Different Types of Termites: Subterranean Termites vs Drywood Termites

Termites - Taman Negara - Malaysia
Photo by Marco Abis
It’s a common misconception that there is only one type of termite. In fact this is completely wrong as there are thousands of species littered throughout the world. However from these, two main groups of termites can be identified as subterranean termites and drywood termites. The differences between these two can be seen in the table below:

Subterranean Termites vs Drywood Termites

Subterranean Termites Drywood Termites
What do they feed on? Cellulose (coming from the wood and the fungi produced on it) Cellulose (coming from drywood)
Do they need moisture? Yes, it is necessary for an outside source of water to be present, such as a leak or rainwater. Less water needed. They can live more on the moisture supplied inside the wood.
How do they live? Live deep below the soil. Are likely to produce mounds above the locations of their colonies. These are the types of termites that produce tubes or trials. They can live within the confines of the wood and do not have to have their colony beneath the soil.
Size Big – some colony’s can grow up to several million in size and can be made up of several colony’s all working together with several different queens. Small – numbers only tend to exist in the thousands and are easier to take care of.
How to identify them? Dirt trials or tubes will be going along the ground or up and down the sides of your house. You might be able to
see termite mounds near your property.
Holes in the walls, floor or ceiling of your property will start to become visible however, this may only occur after several months. Sand-like dirt and droppings from a hole can often be found.
Basic Prevention Techniques Before construction of the house appropriate termite insecticide should be laid down into the soil. A termite
detection and monitoring system should be installed. Attractive conditions for termites should be eliminated.
Seal any cracks or holes in the wood. When constructing something new, only use termite treated timber. Put
insecticide on to any of old exposed wood.
Basic Control Methods Treat the structure using a liquid insecticide, use baiting systems and fumigation. Prevention is a better method of control for this type of termite. With the appropriate area of termite activity identified, inject a liquid insecticide into the wooden structure and apply sealant to any of the remaining holes.
Potential Risk and Damage High – when a full infestation is present they can consume large amounts of wood in a short amount of time, causing serious damage to the structural foundations of a home. Medium – their presence is often not obvious until several months has passed and the damage has already been done.

So by looking at the table we can see that the subterranean based termites are far more dangerous and problematic of the two. That’s not saying that drywood termites are not a problem, because they can be and are. However, you’re going to have to use some more severe techniques to get rid of subterranean termites than you are with the drywood termites.

To identify these more deadly subterranean termites remember to look out for the more obvious warning signs such as dirt trials or tubes. You’re likely to find these along the sides of walls and floors however don’t forget to look out for them at the following locations:

  • Along the metal plumbing tubes inside your home.
  • In the joints and corners of a homes foundation.
  • Through any cracks and holes found in the electrical or
    slab installations.

Subterranean based termites are very vulnerable to the heat and sun. They will die quite easily if they are exposed for too long and lose their moisture. It is because of this reason that they build the dirt tubes and trials to protect themselves from this hazard. Keep in mind, they need this moisture so that is why they spend most of their time beneath the ground.

If you crack open one of these tubes and you don’t see any termites present this doesn’t necessarily mean that you
don’t have an infestation. This is because the termites will often forage elsewhere and leave parts of their trials inactive for periods of time.

Subterranean termites also build the large mounds that can be seen in some areas. The purpose of these large mounds
is to collect moisture and act as a sort of ventilation based system that brings the moisture inside for the termites to use.