How Do Termites Eat Wood?

Termites are tiny creatures that can cause big problems. These insects are known for their ability to devour wood, and they can quickly inflict serious damage on homes and other structures.

Interestingly, termites do not actually eat the wood itself. Instead, they use their powerful jaws to tear off small pieces of wood and go for the cellulose which is a major component of wood.

They rely on bacteria that live in their gut to break down the cellulose into smaller molecules that they can absorb and use for energy.

close up of termites mandibles

This process is slow but steady, and over time, it can cause serious damage to a wooden structure.

These pests will often build tunnels through wood, weakening it and making it more susceptible to collapse. In some cases, an entire building can be destroyed by these tiny insects.

What Do Termites Eat

These insects are often considered to be pests, but termites play an important role in the ecosystem.

They are detritivores, which means that they eat dead plants and trees. This helps to recycle nutrients back into the soil, which is essential for the health of the environment.

The cellulose in wood is an important part of their diet and it is their preferred food source, but they will also eat other things like paper, cardboard, cloth, and even insulation. These insects also feast on dead insects and other small animals.

What Kind of Wood Do Termites Eat

While termites will eat just about anything containing cellulose, there are some types of wood that they prefer more than others.

Softwoods like pine and cedar are easier for them to digest, so they tend to be a favorite food source. Hardwoods like oak and maple are more difficult for them to break down, but termites will still eat them if necessary.

Subterranean Termites

The soft fibers of springwood, on the other hand, are preferred meals for these termite species, who consume the delicate ones but leave the harder summerwood behind.

Subterranean termite-infested wood looks like a honeycomb, with dirt and feces making up many of its galleries.

a colony of subterranean termites hard at work


From the name itself, these termites enjoy eating wood with very low moisture content. They do not need any moisture to survive, which is why they are often found in dry, warm climates.

These termites typically live in dead trees, fallen logs, and even dead parts of standing trees while eating the wood inside out.

Drywood termites would push out their feces or frass as they eat the walls of your home from the inside out.

The frass would eventually accumulate and you would see small piles of wood shavings near cracks or holes in your walls.

Dampwood Termites

Dampwood termites, on the other hand, feast on wood with high moisture content. These termites are often found in areas where there is significant moisture, such as near leaky pipes or in damp basements.

The wood they eat is often rotted or decaying, and they are attracted to it because of the moisture content.

Do Termites Eat Dry Wood?

While termites prefer wood that is high in cellulose and moisture, they will still eat dry wood if necessary, especially drywood termites. This is because these termites need very little water to survive.

In fact, most species of termite can get all the water they need from the cellulose they eat. However, some species of termite will eat dry wood if it is available.

Why Do They Eat Wood 

Cellulose is a type of carbohydrate that is found in plant cell walls. It is very difficult for animals to digest cellulose, but the bacteria in termites’ guts help them to break it down so that they can use the nutrients for energy. 

Because wood has cellulose, which is an important component of their diet, this makes it their primary source of food. Termites eat wood to get the cellulose which is necessary for them to survive.

Wood is habitable and it provides food, water, and shelter at the same time.

How Do Termites Eat Wood 

Termites are tiny but mighty. They wield razor-sharp mandibles that can slice through wood like a hot knife through butter. But their ability to eat wood goes beyond just physical strength.

Termites also have a specialized gut that houses microbial symbionts that digest cellulose.

These microbes produce enzymes that break down cellulose into simple sugars, which the termites then absorb and use for energy.

The process of digestion is so efficient that a single termite can consume up to 15 grams of wood a day which is the equivalent of a 2×4 plank in just two months.

The Termites’ Process of Eating Wood 

As it turns out, termites have specialized cells in their gut that help them break down cellulose.

Cellulose is a complex carbohydrate that is found in wood and other plant materials.

termites eating wood

In order to digest it, termites need bacteria that produce enzymes that can break down the cellulose molecules.

This process starts in the gut of the termite, where the bacteria release enzymes that begin to break down the cellulose.

The cellulose is then passed to the rest of the body, where other cells work to break it down further.

Finally, the digested cellulose is passed back to the gut, where it is used as food for the bacteria.

Final Thoughts

Termites are amazing creatures. Their ability to eat wood is just something that not animals and even humans, have.

Cellulose is found in plants and is made up of long chains of glucose molecules.

Humans cannot digest cellulose because we lack the enzymes necessary to break it down. However, termites have enzymes that allow them to break down cellulose into glucose. Wood is an excellent source of cellulose, and it provides termites with the energy they need to survive.

In fact, cellulose makes up about 40% of a termite’s diet. They would also eat other things like leaves and dead insects, but wood is still their primary food source. 

No matter what they’re eating, though, termites can cause serious damage to buildings and other structures made of wood.

That is why it is important to be on the lookout for these pests and take steps to prevent them from setting up a restaurant in your home.