Contributed by: Doug Webb
Updated on: November 10, 2022
Everybody knows that termites eat wood. But in fact, termites have also been known to chew their way through plaster, insulation, and some soft metals.
Termites seek out cellulose, the most plentiful organic compound found in nature. It is the main building block of plants and found in many materials we use every day. Termites feed on many of these materials to get the cellulose they need. Besides wood, this includes:
- Plant byproducts
- Cotton fibers (your t-shirt, for example)
- Paper products
Why do termites eat wood?
Termites eat wood to derive the cellulose and nutrients they need to live. Termites have protozoa and bacteria in their gut that allow them to break down the cellulose fibers in wood, which is difficult for other creatures to digest. These organisms turn those cellulose fibers into a nutritious meal and allow termites access to a food source that's largely ignored by other species.
One unique aspect of termite behavior is that they never stop eating, even once they have established themselves in your home. To feed their ever-growing colonies, they will devour anything that contains cellulose. In short, if you're dealing with a termite infestation, more than the structure of your home is at risk. Your furniture and personal possessions could be at risk, too.
What types of wood do termites eat?
Technically speaking, termites do not eat wood. Rather, they feed on the cellulose fibers found in wood. However, they do prefer to snack on the cellulose found in specific types of wood. Among the types of wood that termites are most drawn to include:
- Untreated softwoods such as pine, cedar, cypress and fir
- Untreated hardwoods such as oak, hickory, sweet gum, maple, pecan, and many others that lose their leaves each fall.
- Drywall, sheetrock or plaster covered with paper containing cellulose
- Particle board
- Plywood that has not been pressure-treated
Do termites eat cedar?
Cedar is commonly believed to be a termite-repellent wood, but the truth is, these pests will eat it if they have to. That said, termites are less attracted to cedar than other types of wood. That's because cedar contains allelochemicals, which are naturally produced by plants that act as repellents against some insects.
Allelochemicals are typically found in the heartwood, or core, of trees. This wood is traditionally darker and denser. Unfortunately, while the core of the cedar may be somewhat termite resistant, it does not fully repel the insects and the white wood on the outside of the core is not termite resistant at all.
For some homeowners, this extra layer of resistance and durability may make cedar an appealing building material. However, it is more expensive than other types of wood.
Do termites eat pressure-treated wood?
Pressure-treated wood is infused with chemical preservatives to help protect the material against rotting and insects. This wood is often found in parts of the home that come into contact with the earth, such as decks, exterior basement walls, fence posts and many outdoor structures.
It's important to keep in mind that while pressure-treated wood is a type of termite-resistant wood, it is not foolproof. Termites can damage pressure-treated wood. This typically happens if the wood gets damp and starts to decay.
What types of wood do termites not eat?
Termites are less attracted to certain types of wood, preferring to feast on the cellulose found in other types of wood. Some of the types of wood that are not palatable to termites include:
- Heartwood (the central layer of cedar wood). However, termites will eat through the outer layers of cedarwood in order to consume cellulose.
- Pressure-treated plywood and lumber
Termite preferences by type
Termites aren't necessarily picky eaters, but it may surprise you to learn that different species do have some preferences about the types of wood they will eat. In the United States, subterranean and drywood termites are the primary threats to homes and property. Each of these species can attack a structure in different ways, so it's important to understand the types of wood they're attracted to and how your home could be a target.
- Subterranean termites like to eat the soft fibers of springwood and leave the harder summerwood behind. Wood eaten by subterranean termites resembles a honeycomb, and many of its galleries contain dirt and fecal particles.
- Drywood termites seek out dry wood such as the wood in your home's framing, structural timbers, hardwood floors and furniture. They do not make contact with the soil and are able to glean the water they need directly from the wood they inhabit. When drywood termites are eating wood, the damage looks smooth.
- Dampwood termites like moist wood and often can be found eating dead or decaying tree stumps and logs. They rarely infest buildings.
Defend your home with Terminix
Do you think termites may be eating the wood in your house? Termites and the damage that they can cause are no joking matter, and any home can be a target for these voracious pests. The best way to defend your home against termites is contacting a pest control specialist. These professionals can conduct an inspection of your house and property to determine potential points of entry and recommend any necessary treatment steps or preventive measures.