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Everyone knows that termites are social insects that inflict costly damage to structural wood within homes, but many people are surprised to learn that not all termites dwell below the ground. There are three types of termites, and only one, subterranean termites, dwell within moist ground soil. However, considering that subterranean termites are responsible for inflicting 80 percent of all termite-related structural damages reported in the US annually, it is understandable that a large number of people are unfamiliar with termite pests that live above ground. These termites are known as drywood and dampwood termites, and they live in relatively small colonies that are contained entirely within single pieces of wood, such as logs, fallen branches, and of course, structural wood in homes and buildings.

Termites are not the only insect pests that damage finished wood, as several ant species, and many beetle species are well known for their habit of hollowing out structural wood in homes. In fact, the most common and destructive ant pest of structural wood, the black carpenter ant, is the second most commonly controlled wood-destroying insect pest in the US, and they are particularly abundant in the northeast. Infestations of other wood-damaging insect pests, such as carpenter bees and powderpost termites, are more commonly managed than drywood and dampwood termite infestations. However, none of these pests inflict as much damage to structural wood as subterranean termites, and for the most part, only subterranean termite infestations demand immediate attention from a pest control professional. Since many insect pests of structural wood are active in the northeast, homeowners often struggle to determine which insect pest species is responsible for the damaged structural wood they find in their home. Luckily, it is not too hard to discern subterranean termite damage from damage inflicted by other insect pests of structural wood.

Unlike drywood termites, dampwood termites, and wood-boring beetles, subterranean termite workers usually consume only the softwood layers in structural wood, as they lack the jaw strength to excavate hardwood. Workers may eat into hardwood that has softened due to heavy moisture absorption and decay, but in most infestation cases, workers only penetrate the hardwood layers in order to reach the next layer of softwood. As a result, heavily damaged wood typically appears like pages in a book, with each remaining hardwood layer resembling a page, and the excavated softwood being the space in between pages. Workers are also in the habit of packing these spaces with soil, and mud tubes are almost always found connected to the damaged wood member. The surface of heavily damaged wood is visibly thin and can easily be broken by a finger tap. Given their ground soil habitat, subterranean termite workers infest substructural wood members that are closest to the ground, which are the most structurally important wood components of a home’s timber frame.

Have you ever found termite-damaged wood in your home?