How drywood and subterranean termites differ

Mention the word “termites”, and most people will immediately think of some type of whitish colored insect that feeds on wood and can damage buildings. It is true that termites can damage wooden structures and that most of them eat wood, but when you consider there being thousands of species of termites in the world, it won’t be surprising to know that there are also major differences amongst each species or type. However, it is important to know how drywood and subterranean termites differ.

In the interest of home owners, it would help to know that there are mainly two groups of termites that have the potential to cause structural damage to wood inside buildings. These two groups are subterranean and drywood termites, and are so named because of their mode of nesting. Some countries may have some problems with arboreal or mound building termites, but for urban areas, only subterranean or drywood termites should be of concern.

These two groups comprise many species altogether, and both groups feed on wood, but they are fundamentally different as far as nest building is concerned. This is but one of the major characteristics that set them apart.

Knowing which type of termite problem you have can help you make better decisions with regards to the treatment method to employ, since using the wrong treatment method would not only not work, but it would be a waste of money and time.

Subterranean termites live in the ground and are the most commonly encountered type of termite. Most instances of termite damage are due to subterranean termites. They construct nests underneath the soil surface and tunnel their way from the soil into nearby homes and houses. The ones that cause massive structural damage can build nests that number into the millions of individuals and affect more than one building (if the buildings are nearby).

Subterranean termites

Above – Subterranean termites, e.g Coptotermes spp.

Many kinds of subterranean termites will build mud covered shelter tubes if they need to cross an exposed stretch. The presence of mud covered tubes is a sure sign that subterranean termites are present in the immediate area.

Drywood termites nest in wood and their nests are only a fraction of the size of the more notorious subterranean termites. Due to their small colony size, drywood termites do not cause as much damage as subterranean termites, (or specifically, not nearly as fast). It takes years for a single nest of drywood termites to wreck havoc on a beam of wood.

Drywood termites

Above – Drywood termites, e.g Cryptotermes spp.

However, what they lack in numbers, they make up for in reproduction rate. Drywood termites frequently produce and send out tiny winged future kings and queens to form new nests. They are also particularly abundant in coastal areas, and therefore, it is not uncommon to find old houses or buildings that have multiple nests or infestations going on at the same time.

A key difference is the little small pellets or frass, which drywood termites produce that subterranean termites do not. This frass is as good as any indicator that drywood termites are present and currently feeding on, and hollowing out your wood!

Below is a general summary of the key differences between subterranean termites and drywood termites.

Differences chart

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