Early Warning Signs of Termites: Detect and Protect Your Home

Termites are notorious for causing significant damage to wooden structures, which can lead to costly repairs for homeowners. Early detection is crucial in preventing extensive damage, so it’s important to be aware of the warning signs of a termite infestation.

Some common indicators of termites include mud tubes, wood damage, and swarmers. Mud tubes are often found on walls or foundations, as termites use them to travel from soil to food sources. Wood damage by termites can be detected by tapping on a wooden surface, as these pests consume wood from the inside out, leaving a hollow sound when tapped.

Swarmers, or winged reproductive termites, can be seen flying outside as they venture out to form new colonies. Mild weather conditions, like a rainy spring day, are common times for swarmers to emerge. Spotting these early warning signs can help homeowners address and resolve termite problems before they escalate.

Identifying Early Warning Signs of Termites

Mud Tubes

Mud tubes are a common sign of subterranean termite infestation. These tubes, also known as termite mud tubes, provide damp, dark and protected environment for termites to travel between their food source and their colony. They appear like thin lines made of mud, usually found on walls, ceilings, or concrete foundations. Keep an eye out for these tubes near cracks and holes in walls or trees, as well as any other structural damage to your property.

Discarded Wings

Termites, particularly swarmers, shed their wings after they find a mate and establish a new colony. Discarded wings close to windows, doors, or other entry points are an indication of termite presence. Keep a lookout for tiny wings scattered around the property as they might be a warning sign of a termite infestation.

Termite Swarmers

Termite swarmers, also known as winged termites, leave their nest to start a new colony. They often fly in swarms and later search for a suitable location, sometimes within your home. Check for signs of swarming near your property and any interior or exterior walls, as this might indicate termites looking to form a new colony.

Hollow or Soft Wood

Termites feed on wood, causing structural damage as they tunnel through it. A typical warning sign is the presence of hollow or soft wood, often accompanied by termite droppings, also known as frass. Use a screwdriver to gently tap wood surfaces, listening for a hollow or dull sound, which might indicate a termite infestation.

Peeling Paint and Wallpaper

Peeling paint or wallpaper can be a misleading sign, as homeowners often mistake this for water damage. However, it could be due to termites burrowing into walls. While checking for termites, look for peeling paint and any traces of termite droppings, discolored wood debris or sand near cracks.

Keep an eye on the following signs:

  • Mud tubes on walls or foundations
  • Discarded wings
  • Flying swarmers
  • Hollow or soft wood
  • Peeling paint and wallpaper

A comparison table for some early warning signs:

Warning SignSubterranean TermitesDrywood Termites
Mud TubesYesNo
Discarded WingsYesYes
Termite SwarmersYesYes
Soft WoodYesYes
Peeling PaintYesYes

Types of Termites and Their Damage

Drywood Termites

Drywood termites thrive in dry wood, as their name implies, and can cause significant damage to wooden structures. Signs of their infestation include:

  • Droppings: Also known as frass, these are small, hexagonal fecal pellets.
  • Hollowed-out wood: Use a flathead screwdriver to probe for hollow spots in exposed wood.

Example: Drywood termites may infest furniture, causing damage to items like wooden chairs.

Dampwood Termites

As opposed to drywood termites, dampwood termites prefer moisture-rich wood. Indicators of their presence include:

  • Wood decay: They often infest wood that is already in the process of rotting.
  • Papery, thin wood: Caused by their feeding habits and preference for damp wood.

Example: Dampwood termites may cause damage to damp wood found in basements or near plumbing leaks.

Subterranean Termites

Subterranean termites come from colonies found in the soil and make their way into structures through mud tubes. Some signs of subterranean termites include:

Example: Subterranean termites can damage wooden house foundations.

Formosan Termites

Formosan termites are a highly invasive species of subterranean termites. They consume cellulose, an important component of wood. Some signs of Formosan termite infestations include:

  • Large colonies: They form massive, complex colonies compared to other termites.
  • Aggressive behavior: Formosan termites are known to attack a wider range of wood types.

Example: Formosan termites can cause severe structural damage in a short period, due to their aggressive feeding habits.

