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What Are the Differences Between Subterranean Termites And Drywood Termites?

Subterranean termites and drywood termites are two common types of termites that can infest homes and other structures.

While both can cause significant damage, there are some key differences between them.

Published: July 13, 2023.

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Subterranean Termites vs. Drywood Termites - Key Differences

The most important differences between these two termite species are as follows:

Habitat and nesting

Subterranean termites:

  • Live in the soil and build their nests underground.
  • Construct mud tubes to travel between the soil and the wood they feed on.
  • Require contact with soil or a moisture source to survive.

Drywood termites:

  • Live within the wood they infest and do not require contact with soil.
  • Do not build mud tubes, as they do not need to travel between soil and wood.
  • Can survive with the moisture content naturally found in wood.


Subterranean termites:

  • Worker termites are creamy white and almost translucent.
  • Soldier termites have elongated, brownish-yellow heads and large mandibles.
  • Swarmers (reproductive termites) are dark brown or black with two pairs of equal-length wings.

Drywood termites:

  • Worker and soldier termites are similar in appearance to subterranean termites but may be slightly larger.
  • Swarmers are typically light brown with two pairs of equal-length wings, which are usually clear or have a slight tint.

Damage patterns

Subterranean termites:

  • Damage is usually more extensive, as they can form large colonies.
  • Tend to eat along the wood grain, creating honeycomb-like patterns.
  • Often leave behind mud tubes on walls, foundations, and other surfaces.

Drywood termites:

  • Damage is more localized, as colonies are smaller, and multiple colonies can infest a structure simultaneously.
  • Create smooth, clean galleries inside the wood they consume, often crossing the wood grain.
  • Produce characteristic pellet-like droppings called frass.

Geographic distribution

Subterranean termites:

  • More widespread, found in almost every region of the United States, with the exception of Alaska.
  • More common in areas with higher moisture levels and warmer climates.

Drywood termites:

  • Mostly found in warmer, coastal regions, particularly in the southern United States, including the Gulf Coast, Florida, and California.

Understanding these differences is important for effective termite control, as treatment methods may vary depending on the type of termite infestation.

termite mud tubes

Who Makes More Damage, Subterranean Termite Or Drywood Termite?

While both subterranean and drywood termites can cause significant damage to wooden structures, subterranean termites are generally considered more destructive due to several factors:

  • Larger colonies: Subterranean termites typically have larger colonies than drywood termites, sometimes consisting of millions of members. With more termites working together, they can consume wood at a faster rate, leading to more extensive damage over time.
  • Wider distribution: Subterranean termites are found in almost every state in the United States (except for Alaska) and are more widespread than drywood termites. This means that they pose a threat to a larger number of homes and structures.
  • Foraging behavior: Subterranean termites can forage over a large area and can travel up to several hundred feet from their nest to find food. This allows them to attack multiple wooden structures simultaneously, increasing the risk of damage.
  • Moisture requirements: Subterranean termites thrive in moist environments and are often attracted to homes with moisture problems, such as leaks, poor drainage, or inadequate ventilation. These conditions can exacerbate the damage caused by termites, as moisture issues can also weaken wood and other building materials.

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That being said, drywood termites can still cause substantial damage, especially if multiple colonies infest a structure at the same time. Since they live within the wood they infest, drywood termites can cause structural damage that may not be immediately visible.

In either case, early detection and intervention are critical to minimize damage and reduce repair costs. Regular inspections, proper maintenance, and preventative measures can help protect your home from these destructive pests.

If you suspect a termite infestation, contact a professional pest control expert for an inspection and appropriate treatment options.

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