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What do termites eat?

This is not a trick question, but it might feel like one. The answer is wood, right? Termites eat wood! Technically, that is correct, but it isn’t the wood they are after. It is a byproduct of the wood called cellulose.

Termites eat wood to get to the cellulose and nutrients they need to live. Termites don’t digest the wood they eat. Instead, there are microorganisms living inside the termite’s digestive system called protozoa that do the heavy lifting.

The protozoa break down the wood to expose the cellulose thus creating a digestible product for the termite. The protozoa turn’s the cellulose fibers into a wholesome meal and gives termites access to a food source that’s largely ignored by other species.

What is cellulose?

Cellulose is the most plentiful organic compound on the planet. It is the organic substance which gives structure to wood, plants, and grass.

Cellulose is made of sugar molecules linked together to form a chain-like pattern. Wood is made up of mostly cellulose, and this is what termites ingest when they feed on wood.

What types of wood do termites eat?

Different species of termites eat different types of wood. In Fredericksburg, Virginia, the most common type of termite is the Subterranean termite.

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Subterranean Termites

These termites prefer moist, underground conditions and soft wood. Wood damaged by ground moisture makes for easier eating and living underground provides them with shelter from predators.


Drywood Termites

These termites prefer the wood used in your home's framing, structural timbers, hardwood floors and furniture. Unlike their subterranean cousin, drywood termites inhabit the wood directly and not the soil.


Dampwood Termites

These termites feast on the wood found in decaying logs, stumps and wood piles. These conditions are NOT normally associated with your home, but if given the chance, and the proper conditions, dampwood termites will come knocking.

Other things termites have been known to eat:

– particle board, sheetrock, plywood.

What types of wood will termites NOT eat?

Termites don’t eat ALL types of wood. There are some they’ll steer clear of. Some wood, like cedar and redwood, is naturally resistant to termites. Remember, termites like decaying and rotted wood, while cedar and redwood are resistant to decay. 

Pressure-treated wood is another termite resistant wood. Pressure treated wood embeds preservative chemicals into the wood, thus creating a chemical barrier that resists termites and decay. 

Plastic composite materials are also resistant to insects and they don’t rot. The use of waste wood fiber and plastic creates a material used in construction that is impervious to insects.

Other notes:

  • Termites will not eat through paint, but they may eventually find a way to get to the unpainted part of the wood.
  • Termites normally to not eat live trees or bushes because they prefer decayed or dying wood.

What should you do if you have termites?

If you see the signs of termites already in your home, you may have a problem which needs to be handled by a trained professional.

If left untreated, termites can seriously weaken the wood within your home (floors, walls, joists, timbers, frames) leading to possible collapse and costly repairs. Every home with a wood structure should be actively protected from termites.

Sigma Pest Control offers the most comprehensive, affordable, and flexible treatment control plan in the industry. Utilizing the most effective method of control (liquid barrier) with the longevity and flexibility most other companies only offer with the inferior baiting method. Couple this with our bundled payment options, and Sigma Pest Control is the only answer to protect your most valuable investment, your home, from termites.

If you see any one of the signs mentioned in this post, call Sigma Pest Control – 540-94-SIGMA – for a free inspection (WDI inspections do not apply).

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Subterranean Termite: behavior, habitat and diet

There are over 45 different kinds of termite species found in North America and are categorized into one of three termite groups – subterranean, dampwood or drywood.

Each termite group has unique environmental requirements and behaviors that determines whether or not they live in soil and where they construct their colonies.

Termites create more harm to our economy than any other pest. They cause billions of dollars in damage to homes, businesses, and historical structures every year. termite

Subterranean termites have been around for more than 55 million years and in that time have become quite proficient at what they do; eat wood.

To survive on this planet for as long as they have, they’d need some significant support and protection. A great deal of their success and survival can be attributed to their loyalty to the colony. Subterranean termites are social insects. They live in family groups called colonies, working together to build the perfect home.

Subterranean termites also need a constant supply of moisture (found in soil), food (cellulose), and privacy which they create in the form of mud tubes.

Behavior, diet and habitat are the ‘keys to success’ for the subterranean termite and we’ll show you just how they do it and what to look for.

Termite Behavior

During the spring months (March-May) winged termites, also known as swarmers, emerge from their hiding place (the soil, your home) and take to the skies to seek out new places to colonize.

Swarmers are termite kinds and queens that have left the colony in search of a new place to start a family. Often thought to be flying ants, the swarmers pair up during their flight, land together, discard their wings, and being a new life.

This swarming process is a telltale sign that you have a termite problem. Even if you don’t see them fly, you might still see their discarded wings cluttered upon the ground. Once they lose their wings, they tunnel into the soil, seal the entrance, and spend the rest of their lives underground.

Within a few days of mating, the queen will produce her first batch of eggs. As the queen produces more eggs, the older offspring tend to the younger siblings, and the colony grows from there. The original king and queen enjoy the longest lifespan within the colony and live for a decade or longer.

Termite Habitat

Privacy to termites means staying enclosed. Workers and soldiers do not have eyes so they can’t see if you are looking at them, however they obviously sense light and want to block it out because an opening represents loss of humidity and the opportunity for invasion from their mortal enemy — ants.

Subterranean termites build their colonies in the soil and construct pathways in the ground that are used to locate sources of wood that remain below ground or on the ground surface.

Wood located above ground, such as the wooden construction components of a house, are reached by termite workers moving through earthen tunnels called mud tubes that connect above ground wood with the soil.

