An Appetite for the Dead – Why do Termites Eat Dead Wood?

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Nature has its ways of cleaning up after itself. Termites eat dead wood to recycle it back to the ground. That’s just how nature has worked for millions of years.

These little insects survived for millions of years getting rid of dead logs and stumps in forests. It’s what they do. Unwanted dead wood in your yard, however, attracts unwelcome attention that could lead into a severe infestation.

An Appetite for the Dead – Why do Termites Eat Dead Wood?

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Termites tunneling along a rotting surface. CC Image courtesy of Larnie & Bodil Fox on Flickr

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Termites eat dead wood and plants

First of all, the wood and lumber that we’re using to build our houses are definitely and already dead.

They won’t be sprouting leaves any time soon.

Termites eat dead wood because they only consume cellulose-based plants and materials, so it makes sense why our homes would get infested. Termites feast on the dead cellulose-based trees we use for building only following nature’s rules to reprocess that wood and put it back into the ground.

There’s also decaying wood. This is wood that’s already rotting. Some types of termites eat dead wood like this because it’s moist and soft. The moist surroundings inside it are perfect for building a nest and raising a colony.

Dampwood termites are notorious for loving decaying wood. They build their nests inside dead and decaying logs and stumps. Another type of termite that loves dead wood is the subterranean termite. They like soft fibers and generally ignore harder summerwood.

Do termites eat living trees?

According to Do Your Own Pest Control, termites don’t attack live trees. If you do see termites inhabiting one, it usually just means something else is causing the tree to wither away. Again, termites only eat dead wood. So these insects must have raided that tree to get to the dead cellulose inside.

The best example for this scenario are the surveys that detail how Formosan subterranean termites behave. These termites are present in living trees because those trees have diseases, injuries or other pests that are weakening them. These insects basically exploit declining trees.

How do you get rid of unwanted dead wood in your property?

It’s important to keep your house away from untreated wood. Naturally dead logs and stumps should be kept away. These are bridges for foraging termites to use to enter your house. Here’s a list of some things you can do to clear your place of unwanted dead wood:

  • ​The general rule is to keep untreated wood a few feet away from your house. This goes for stumps, mulch, trellises and stacks of firewood.
  • Inspect your garden or yard regularly. Look at bushes and throw away fallen branches that are near your house.
  • Contact pest control to inspect your trees.
  • Call a tree doctor to search for dead trees in your property.
  • Do the Scratch Test for trees. Under the outer layer of a bark in a tree trunk, check if it’s green. Green means it’s still alive. Brown means it’s dead.
  • Cut down dead trees or replace them with newer younger ones.
  • Make sure you have physical and/ or chemical barriers in your home.

So there’s no going around these insects’ appetite for the kind of wood we build our houses from. Termites eat dead wood. It’s just their nature to eat wood that’s been cut off from a living tree.

We don’t have to drive them away into the mountains though, we just have to get rid of termite-appealing dead wood in our property. We should also apply treatments to bar them from entering our houses.