How Do Termites Find Wood?

How Termites Locate Wood in Homes

Termites are wood-consuming insects that feed on cellulose found in wood and other plants. While many insects take shelter in wood or lay their eggs on its surface, few are able to actually eat and digest the material. To break down cellulose’s tough fibers, termites enlist the help of bacteria that live in their digestive systems. This partnership allows termites to eat almost any kind of wood across the United States, as well as other plant-based materials like flooring, wallpaper, cardboard, and even cotton clothing.

The termite workers who eat and digest wood do not have eyes to see the location of food nearby. In fact, the pests don’t see, hear, or taste in quite the same way as humans. To find wood, they have to rely on teamwork, thoroughness, and their other senses.

Foraging Together

Termites are social insects that work as teams to maintain their colonies and gather food. Workers are responsible for feeding the rest of the colony and build tunnels in the soil to search for a cellulose food source. Rather than setting out at random, workers branch out in all directions from the colony in a starburst shape. This way, they cover more ground and explore the whole area surrounding their colony.

Searching for Cracks

The pests’ tendency to move along the edges of objects such as tree roots, pavement, building foundations, pipes, and conduits helps them gain access to food. By following sidewalks to homes and carefully inspecting buildings along the soil line, termites discover cracks and utility openings that allow them to slip into walls or under floors.

Sensing Moisture and Rot

Since termites need moisture to survive, they are highly tuned to its presence. By moving towards damp areas, the pests are often drawn to well-kept lawns and water-damaged wood in homes. In addition, termites can follow the scents of fungi and decaying wood or plants from short distances.

Following Chemical Clues

Chemical substances called pheromones are critical to a colony’s survival. Once worker termites find wood, they create these chemical trails between the food source and the colony. Other workers sense these paths and follow them back to their sources.

If there is enough wood for long-term feeding, some species of termites will build mud tubes along the path, which protect the pests from dry air and death by desiccation. Homeowners often spot this tubing along foundations, walls, and baseboards. Termites may also build tubes that hang down from ceilings, crawl spaces, and floor joists. At the first signs of a termite infestation, call pest control specialists for effective and efficient termite removal.