What is the Difference Between Subterranean and Drywood Termites?

There are about 2750 species of termites worldwide, but in the United States, there are only around 45. The most common types of termites in the US are the subterranean termites and the drywood termites.

Subterranean termites and drywood termites differ in a lot of ways. With regards to habitat, dry wood termites feast on dry wood and do not need soil in order to thrive, unlike subterranean termites.

Subterranean termites are the most destructive and they can destroy your home quickly. However, damage caused by drywood termites is usually discovered late because they slowly eat through wood.

What Are Subterranean Termites?

Subterranean termites are the most common type of termite in the US. They live in colonies in the soil and build mud tubes to get to their food source, which is wood.

Subterranean termites are attracted to moisture, so they are often found near sources of water such as leaks, plumbing, or damp areas in your home.


This most common specie of termites is just about the size of your fingertip measuring about 3/8 of an inch to half of an inch long. These termites have three castes with physical differences.

close up of termite sitting on rock

The workers making up most of the colony have bodies in cream color and have small jaws.

The soldiers have flat and wide bodies with huge mandibles that they use to defend their colony from invaders and other threats. Lastly, the reproductives, also called alates, are the winged ones with big and dark brown to black bodies.


Subterranean termites build mud tubes to have access to their food sources. These mud tubes are formed by the worker division and allow safe passage to and fro their nest and food source.

Because subterranean termites need moisture to survive and will die from dehydration if exposed to sunlight or open air, they create mud tubes to protect themselves.


A subterranean termite’s colony flourishes underground and may do so above ground as long as it’s a moist location.

They can access your home through small cracks and crevices. You may find subterranean termites in areas with high moisture conditions like your basement, crawl spaces, and even in plumbing areas with leaks.


The diet of a subterranean termite revolves around cellulose which is found in plant materials like dead leaves, twigs, and branches.

They also feast on materials derived from plants like paper, cardboard, and cotton so don’t be surprised if they eat through your clothes.

Signs of Infestation

The most common signs of subterranean termite infestation are mud tubes. They make these mud tubes from their saliva with a mixture of soil, wood, and feces.

If you see these vein-like attachments in your walls and on the foundations of your property, then your home is, unfortunately, infested by subterranean termites.

Treatment and Prevention

There are several measures that can be taken to remove subterranean termites from your home. You can opt for termite baiting systems which kill the entire colony by luring them with food.

This system is placed underground around the perimeter of your home.

Insecticide treatments are also available to eliminate subterranean termites. A licensed exterminator will apply this insecticide directly to the soil around and beneath your home.

Intellectuals solve problems but geniuses prevent them so make sure to take the initiative to protect your home from these pests to prevent an infestation in the first place.

It’s significant to maintain a clean and dry environment to eliminate any moisture problems. Ensure there’s no water leakage in your plumbing and that any condensation is being properly managed.

If there are any cracks or crevices on your property, make sure to seal them as these serve as an open invitation for subterranean termites.

What are Drywood Termites?

Drywood termites are another type of wood-destroying termite. They live in dry wood and do not need contact with the ground or moisture to survive.

Drywood termites are often found in areas with little to no moisture, such as attics, furniture, and picture frames.


Compared to other species of termites, drywood termites slightly differ in appearance. They are smaller than other species but appear more elongated than other types of termites because they have a more flattened body.

They usually measure 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch. Just like subterranean termites, they also have a caste system and their appearance depends on which caste they belong to. But in most drywood species, a worker division is not present.

Drywood termite soldiers are much larger than subterranean soldiers. They are cream in color which makes them look white against the wood. They also have large mandibles and teeth.

close up of termites sitting on rock

Drywood termite swarmers would usually be brown or black in color. They do not have the same type of segmentation that is present in other termites thus their straight and oval-shaped waistline.

These reproductives have two sets of wings. The wings are identical and have the same length.

Another interesting fact about their swarmers is that all of them shed their wings quickly. It is rare to find a dead drywood swarmer with its wings still intact.


Unlike other species of termites, drywood termites forage like ants, above ground. They are more agile in expanding their colony than other termites.

Remarkably, most drywood termite species, have no worker division in their caste system.


Drywood termites do not require any contact with the soil. They thrive within wooden structures or dry wood. They are commonly found in attics, window frames, doorframes, and hardwood floors. They are living in the wood they are infesting so there is no need for them to make mud tubes like subterranean termites.


Drywood termites, as the name suggests, eat dry wood. They infest any wood that remains dry and have the ability to digest wood particles and absorb them.

Signs of Infestation

Droppings are the top sign of a drywood infestation. Unlike subterranean termites, drywood termites push their droppings out instead of using them for their nest.

They leave holes in the wood as they push them out. It will appear in piles near the infestation and is commonly mistaken for sawdust.

Treatment and Prevention

For drywood termite infestation, fumigation would usually suffice. You can also place insecticides into the small holes that they drilled themselves. It’s more difficult to completely eliminate these pests because they live in the structure itself.

Prevention, of course, is always better than cure. Keep firewood away from your property. If you have any, make sure to store them in an enclosed area. Do not leave lumber lying around, stack it neatly and keep it elevated from the ground.

Check window frames, doorframes, and hardwood floors for any holes or cracks that might be present as this might be an entry point for these pests.

It will also be helpful to get regular inspections from a pest control service to make sure that your home is free from drywood termites.

Subterranean vs Drywood Termites – Which Causes More Damage?

Subterranean and drywood termites are the two types of termites that you need to be aware of. Both can cause serious damage to your home but the amount of damage relies on their eating behavior and other characteristics.

wood damage from termites

The subterranean species are known to be the most destructive among all termite species. They work 24/7 creating terrible damage.

The drywood species, on the other hand, also cause unimaginable damage but because of their size, the pace is slower than subterranean termites.

Final Thoughts

Subterranean and drywood termites are tiny pests that feast on wood, leaving behind telltale tunnels and damage that can cost thousands of dollars to repair. As their names suggest, they differ in where they live and how they access food.

Understanding the difference between these two types of termites is essential for effective pest management.

Elimination and prevention may require different treatment methods for each species so it is important to be able to identify which type of termite you are dealing with so that you can take the necessary steps in getting rid of them and prevent them from coming back.