Do Termites Eat Live Trees? Surprising Facts Uncovered

Termites are notorious for causing damage to wooden structures and dead trees. However, when it comes to live trees, their feeding habits might raise a few questions. This article will explore whether termites eat live trees and the implications of their feeding habits for tree health.

Although termites primarily feed on dead plant material and wood, their presence can also be found in live trees. They are attracted to moist and decaying wood, making injured or diseased trees susceptible to infestation. The Oregon State University literature provides insight into the different types of termites and their behavior regarding wood consumption.

In some situations, termites can assist in the decomposition process by consuming dead plant materials, as mentioned by the University of Florida study. However, in the case of live trees, their infestation can exacerbate existing health issues and potentially lead to the decline of the affected trees.

Do Termites Eat Live Trees?

Understanding Termite Behavior

Termites are primarily known for their wood-eating habits. They consume cellulose, a major component found in plant cell walls and wood, to fulfill their dietary requirements. Though termites primarily infest dead wood, some species are known to attack live trees. For example, Formosan termites can feed on live trees, causing significant damage.

Subterranean termites and drywood termites usually prefer dead wood, but they may also target weakened live trees. Damage to live trees often occurs at the root level or in injured areas where cellulose is more accessible.

Which Trees Are Most at Risk?

Not all tree species are equally susceptible to termite infestations. Termites have certain preferences when it comes to wood types. According to a USDA study, termites favored wood from southern yellow pine and spruce trees, while having low survival rates on a diet of teak wood.

Other factors that affect a tree’s vulnerability to termites include:

  • Age: Older trees are more susceptible to infestation as they have more decayed wood.
  • Wounds: Trees with injuries or cracks provide easier access for termites.
  • Location: Trees in moist, shaded areas with limited sun exposure may be more prone to termite attacks.

Comparison Table

Tree/wood type Termites’ Preference
Southern yellow pine Highly preferred
Spruce Highly preferred
Teak Least preferred

To recap briefly, termites do eat live trees, but their behavior and preferences vary depending on the termite species and type of tree. Keeping track of your landscape’s health can help you identify and address potential termite infestations, preserving the longevity of your trees.

Signs of Termite Infestation in Trees

Visual Indicators

When inspecting trees for termite infestation, focus on the trunk and roots. Look for:

  • Wings: Discarded termite wings near the tree base may signal a recent swarm.
  • Nests: Visible nests are often a sure sign of infestation. Nests might appear as mud tubes along the tree trunk, made of soil, wood shavings, and termite saliva.
  • Mud tubes: Check near the soil line for these shelter tubes, which protect termites from predators and dehydration as they travel between their nest and food source.

Physical Symptoms of Termite Damage

Some symptoms of termite damage on trees include:

  • Tiny holes: Termites create small kick-out holes to expel frass (feces and wood particles). The holes will later be resealed.
  • Carcasses: Finding dead termites or termite parts, like antennae, around the tree can be a sign of infestation.
  • Scar: A tree trunk with a scar or unusual hollow may indicate termite activity.

A table comparing two symptoms of termite damage is shown below:

Termite Damage Description
Tiny Holes Small holes made by termites to expel frass, later resealed
Tree Trunk Scar Scars or hollows on tree trunk related to termite activity

When dealing with termite infestations, it’s essential to act quickly by calling a professional for proper removal and control.

How to Prevent and Control Termite Infestations

Removing Attractants and Hazardous Conditions

  • Maintain a clean garden and yard
  • Avoid storing wood materials close to your home
  • Remove dead wood, fallen trees, and stumps

Termites are attracted to dead wood and debris in contact with soil. Thus, it’s essential to keep the area around your property free of wood and other materials that could serve as termite food sources. For example, store firewood, plywood, and excess lumber away from your home’s structure.

Additionally, ensuring proper drainage and preventing water accumulation near your house can reduce the likelihood of termites getting attracted to your property. Keep gutters clear of debris, lower the grade around your home, and slope the ground away from the foundation.

Some types of termites, like subterranean termites, build mud tunnels to access above-ground food sources. It’s crucial to monitor your property for these telltale signs and take action if you find any.

