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If you’re asking the question, “What do termites eat?” the answer may seem obvious. Everybody knows that termites eat wood, chewing their way through billions of dollars’ worth of property each year. It may surprise you to learn, however, that wood is not the only thing that termites eat.


When termites gnaw into a piece of wood, what they’re really looking for is cellulose. Cellulose is an organic compound- it’s actually a type of sugar known as a polysaccharide. It’s found in many different things, including wood, drywall, paper, sheetrock, insulation, cardboard, cotton fibers found in cloth, and even the feces of herbivores. So, while termites typically display a preference for wood, they’ve been known to eat other things containing cellulose as well. They’re very well-organized creatures and persistent when searching for new sources of cellulose.

Digesting cellulose is no easy task. In fact, many animals, including humans, can’t do it. Termites can because they have organisms living in their stomachs that help. Bacteria and protozoa have a mutually beneficial relationship with termites, living in their stomachs and producing a particular enzyme that breaks down cellulose. Once they digest the cellulose, it converts into sugar, and that’s where the termites get their nutrition. Certain termite species like to eat wood that’s already started to break down because of fungi. This makes it even easier to digest.

Different types of termites prefer different types of wood.

Dry wood termites, as you’d assume, like dry wood

They tend to infest decks, fences, furniture, and wooden parts of the home that stay dry. Sometimes they’re accidentally passed to homeowners from places that store and sell wood, like lumberyards. They can also infest utility poles and get into houses through attic vents or wooden shingles.

Damp wood and subterranean termites eat wood that’s decaying or moist.

Typically, homeowners find mud tubes on their homes’ exterior walls, leading from underground termite nests to the food source. Often, an infestation of subterranean or damp wood termites means there is a leak somewhere in the house. These kinds of termites can cause extensive damage, building large galleries in the wood they infest.

Sometimes, the wood that termites eat isn’t a problem. In fact, termites are useful in recycling dead wood back to the soil as humus, which supplies plants with nutrients and increases the soil’s ability to retain water. Termites play an essential role in many natural ecosystems, and research conducted in tropical rainforests indicates that during drought years, termites help to keep the soil moist, allowing seedlings to sprout. It is believed that termites in the wild may even play a role in combating climate change.

Do all termites eat wood?

No, because baby termites don’t yet have the protozoa and bacteria that will later allow them to digest cellulose. Workers feed these immature termites. Soldiers and reproductive also must be fed by the workers, who pass on the cellulose that’s been turned into sugar through a mouth-to-mouth feeding process. A termite colony’s social structure is complex, with three different levels in the termite caste system.

Reproductive Termites

This class includes the primary reproducers- the king, queen, and swarmer termites. It also has secondary reproducers, who support the queen once the colony is established. The king and queen found the colony and build its population. Swarmers fly out of the colony when the weather is good to start new colonies.

Soldier Termites

These termites defend the colony from invaders like ants.

Worker Termites

Worker termites build and repair mud tubes and tunnel walls. They also feed other termites, care for eggs, and perform cleaning tasks like removing mold and mildew from walls and dead termites from the colony. Most of their time, though, is spent foraging for food, often over an extensive area.

In most species of termites, the worker termites do not have eyes. Therefore, their food-finding habits seem to be based on where they think the food will be, rather than where it is precisely. Fortunately for them, cellulose is abundant both above and below the ground. Tunneling through the soil, following objects, cracks, and gaps, they’re likely to find food. They also follow moisture in the soil and the scent of fungi. Termite colonies send out large numbers of workers, and when one of the workers finds food, that individual returns to the nest to get help, leaving a chemical trail back to the food. They share the food and cooperate with the rest of the colony, allowing colonies to survive.

Termite Control

Termites may be interesting and even beneficial in the wild, but when they infest your home, they’re a menace. At MightyMite Termite Services, we perform termite inspections to ensure that your home is free of termites. We also work hard to help you keep your home safe from termites, using naturally derived treatments, and have a low impact on the environment. We diagnose and treat infestations with the most effective methods and unmatched warranties, solving your termite problems the first time with an industry-best “no call-back rate.” Combined with our experience, technology, and highly trained professional staff, that makes us the leading extermination company in the Bay Area. We understand that your home is your most important investment, so we work hard to provide excellent service, utilizing best practices to solve our customers’ termite problems in Northern California. For more information, call us today at 408.335.7053, email, or contact us through our website.