Comparison

Termite TypeDamage PotentialAffected WoodInfestation Signs
DrywoodModerateDry woodDroppings, hollowed-out wood
DampwoodLowDamp, rotting woodWood decay, papery thin wood
SubterraneanHighSoil-connected woodMud tubes, swarmers
FormosanVery HighWide range of woodLarge colonies, aggressive behavior

In conclusion, it’s essential to identify the type of termite infestation you have to deal with them effectively. Termites are a serious problem, but the right knowledge and intervention can help protect your property from these destructive pests.

Preventing and Controlling Termite Infestations

Termite-Proofing Your Home

One of the primary ways to prevent termite infestations is by eliminating conditions that attract termites. In your yard, remove:

  • Firewood: Keep it at least 20 feet away from your house
  • Tree stumps: They can become breeding grounds for termites
  • Shrubs: Trim them to avoid excess moisture near your home

Make sure that your home’s drainage system is in good condition, including gutters that direct water away from your foundation. In addition, create a barrier between your home and soil:

  • Use termite-resistant construction materials
  • Install metal mesh or sand/basalt termite barriers around the foundation

Termite Control Methods

There are various termite control methods available. Here are some of the most common:

DIY Methods

If you’re looking for a simple way to deal with a potential termite problem, you can try some DIY methods to control these pests:

Keep in mind that although these DIY methods might work for smaller infestations, they might not be sufficient for handling a more significant problem.

Working with a Pest Control Company

When it comes to termite control, working with a pest control company can provide better results and protect the structural integrity of your home. Before hiring a company, look for:

  • Experience: Companies that have been dealing with termite infestations for a long time can provide more reliable results
  • Accreditation: Check if they are members of the National Pest Management Association, which ensures that they adhere to professional standards
  • Warranty: Pest control companies should offer a warranty on their work to back up their services

Keep in mind these factors to ensure that you select the best pest control company for your termite control needs. Click here to call a local pest control company.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com 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 – Evidence of a Termite Swarm

Subject: What bug is this
Location: South west florida
May 30, 2016 8:29 am
We just moved into a vacation home for the summer while our house is being fixed and in the master bedroom up stairs we found these on the window ledge and on the bed
Can you tell me what these are
Signature: Seth

Termite Wings
Termite Wings

Dear Seth,
You have submitted excellent documentation of a Termite Swarm.  When conditions are right, virgin Alates, the reproductive caste in a Termite colony, take to the air and swarm.  They mate, shed their wings and start new colonies.  The shed wings are definitely Termite Wings and the two insects are Termite Alates that have shed their wings.  We feel confident that your summer home is infested with Termites.

Termite Alates after shedding wings
Termite Alates after shedding wings

Letter 2 – Termite Pellets

Do you know what these are?
Upon cleaning (and I do it often so these cropped up within a few days) – I found a whole corner of my bedroom filled with these. Each is about the 1/2 the size of a pinhead – and the color varies between a sand color and a black. They don’t feel soft at all… and almost liken to a seed. I noticed they seem to be along the baseboard and where a whole appears, which could be where some kind of insect might be coming from. Im utterly perplexed and even more grossed out. Help! Thanks so much!
Kelly

Hi Kelly,
These are Termite pellets, fecal matter containing digested wood, which is very strong evidence you have a thriving Termite infestation in your walls.

Letter 3 – Termite Pellets

Subject: What’s this? Termite pellets or silverfish poop?
Location: Celing light hole
January 7, 2016 4:50 pm
I found these seed like things while I installed a new celing light. They dropped off the floor everywhere.. I collected a sample on the tape. Have our termite severe guy came to check it out, I was told they are not termite pellets, the inspector saids that they look like silverfish poop… I have no idea about how silverfish poop looks like.. Can anyone take a look at the picture and see if it’s not termite pellets?
Signature: Email

Termite Pellets
Termite Pellets

WE believe these are Termite Pellets, similar to what is illustrated on Termites.Com.

Termite Pellets
Termite Pellets

Letter 4 – Termite Tunnels

What is this bug?
September 13, 2009
The maintenance man removed this on wednesday and today I woke up and it was on the wall again. I noticed antennas coming out of the top of it but I’ve never seen the the actual bug. It’s above the sink in the kitchen and it’s really freaking me out.
J. Santiago
Mesa, AZ

Termite Tunnel
Termite Tunnel

Hi J.,
This is evidence of Termite Infestation, probably Subterranean Termites based on an image posted to BugGuide.  According to Charles Hogue in Insects of the Los Angeles Basin, the Western Subterranean Termite “requires high humidity” and it often travels between “subterranean galleries and the wood through protected cracks in mortar or concrete foundations, or through earthen tubes that it constructs from soil, saliva, and chewed bits of wood.”