Using Termiticides and Treatments

Benefits of Termiticides:

  • Control termite colonies
  • Prevent damage to property
  • Protect structural integrity

Drawbacks of Termiticides:

  • Chemical treatments may be toxic
  • Some treatments require specialized equipment or training
Termiticide Type Pros Cons
Liquid Effective at creating barrier around home May require drilling for proper application
Bait Target termite colonies directly Can take time to be effective
Wood Treatment Prevents termites from infesting wood Not suitable for treating existing infestations

There are several termiticides and treatments available for termite control. Liquid termiticides create a barrier around the structure, while baiting systems target termite colonies directly for a more environmentally friendly approach. Wood treatment products can prevent termites from attacking wood surfaces, but they are not effective against existing infestations.

Always consult with a professional exterminator to determine which method is best suited for your situation. Regular inspections are essential to detect termite activity and minimize potential damages.

In conclusion, controlling termites in your property involves maintaining a clean environment, removing attractants and hazardous conditions, and using appropriate termiticide treatments. Implementing these strategies can help protect your property from termite damage and prevent costly repairs in the long run.

Seeking Professional Help and Maintenance Strategies

Why You Need Professional Assistance

Professional assistance is crucial for managing termite infestations in live trees. Termite specialists have the expertise to identify termite species, assess the damage, and recommend effective treatments. In addition, professionals may perform critical tasks like insulation, sheetrock replacement, or pressure-treated wood applications.

A tree doctor can provide comprehensive care for affected live plants, including monitoring changes in termite populations and providing remedial measures. For example, in New Orleans, live oak trees may require specific attention to counter local termite species.

Ongoing Prevention and Inspections

Regular termite inspections are essential to prevent and control infestations. By identifying issues early, homeowners can save their trees, homes, and surrounding environment from damage. Inspections may cover a range of components like:

  • Concrete: Ensuring no cracks for termites to enter
  • Plastic and bamboo barriers: Installing such barriers can reduce termite access to live trees
  • Paint: Applying specialized paint can help deter termites from live plants

Different tree species might have unique vulnerabilities to termite invasions. For instance, termites might prefer live oak trees over ash trees. Monitoring changes in tree populations, especially in proximity to homes, is an effective prevention measure.

Here is a comparison table for treatment options:

Method Pros Cons
Insulation Provides a barrier between termites and trees May require maintenance or replacement over time
Sheetrock Alternative to drywall, less susceptible Limited application to trees
OSB Termite resistant material Must be suitable for tree species
Treated wood Can deter termites from invading live trees May require constant maintenance to maintain effectiveness
Pressure-treated Effective prevention strategy Requires professional assistance to ensure proper treatment

In conclusion, seeking professional help and implementing maintenance strategies are essential aspects of managing termite infestations in live trees. By understanding the specific termite species, tree types, and available treatments, homeowners can effectively protect their trees and homes from damage.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Dampwood Termite


Brown long winged bug
Location: Los Angeles
November 5, 2011 6:31 pm
Hi. I have recently had an infestation of these small brown bugs with oversized wings. The body is very small, about an 8th of an inch and the wings are very long, about 1/2 an inch. Even with the large wings they seldom fly. They have appearing in only one room of our home. Coincidentally there is a leaky pipe in the wall of that room that has been keeping the floor boards moist if that helps.
Signature: Mike Deprez

Dampwood Termites

Dear Mike,
You have Dampwood Termites in the genus
Zootermopsis, most likely the Pacific Coast Dampwood Termite based on your location.  We saw a winged alate that was attracted to a light at our Mt Washington Los Angeles offices this past week, so that is strong evidence that they are currently swarming in the Los Angeles area.  Your room with the leaky pipe has probably created conditions favorable to a colony of Pacific Coast Dampwood Termites in rotting wood.  According to Charles Hogue in is marvelous book, Insects of the Los Angeles Basin:  “By vibrating their heads on the walls of their chambers, soldiers and nymphs produce an audible ticking sound that is believed to function as an alarm to the colony.”  You can get additional information on BugGuide.


  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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