How Long Can Termites Go Without Food?

Termites can live only a few days without water, and only two weeks without food.

Termites & Water
Termites' moisture requirements vary by species. Dampwood termites require the most moisture, followed by subterranean termites and then drywood termites.

Dampwood termites get water from the wood they consume and have very high moisture requirements. This termite species nests only in wood with a high moisture content. Since dampwood termites need very damp wood to get enough moisture, they typically are found in rotting tree trunks or utility poles - not in homes and buildings.

Subterranean termites get most of their water from the soil. A few species of subterranean termites, including Formosan termites, can build above-ground nests if there are water sources nearby. Leaking roofs and faulty plumbing can provide the necessary water for an aboveground Formosan termite nest, also called a carton.

Drywood termites have lower moisture requirements and do not need a source of free water. This species can receive all of the water it needs by metabolizing the wood that it eats. Drywood termites can retain water before waste elimination, which explains why they produce dry, distinctively-shaped fecal pellets. Drywood termites' skin also is more impermeable to water loss than subterranean termites' skin, which helps this species conserve water.

Termites & Food
Termites eat cellulose material, including wood, plants, carpet, insulation, cardboard, sheetrock paper, fabric and animal feces. However, termites cannot digest cellulose without the help of protozoa and bacteria in their digestive tracts. These microorganisms break down cellulose into sugars that termites can digest.

Foam Insulation with Termite Evidence
evidence of termites in foam insulation

Some termite treatments, including borates, affect termites' digestion. These products change the termite's gut and the microbes that help it digest cellulose. In short, these materials gradually stop termites from eating and damaging wood.