ€‹โ€‹โ€‹ decay will be attractive to termites.

Will Termites Eat Bamboo?

While bamboo is often eaten by pests, it’s not by termites.

The most common insect feeding off of this unique type of wood is the Bostrichid powerpost beetle, which feeds on different types of hard and soft wood.

Will Termites Eat Redwood?

Redwood is another type of wood that’s a natural deterrent for termites.

In the wild, redwood acts as treated wood does in warding off worker termites seeking food for the colony. However, as time wears on, the wood gets worn out. Its resin seeps into the ground, luring termites to feast.

Do Termites Eat Building Supplies?

If you’re in the process of building a home, shed, garage, or any other structure, you’re going to want to use the right materials upfront.

To prevent termite infestation, read below about how likely termites are to chow down on your different supplies.

Will Termites Eat Pressure Treated Lumber ?

The answer to this is a solid no.

Pressure treatment of lumber with chemicals is the number-one step taken against termites. The wood is packed with a preserving agent to stop decay as well as fill the wood with a chemical compound which acts as a blockade against termites. Normally, this is the wood that makes direct contact with the ground, so that when termites encounter the lumber, they’ll pass it right by.

Will Termites Eat Plywood?

This answer depends on whether the plywood has been pressure-treated or not.

Plywood is composed of several cuts of wood glued together, which contains cellulose. Normally, termites will find this cellulose in plywood, so they’ll eat it. However, with a pressure treatment, the termites will no longer be able to sniff out their favorite food.

Will Termites Eat OSB?

Oriented strand board (OSB) is made of wood, but it is cement-bonded for extra durability. For this reason, termites aren’t likely to eat it.

The presence of the cement works to deter termites from the cellulose in the wood chips which make up the board, but also prevents decay. These two factors significantly decrease the likelihood that termites will eat OSB.

Will Termites Eat Sheetrock?

The paper which lines the front of a sheetrock wall is comprised of cellulose, so it’s a nice appetizer for termites. While they don’t like to eat the actual sheetrock itself, they’ll begin to eat the outer layer and search inside for more cellulose.

Also, the walls behind the sheetrock layer in a home or a garage are primarily made of wood, so it’s not unlikely that a termite will keep journeying straight through the sheetrock to find even more cellulose.

Will Termites Eat Particle Board?

Because particle board is made up of several different types of wood (chips, sawdust, waste materials), termites LOVE to eat particle board.

Another major attractant of termites to particle board is its ability to swell with moisture. Because some termites love dampened wood, wet particle board is like serving termites their favorite food on a silver platter.

Termites and Their Diet Outside!

What do termites eat in the wild?

Do you have plants in your yard that could be harboring termite colonies without your knowledge?

Read on for more info.

Will Termites Eat Live Trees?

Normally, live trees and bushes are not optimal sources of food for termites, as these insects feed on dead and decaying cellulose.

However, Formosan Subterranean termites can take over some species of live trees, burrowing into the centers and making themselves at home inside.

Unless the tree starts to decay, you should be okay.

Will Termites Eat Cypress?

Cypress is another type of wood (along with cedar and redwood) which is naturally decay-resistant during its lifespan.

However, once the tree dies, it will eventually break down. Also, the presence of moisture within the tree’s trunk, branches, and roots can lead termites to a cypress tree.

Will Termites Eat Dry Wood?

The answer to this question, unfortunately, is yes.

There’s a species of termite which feeds exclusively on dry, smooth wood such as hardwood floors, banisters, baseboards, and even furniture. The tunnels made by the termites’ chewing are smooth and finished, as the drywood termites don’t have the same serrated, jagged jaw that the dampwood termites have.

Will Termites Eat Painted Wood?

Here’s some good news for all homeowners: termites won’t eat through paint!

However, whether or not a termite colony will make its way into your wood depends on how well the wood was painted. If the pieces of wood inside the ground are bare, then this is a surefire way for termites to make their way inside the wooden structure.

Do yourself a favor and leave no spot unpainted.

Will Termites Eat Poplar Wood?

Poplar wood is defined at utilitarian, working wood. It can be a blend of a few different types of wood, all with different levels of resistance to termites.

Each kind of wood has cellulose, which will always be what a colony of termites is after. However, some poplar wood may be stronger at protecting against termites if made from certain naturally-resistant trees like cypress, redwood, and cedar.

Want to skip all this research and just hire a decent exterminator for your termite problem?

Click here to check out our exterminator search tool where we instantly send you free quotes from trusted (and thoroughly vetted) exterminators in your local area.

(Process takes about 30 seconds)

Termite Diet Final Thoughts

If there’s one thing to remember about a termite’s dietary habits, it’s that these insects will always feast on cellulose and decaying wood.

Any item or particle made up of cellulose is prime cuisine for a termite. This includes nearly every type of wood, especially those which swell with moisture.

Steps can be taken, however, to protect wood against termite infestation such as pressure treatment, concrete reinforcement, and sealant coats.

By knowing the prime attractant for termites, you can better protect against an infestation in the future.

Other Termite Guides

Curious about other termite related articles? Check out our other detailed guides to help you deal with your pest problems.


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