Thanks a lot. The maintenance made it like I was crazy and said it was nothing. He just rubbed it off the wall with a tool and put plaster on it. I’ll get it someone to take a look at it. Thanks again.
Jennifer Santiago

Letter 5 – Evidence of Termites in India

Is this a wasp nest? I found these stick insects too.
March 25, 2010
Dear Bugman,
This nest was built in a shaded nook outdoors at our house in Hyderabad, India.
These stick insects were found in our garden in Hyderabad.
Kobita
Hyderabad, India

Termite Damage

Hi Kobita,
This sure looks like Termite damage to us.

Letter 6 – Possibly Termite Nest from Australia

Subject: Mud Nest – Australia
Location: Hawkesbury region, NSW, Australia
December 30, 2014 2:29 pm
Hey Bugman,
Thought you might like to see this nest I came across the other day on my property in Hawkesbury, NSW, Australia.
Clearly some kind of mud-wasp, we get a lot around here, although I have never seen a nest this size (only single ones). The funnel entry/exit points are a work of art.
Didn’t see the inhabitants, and quite happy about that actually, but isn’t it beautiful?
Any idea on the actual identity of the builders?
Signature: Tracy

Termite Nest we believe
Termite Nest we believe

Dear Tracy,
We do not believe this is a Wasp Nest.  Instead, we are leaning toward a Termite Nest.  There are some images on the Brisbane Insect website of Termite Nests in the genus
Microcerotermes, and the site states:  “Those large mud nests on trees as shown in photos are common in Brisbane Eucalypt forest. They the the termite nests. They are usually 3-4 meters above ground. These termites have mud tunnels to connect to the ground near the base of the tree. They also have a networks of tunnels underground. It is interesting to note that these termites seldom do any damage to the tree. The termites may have a little chewing around the nest on bark but for the most part the trees are fine. On the tree trunk there are only a few mud tunnels.”  An image on the Ian King Pest Control site looks even more like your images.

Possibly Termite Nest
Possibly Termite Nest

Letter 7 – Possibly Evidence of Termites from Ghana

Subject: What insect creates this hive?
Location: Ghana, West Africa
January 13, 2016 10:32 pm
I live in Ghana, West Africa. A bug i cant identify creates this at a particular spot in my home. It takes the bug about twelve hours to create this tube-like hive.When I remove it I find tiny little white insects.Their sizes, about a third of a maggot and too small and white to get a clear photo.
The dark part of the wall is only a stain from smoke . Thanks
Signature: AOA

Termite Evidence
Termite Evidence

Dear AOA,
We believe this is evidence of Termites.

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com 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.

9 thoughts on “Early Warning Signs of Termites: Detect and Protect Your Home”

  1. The pile of seed-like pellets showed up first in the seat of a chair that I bought second hand. I thought it was something that got spilled but couldn’t identify what and vacuumed it up. The next day there were more but spread over the cushion on the chair. I moved the chair and today a pile showed up on a nearby table. Are they from the chair or elsewhere. How do we get rid of them? Thank you.

    Reply
    • Thanks very much for your comment. We believe the nest in the images on our site is considerably larger than the nest of a solitary wasp.

      Reply
  2. It is not a termite nest, I have an identical one under the floor boards of my house in Queensland. There is no damage to floor boards. It is probably one of the large wasp nests that we get plenty of. I agree that it is a work of art.

    Reply
  3. Nothing specific, but I have been forced to remove the nest. When broken up, it contained two very large grubs, about 20mm x 8mm. They were either Wasp or Hornet grubs much too large for termites which, depending on species, seldom get any bigger than a black ant! plus termites do not build singular nests. They work on a colony and Queen system. I don’t believe termite mounds have funnel like entries. They are more likely to have entries at the source of the mound such as dead and rotting trees. They may use a living tree to traverse, but will not feed off of a living tree. Hope this helps.

    Reply

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