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How Much Damage Can Termites Really Do?

By Chris Williams on October 16, 2013.
Termites and damage

Question

Once a mature colony of eastern subterranean termites invades a structure, termite workers will quickly consume the wood. True or False?

Answer

False. According to the U.S. Forest Service, under ideal conditions an average-sized eastern subterranean termite colony of about 60,000 workers will consume 1/5 ounce of wood a day. This means it will take 5-6 months for the colony to totally consume a one-foot length of 2X4. So, when you see a badly damaged structure, you know the termites have been working it for a long time.

Be glad that we only have eastern subterranean termites in our area. In the southern coastal U.S., Formosan subterranean termites have much bigger colonies and are much more destructive. A small-sized Formosan colony of 350,000 workers can consume the same one foot 2X4 in less than a month – seven times faster than the eastern subterranean termites. A more typical Formosan colony of 3 million termites could eat that one foot of 2X4 in only two days!

Two cautions on the above information: First, the consumption figures are for average colonies. Some termite colonies can be much bigger…or much smaller. Second, termites don’t wait to completely finish a one-foot section of 2X4 before moving on; they feed in a number of different sites at the same time. Finally, the numbers are for continuous ideal moisture and temperature conditions. In our region, feeding drops off considerably in cold weather. So, while your house won’t fall down overnight, ignoring a termite problem will eventually be a costly proposition.

Photo credit: Malcolm NQ / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

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