Why Do Termites Eat Wood?

Why Do Termites Eat Wood

As many home and property owners may unfortunately already know, next to mold, termites are silent destroyers that cause substantial structural damage before there’s evident harm.  And while it’s widely apparent and acknowledged that termites love to eat wood, do you know why?

What do termites eat?

The basic public assumption of termites’ diet is that termites simply eat wood and only wood.  This assumption is merely a half-truth.  Termites actual diet is based upon consuming cellulose.  Cellulose is an indigestible carbohydrate found in many of the foods we eat and a basic building block found in the cell of walls of plants.  Therefore, termites will eat anything that contains cellulose.  Termites will feed on materials such as plants, plant byproducts, cotton, and, of course, wood to get their cellulose nutrients.

Why do termites primarily eat wood?

Unfortunately for humans, termites evolved from cockroaches to be a natural specialist in breaking down wood.  Termites have specific mouth parts designed for chewing and breaking down wood.  Not only that, termites also have protozoa and bacteria in their guts that allow them to easily break down cellulose fibers.  With these specific capabilities and adaptations, termites primarily eat wood because it is hard to consume and digest cellulose for most other species.  And as a result, termites are rarely at a disadvantage to finding food since cellulose is in an abundance and they very rarely have to compete for it.

If termites don’t only eat wood, why don’t we ever see them?

Depending on the type of termite infestation that is occurring, the termites can be found either directly inside the wood or in the soil near a wooden structure and flooring.  

Drywood termites inhabit the wood for long periods of time and will quickly inflict devastating damage.  Either until they are finished feeding or until they are exposed.  They are able to remain hidden for long bouts of time due to their ability to glean moisture from wood and their own feces.  Furthermore, these termites will feed on wood irrespective of whether or not it is healthy or decayed.  And as their name suggests, they seek to find drywood.  Therefore, drywood termites typically will infest furniture, doors, framing, flooring, and structural timbers. 

Subterranean termites search for wood by digging to the surface from mud tubes they create.  These mud tubes are not only for transportation to and from the wooden structure they are feeding on, but also for gleaning moisture from the soil to stay hydrated.  In contrast to drywood termite infestations, subterranean termites primarily can be found in the soil, near wooden structures, where they build their colonies’ nests.

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While we don't provide services for termite extermination, we do offer alternative piling and wood solutions for marine construction.  Visit our vinyl page to learn more about these solutions or contact us online to speak with one of our knowledgeable project consultants.