Is Sawdust a Sign of Termites?

Homeowners often find small piles of sawdust around their home. The first thought is that termites have been active. Although termites do eat wood, they do not produce sawdust.

Sawdust can be a sign of many other things besides termites. Some of them can be fairly harmless. Sometimes drawers in furniture and vanities can produce sawdust from the friction of the drawer in the cabinet.

Sometimes sawdust is a sign of an insect that does damage wood. Although carpenter ants do not eat wood, they produce sawdust when they make their nests in the wood. The sawdust often contains body parts from the insects that the ants have eaten.

Some wood-boring beetles lay their eggs in wood. The larvae eat the wood as they develop. They produce powder or tiny pellets that looks like very fine sawdust. This powder is called frass. When the adult beetles come out of the wood, they make small, round holes. The frass falls out of the holes onto the surfaces below.

Termites stay hidden while they eat wood. Even though they work out of sight, termites leave signs to show that they have been active. Although they do not produce sawdust, the signs of termites are very easy to recognize if someone knows what to look for.

Termites even leave signs that can be heard. If the homeowner hits a piece of damaged wood with a hard object, it will usually have a hollow sound. By tapping on the wood, it is possible to tell which part of the wood that termites have damaged.

As the termites continue to eat, the surface of the wood may start to have a "blistered" appearance. This happens when the termites eat too near the surface of the wood and leave only the paint on the surface.

When subterranean termites are eating a piece of wood, they usually eat along the grain. They prefer to eat the light parts of the wood and they leave the dark rings. Their galleries often look long and narrow because they follow the grain of the wood.

As they excavate the wood, subterranean termites bring soil particles into the galleries. They stick the soil particles and their droppings onto the walls of the galleries. The soil helps keep the environment humid in the gallery.

If the damaged wood is broken open, homeowners might see live termites. They are small, white insects. Since they are sensitive to dehydration, the termites will try to get out of the light as quickly as they can. The soil inside the wood is a sign that subterranean termites have been active.

When drywood termites eat wood, they eat the light parts and the dark rings. They make galleries that are larger than subterranean termite galleries. Since drywood termites do not go into the soil, their galleries are smooth and clean.

Drywood termites dispose of their droppings by pushing them out of the galleries. They push the fecal pellets through tiny holes in the wood. The pellets fall onto the surface below. Homeowners often find piles of these pellets on windowsills and in doorways.

Each of the pellets is elongated. The ends are rounded and there are six concave sides. All of the tiny pellets are identical. Small piles of these pellets are signs that drywood termites have been active somewhere above.

Homeowners often call a termite control professional when they find sawdust or other suspicious signs. These experts have the tools to make a thorough inspection. They can recognize the signs of termites and other wood–destroying pests. They can identify the pest that has been active. If treatment is needed, they can prescribe the treatment that will be most effective.