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COULD THIS BE TERMITE DAMAGE?

By Chris Williams on November 10, 2017.

Can you tell me what termite damage looks like? I think I might have found some when I was opening a wall downstairs. R. W., Exeter, NH

First, if you think you might have termites, I strongly recommend that you have a pest control professional inspect your home. Termite damage can look like damage from wood rot or damage from other wood-infesting insects that also create galleries within the wood. In any case, your home may need treatment. But it could also be old, inactive termite damage, especially if your home has had a recent termite treatment or baiting program. A professional inspection could save you money.

Our native eastern subterranean termites tunnel into and feed on wood, usually wood that is decaying or is, or has been, damp and softened. The termite colony lives in soil but travels mostly underground to find wood. Depending on how the termites are entering the wood in your home, you might see mud tubes from the ground or from the exterior up to the infested wood, that’s an important clue (see What Do Termite Tubes Look Like?). Worker termites travel inside these tubes when they have to leave the soil.

LOOKING AT THE OUTSIDE OF TERMITE-INFESTED WOOD

Subterranean termites can continue to feed unseen inside the wood until only a thin outer shell remains. Even in heavily-infested wood, the wood surface may appear normal or may have some dark, blistered areas. Damaged wood will have a hollow sound when tapped, is easily penetrated with a screwdriver, and usually breaks apart in long splinters when probed. When you probe into or break open termite- infested wood, you will see chewed-out galleries in the wood and you might see white worker or soldier termites inside.

LOOKING AT THE INSIDE OF TERMITE-INFESTED WOOD

Eastern subterranean termites eat mostly the softer springwood portion of wood between the growth rings, leaving bands of harder-to-digest summerwood. This gives the wood a honeycomb or layered appearance. Termite galleries are not smooth and clean but are instead layered with a mixture of solid and digested wood, and soil. The walls of the galleries have light speckles of plastered fecal material that looks somewhat like dried oatmeal. In old or exposed termite damage, the plastered fecal/mud material may be completely dried up or missing, leaving only the lattice-like layering of the damaged wood.

The one thing that termite galleries don’t have is any sawdust-like material, wood frass, or dry fecal pellets and there is no wood dust or shavings beneath the infested wood. This type of evidence is indicative of wood-boring beetles or carpenter ants instead.

Before you close up that wall, give Colonial Pest a call and ask for a termite inspection. If your wood has a moisture problem, you’ll want to know about that, too. In the long run, you’ll be glad you called. See It’s Never the Wrong Time for a Termite Inspection.

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