Drywood vs Subterranean Termites: Key Differences and Home Protection Tips

Termites are often considered unwelcome and destructive pests in our homes and properties, with two main types causing the majority of damage: drywood and subterranean termites. Both types have distinct characteristics, habitats, and methods of infestation, making it crucial for homeowners to understand these differences.

Drywood termites, as the name suggests, are found in dry wood areas, often infesting furniture, wooden structures, and even picture frames. They live directly inside the wood they are consuming and do not require contact with soil. On the other hand, subterranean termites build nests in the soil and create mud tubes to reach their food sources, such as wooden structures in homes or nearby trees.

The key to managing termite infestations effectively is to identify the type of termite involved early on, as their identification will determine the best method of control and prevention.

Drywood Termites

Characteristics and Behavior

Drywood termites are a type of pest that lives and feeds on wood, without any need for contact with soil. They survive in very dry conditions, and can even infest dead wood in deserts1. Unlike subterranean termites, drywood termite colonies are smaller, usually consisting of just a few thousand individuals2. They create galleries close to the wood surface, leaving only a thin layer intact3. These termites can infest furniture, attics, and other wooden structures4.

Infestation Signs

Some signs of drywood termite infestation include:

  • Shed wings
  • Fecal pellets (hexagonal, dark brown) called frass5
  • Tiny “kick-out” holes left by termites pushing out fecal material3

Damage and Impact on Property

The damage caused by drywood termites is typically localized, but severe infestations can lead to structural damage4. The termite damage may manifest as blisters on wood surfaces, or the presence of sawdust-like frass5. Due to their ability to live inside the wood, detecting and treating drywood termite infestations can be challenging4.

Prevention and Treatment Options

Some prevention measures and treatment options for drywood termites:

  1. Regular termite inspections: Detect infestations early5
  2. Heat treatment: Applying high heat to infested areas
  3. Fumigation/tenting: Sealing infested structure and releasing gas6
  4. Bait systems: Using active ingredients like fipronil, diflubenzuron, hexaflumuron, hydramethylnon7

Common Species

  • Southeastern drywood termite
  • Western drywood termite8

Comparison to Subterranean Termites

Feature Drywood Termites Subterranean Termites
Habitat Inside wood, deserts1 Soil, even at elevations above 8,000 feet4
Colony Size Small (a few thousand individuals)2 Larger colonies
Structural Damage Localized4 Widespread, extensive
Soil Contact No2 Yes4
Fecal Matter Dry, hexagonal pellets5 Liquid feces2

Subterranean Termites

Characteristics and Behavior

Subterranean termites are highly destructive pests that live and breed in soil, often several feet below the surface. These termites require moisture to survive, and they build mud tubes to maintain a moist environment while traveling from their nests to wooden structures1. Their colonies consist of three main caste members: workers, soldiers, and reproductive termites called swarmers4.

Infestation Signs

Some common signs of a subterranean termite infestation include:

  • Mud tubes extending from soil to wooden structures1
  • Swarmers shedding wings near home access points4
  • Hollow or damaged wood with a honeycomb pattern8

Damage and Impact on Property

Subterranean termites are responsible for billions of dollars in damage to wooden structures every year. They can weaken wooden beams and other structural elements, ultimately leading to compromised structural integrity4. Their aggressive feeding patterns create tunnels and galleries within wood, further deteriorating the material9.

Prevention and Treatment Options

To prevent subterranean termite infestations, take the following steps:

  • Reduce moisture in and around your property1
  • Seal cracks and crevices that may allow termites to enter your home5
  • Keep firewood and wooden debris away from your property6

Treatment options for subterranean termites include:

  • Bait stations with active ingredients such as fipronil, diflubenzuron, hexaflumuron, and hydramethylnon7
  • Termiticides applied to soil under and around a property’s foundation7
  • Professional inspections and treatment by a pest management professional1

Common Species

Two common subterranean termite species include:

  • Reticulitermes flavipes, also known as the Eastern Subterranean Termite9
  • Coptotermes formosanus, also known as the Formosan Subterranean Termite2

Comparison table:

Feature Eastern Subterranean Termite Formosan Subterranean Termite
Location Widespread across the US Primarily found in the Southeastern US9
Nesting habits Soil nests Soil nests or above-ground nests in structures2
Affected wooden structures Houses, trees, firewood Houses, trees, utility poles2
Mud tunnels vs. mud tubes Mud tunnels Mud tubes13
Aggressiveness Moderate More aggressive, cause faster damage9


  1. https://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7415.html 2 3 4 5 6 7

  2. https://extension.arizona.edu/sites/extension.arizona.edu/files/pubs/az1232.pdf 2 3 4 5 6 7

  3. https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/drywood-termites/ 2 3

  4. https://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7440.html 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

  5. https://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7415.html 2 3 4 5

  6. https://extension.arizona.edu/sites/extension.arizona.edu/files/pubs/az1232.pdf 2

  7. https://www.epa.gov/safepestcontrol/termites-how-identify-and-control-them 2 3

  8. https://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7440.html 2

  9. Louisiana State University – Eastern Subterranean Termites 2 3 4

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