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Drywood Termites and Subterranean Termites — What’s the Difference?

Due to their destructive dietary requirements, termites are considered to be one of the most costly pests, particularly for homeowners.

As with most pests, there are is a vast array of termites species, around 2,750 worldwide. However, only a handful of them are regarded as pests due to their interaction with us humans.

The two most common types of termites which can be found eating their way through our homes are drywood termites and subterranean termites.

What is the difference between Drywood termites and Subterranean termites

Drywood termites

Out of the two, drywood termites are less common and are usually found around coastal and other humid regions. They need areas with high humidity as they get all their water by extracting it from the wood. To add to this, the size of a drywood termite colony is usually far smaller than a subterranean colony as they live completely within the wood they infest. This makes them more difficult to detect.

Finally, drywood termites like to live off a diet of both hard and softwoods. They eat both along and across the grain and wood, so their galleries inside the wood look different from the subterranean termites.

What do drywood termites look like?

For the most part, drywood termites look very similar to their subterranean cousins. For example, both can be found in shades of white and brown and can sometimes be translucent in colour.

However, one thing which separates the two species is their size as drywood termites tend to be a lot larger than subterranean ones.

Where do drywood termites live?

The main contributor factor of the difference between drywood and subterranean termites is their preferred living environments.

Drywood termites like to build their nests, and live within wooden structures, hence the name right?

Signs of drywood termites

The common sign of a drywood termite infestation is the appearance of frass.

What is frass I hear you ask? Well, to put it simply, it’s termite poo. Unlike subterranean termites, which build nests and tunnels for foraging out of their poo, drywood termites have no use for it as they only excavate tunnels in wood. They get rid of their faeces by making a small hole to the outside world and pushing it out of their home.

A clear sign of a drywood termite infestation is the collection of frass on the floor or flat surface below the wood they are inhabiting. Termite frass often looks like sawdust from afar, but on closer inspection, you will be able to notice granular pellets, often varying in colour.   

Is this drywood or subterranean termite?

how to get rid of termites

Subterranean termites

As you already know, subterranean termites are the most common species found damaging buildings across the globe.

Compared to drywood termites, subterranean termites live off a diet of softer wood only and tend to excavate tunnels in wood along the grain.

What do subterranean termites look like?

Both the worker drywood and subterranean termites look similar. The soldier and alate castes are where they tend to differ. Soldier termites have large, yellowish brown heads and the flying termites (alates) are usually a dark brown/black colouring.

Where do subterranean termites live?

As opposed to drywood termites, subterranean termites like to live in the ground. This is because these species of termite need a source of moisture to survive. They need a connection to the ground to keep their nest and tunnels humid enough to survive and for material to build tunnels and nests. If there is plenty of moisture available they can build nests above ground.

Signs of subterranean termites

Their love and need for high moisture environments provide us with a key sign of a subterranean termite infestation.

This sign is mud tubes!

Subterranean termites use mud tubes to move around above ground to forage of food. The tubes maintain the humid environment that the termites need and help protect them from predators.

These tubes are constructed from a mixture of soil, wood, saliva and faeces. They are dark brown and can often be found along the foundations of a property, where the termites enter the building from the surrounding ground, as well as along floor joints inside the property.

Subterranean termites treatments plans to get rid of termites and how to prevent them

Once you spot signs of a subterranean termites infestation, it will be in your best interests to engage a professional pest control company rather than use DIY methods. This is because termite colonies are growing quickly and DIY methods do not tackle the root cause of the infestation. On the other hand, a pest control company, such as Rentokil, can provide termite treatment plans developed by specialists and experts. Such plans include:

Rentokil Termite Monitoring & Baiting Treatment

This treatment plan involves setting up discrete monitoring stations around your property that will monitor for termite activity. Once subterranean termites have been detected, they will add a bait to the station that will be picked by the pest. This bait contains an ingredient that inhibits termite growth - which means that as it spreads through the colony, it will affect all of the termites. Thus, resulting in the eventual collapse of the termite colony. Moreover, it also works as a preventative solution as the treatment detects termites before they even have a chance to infest your premises.

Liquid Barrier Termiticide

Treatment With this treatment, Rentokil's expert technicians will drill holes around the perimeter of your property (either in soil or concrete) to inject liquid termiticide. This creates a barrier of protection around your premises known as a Treated Zone. When worker termites tunnel near your property's Treated Zone, they are exposed to the termiticide - through both ingestion and the liquid sticking to their bodies. Once the affected termites go back to their colonies, it will spread to the other termites, therefore effectively reducing them.

Besides regular termite inspections, there are a few other subterranean prevention tips that you can follow. Firstly, reduce excess moisture around your property such as fixing leaking water and air-conditioning pipes and removing loose row of tiles. Secondly, to ensure that wooden furniture remains dry. Thirdly, if you live in landed property and have a garden, remember to keep garden mulch a few metres away from your home so that termites do not have easy access to your premises. Finally, seal any cracks and crevices to avoid termite entries into your home.

Protect your home from these wood-eating pests

Unfortunately, spotting the signs of termites can be quite difficult. Infestations can often go unnoticed until it is too late. However, knowing the difference between both drywood and subterranean termites, as well as the common signs to look out for, can help protect your home from these wood eating insects.  

Since subterranean termites need moisture to survive, they are drawn to moist environments such as gardens and building foundations. With strong jaws that allow them to work through wood and cellulose relatively quickly, termites can cause extensive damage to the foundational walls of your homes. Subterranean termites can even go as far as your windows and doors if they happen to contain wood. This is very dangerous as this means the building has sustained structural damage and can collapse on the occupants at any moment. Termites will also cause financial harm because you would have to incur costs to have your home treated for termites and then repair the physical damage they have caused. In most cases, paying for repairs may be more expensive than paying for termite treatment programmes because structural damage affects the entire house, not just the infested area. As a result, it is a good idea to contact a pest control company for advice on how to better protect your home from these wood-eating pests as they can also provide preventative solutions.

Contact your local Rentokil experts for professional solutions to protect your home from termites. Click here to read more on how your everyday actions can unknowingly attract pests into homes here Inviting House Pests Unknowingly Everyday

People Also Asked

How serious can subterranean termites get?

Subterranean termites can get very serious as they reproduce quickly and the average number of termites in a single colony can go up to thousands. Moreover, they can work and eat wood 24/7 with little or no rest - meaning that even a 'small' colony of a thousand termites can cause extensive damage to your property. In addition, they travel and move upwards and sideways direction, causing an infestation spread to entire home or across neighbouring sites.

Can subterranean termites be treated with DIY methods?

No. The efficacy of DIY termite control methods is limited since they can only get rid of a small number of termites. In addition, there is limited reach and residual effect and hence, not resolving the colony presence. Termites also require specific active ingredient to eliminate their activities and spread the effect to their members. Furthermore, they often go undetected for years. This means that by the time you notice them, the infestation will be too large for DIY methods to manage. In such cases, it is imperative to consult a professional pest control company so that they can expertly deal with the termite infestation.

How do you identify subterranean termites nest?

Subterranean termites need continuous exposure to moisture, which is why they build their nests underground in the soil. Their colonies are made up of galleries that are connected by mud tunnels. These mud tunnels also extends to their food sources so that worker termites can get moisture and protection from sunlight while foraging for food. As a result, you may probably only see the mud tubes extending out of a subterranean termite nest and not the actual nest itself. These mud tubes are likely to be located at ground levels where the buildings' foundations meets the soil. They are long, thin tunnels measuring around 1 inch (around 2cm) which are slightly brown in colour and are one of the many signs of termite infestations you may come across in your home.

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