Termite Droppings: The Dirty Lowdown
If you learn to spot termite droppings and understand how to distinguish them from their common lookalikes such as sawdust, then you just might be able to spot a termite infestation before it’s too late. Termites are sneaky. They don’t like to be noticed. They remain undetected by burrowing inside wood rather than eating at wood from the outside in. Usually the only evidence they leave for you are their droppings. All of this makes it quite difficult to spot termites unless you really know what you are looking for…and termite droppings are a great place to start. Watch the short “Dirty Jobs” video below for a quick tutorial on what to look for when looking for termite droppings in your home.
Where Should I Look For Termite Droppings?
A lot of times people notice termite droppings sitting on a window sill or somewhere else where it seems out of place. Unfortunately, if termite droppings are kicked out of a termite burrow in the ceiling or some other place it can fall unto the floor (wooden or carpet) where it is unlikely to ever be detected. As a general rule of thumb, pay special attention to these areas when inspecting for termite droppings:
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- Window and Door Sills
- In Or Around Wooden Porches
- Isolated corners of seldom used rooms or storage areas.
Drywood termite species are notorious for building colony nests in the sub-roofs and eaves of dwellings, and they may also infest the wood between floors and ceilings in multi-floored homes. Inspection of attic areas, especially around joists is therefore advisable. In certain extreme cases of ceiling nests, termite droppings might also be found on living space surfaces including counters and bedding, as kick holes are created in ceilings and the termite poop kicked out to fall into the room below.
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Termite Droppings and Sawdust: Spotting The Difference
Drywood termite droppings look a lot like sawdust. Typically a home owner who sees termite droppings for the first time will confuse it with saw dust and clean it up and discard it without thinking twice.
The biggest difference between termite droppings and saw dust is the shape. If your sight is not the greatest you may need a magnifying glass to tell the difference, but termite droppings will be granular pellets often varying in color. If you look close enough, you’ll notice that drywood termite droppings have a 6-sided shape. Saw dust on the other hand will look more like tiny shavings and slivers rather than the 6-sided granular shape of droppings.
The University of California at Berkely provides a great comparison between drywood termite droppings and carpenter ant droppings which closely resembles saw dust. You can see the drywood termite pellets look almost like a deflated football or an oblong pea under magnification. However, Drywood termites and their droppings are not the only kind of termite to be on the lookout for.
Subterranean vs. Drywood Termite Droppings
Drywood termite droppings.
The intensity of a termite infestation and rate of damage will often depend on the type of termite that is involved. There are two types of termites that we would like to call attention to here: Subterranean termites and Drywood termites. Though you need to be on the lookout for both, Subterranean termites are potentially the more destructive of the two.
Subterranean termites produce a liquid form of excrement whereas Drywood termites produce a dry form of excrement. Drywood termites, the more “tidy” of the two, push their poop out of their living spaces whereas Subterranean termites prefer to use their liquid droppings, mixing it with dirt, debris and saliva to construct a sort of covered termite superhighway. They use these poop based mud tube highways to travel to their next food source–which just might be your house. Subterranean termites also construct nests from their droppings or use their poop based “cement” to heal breaches in nests established deep within wood sources. Because of the fluid nature of their poop and their extensive use of droppings as part of their nest construction activities, discrete piles or mounds of subterranean termite droppings are not likely to be found and their absence cannot be used to discount the likelihood of an infestation.
So, if they’re harder to spot than Drywood termites, where should one look to find Subterranean termites within their home? Well, according to a comparison study conducted at the University of Florida, when it comes to houses, Subterranean termites are most commonly found in chimneys and empty wall spaces. Subterranean termites also often build such nests if moisture is allowed to regularly collect inside the wall cavity, say from leaking pipes, shower recess, faulty plumbing, guttering, broken roof tiles, etc. They are super secretive, preferring to enter buildings through areas that are often inaccessible to inspection such as through in-fill patios, fire heaths, expansion joints and cracks in concrete slab flooring.
Other “types” of termite droppings
Termite droppings don’t exclusively consist of their poo…they “drop” other things as well that might clue you in to their unwanted intrusion into your home. Here are some additional signs of termites that you should look out for. Discarded termite wings are another often overlooked clue of termite presence. When termites reach an adult stage they grow wings and eventually shed them. When the termites are in their flying stage of adulthood they are often referred to as swarmers. After the swarmers land in their intended destination they shed their wings. If their intended destination was somewhere within your home or structure then those wings should be visible somewhere.
Of course these wings are small but if you know what your looking for it is possible to detect them. They will be found in pairs of identical wings. Check on wooden floors, window sills, and any spiderwebs in your house. If you have found termite droppings and wings in an area you can do a quick test with a screwdriver to get a general idea if you have a problem area.
This sound will sound different from solid wood being tapped on. Again this is only a quick field test but when accompanied with other signs of termites, it is probably time to get an professional inspection done to assess the damage and then recommend treatment options.
Drywood termite droppings
Are Termite Droppings Toxic?
The short answer is NO. While the list of animal and insect droppings that are potentially harmful and toxic is long, termite droppings are not are not on that list. Actually, termite droppings have been recognized to be rich in magnesium (a good thing). In fact, certain African tribes have even been known historically to use termite dung as a dietary supplement. Yummy. Suffice this to say that the toxicity of termite droppings in your home, if you should spot them, should be the least of your worries.
Hopefully this article has given you a better understanding into the intricacies of termites and their droppings.