Termite Diet

The subterranean termite eats cellulose by way of a specialized stomach that breaks down the fiber. Termites rely primarily upon bacteria and other microbes in their guts to digest the cellulose for them, allowing them to absorb the end products for their own use. termites

The fact that domestic termites consume cellulose-based products such as wood is beneficial in the wild. When a tree falls and begins to decay, termites can move into the area and consume the dead wood. The result is a composting affect that enrichs the soil from the breaking down of wood products.

It is not known exactly how subterranean termites locate sources of food, but it is a common belief that they divide up the territory around the nest and start digging a network of tunnels. As they dig, they encounter buried wood in the process and alert other termites to the source. 

Termites eat cellulose material including the following:

  • wood
  • plants
  • carpet
  • insulation
  • cardboard
  • sheetrock paper
  • fabric
  • animal feces


Termites are able to live off cellulose thanks to the organisms found in their stomachs. A mixture of bacteria and protozoa produce a special enzyme that breaks down cellulose. The result is a form of sugar that provides nutrition for the pests to survive.

Younger termites aren’t developed enough to breakdown the cellulose, so they rely on the older members of the colony to pass long the sugar like substance.termites

Subterranean termites like to eat the soft fibers of springwood and leave the harder summerwood behind. Wood eaten by subterranean termites resembles a honeycomb, and many of its galleries contain dirt and fecal particles.

Sigma Termite Solutions

Sigma Termite Solutions (STS) allows you to have the peace of mind that your home is protected from termites for good.

With Sigma Termite Solutions, your home receives a long-lasting barrier against termites, and a thorough inspection of your home is administered every year. If termites are ever found we will, as always, honor our satisfaction guaranty and take care of the problem.


Meet the Eastern Subterranean Termite

Reticulitermes flavipes – the eastern subterranean termite is the most common termite found in North America and is responsible for as much as 80% of the money spent on termite control. These termites are survivors. For more than 55 million years they have adapted to a diversity of environments (wet, dry, hot, cold) which explains why they are found is so many climates around the world.

Eastern subterranean termites are usually located in the ground, just below the frost line, where they start their colony and build their nest. They are known to enter buildings through cracks in concrete or tile flooring through gaps of less than 1/16″ wide.

They seek out places inside the walls of a building, where water collects, and build a nest from which they construct underground tunnels. These tunnels spread out in a 100-yard radius from a central colony nest in search of food; wood and timber (cellulose food source) from building materials, paper, books, rotten tree stumps, and wood scraps and structures.

These wood eaters don’t just appear overnight. Generally, termite problems are the result of years of infestation. You can reduce infestations by avoiding certain faults or errors in construction, site grading and maintenance of your property, or a controlled termite remediation plan.

What do subterranean termites look like?

Subterranean termites are social insects, like ants and bees, that live in colonies within the ground and have a distinct division of labor with a caste system that performs specific colony functions. The termite colony has three primary castes: workers, soldiers, and reproductives.


Workers are creamy white in color, measuring about 3 mm long. They are blind, wingless, and have a round head. They make up the majority of the termites that actually eat the wood. Their duties include foraging for food and water, constructing and repairing shelter tubes, feeding and grooming other termites, caring for younger termites and the queens eggs, and participating in colony defense.

termiteSoldier termites are yellowish-brown with long black mandibles. Larger than worker termites, the soldiers are also wingless but represent a much smaller percentage of the colony; about 1 to 2%. The soldiers are the defenders of the colony, but they can’t feed themselves and rely on the worker termites to provide them with regurgitated food.

The kings and queens are dark-brown or black and about 3/8 to 1/2 inch long. They are the only termites with eyes. Once there are enough workers to help the queen, her only job is to produce offspring. A large queen may lay more than 3000 eggs per day. The life span of a queen can be as much as 50 years.

Unlike the worker and soldier termite caste, the reproductive have two pairs of translucent wings of equal length, which break off shortly after swarming. Reproductive termites will leave the nest, via flight, to create new colonies.

What do subterranean termites eat!

Subterranean termites feed upon old roots, tree stumps, fallen tree limbs and branches on the ground, and similar materials. In buildings, they feed on cellulose materials, such as structural wood, wood fixtures, paper, books, cotton, and related products.

Once they find a food source, it doesn’t take long for them to create significant damage, and that’s why it’s important to contact our professionals if you think you have termites.

How do I know if I have termites?

Because subterranean termites live mainly underground, detecting their presence can be difficult. The presence of swarming termites or their wings alone is a sure sign that termites are working in a building.

Termites create runways (trails) through the wood. These runways are the result of termites eating the wood. Where the wood has been eaten away, it may be largely hollowed out with passages and may be rotten in appearance. The wood will appear rotten or soft, and if prodded with a screwdriver or similar tool, many of the hidden worker termites may spill out.

Another sign of termites in the house is the presence of termite tubes. Termites make these earth-colored tubes to protect them from predators and from the weather. You will most likely find these tubes on basement walls, wooden posts, wall studs, mudsills, and door and window trim.

Termite prevention

  • Replace any wooden materials that are in contact with the soil with non-cellulose materials or pressure-treated lumber.
  • Replace badly damaged timbers. Use pressure-treated wood at places where wood must be in contact with soil.
  • Provide proper drainage for basements, cellars, and crawl spaces. Repair leaking faucets and water pipes.
  • Fill all visible cracks and holes in the foundation with concrete or caulking compound. Wood embedded in earth or in concrete basement floors is especially susceptible to termites.
  • The best preventive measure against termites is to establish a treated barrier of soil between the wood in the building and the termite colony in the soil. Contact a professional termite control expert to examine and administer the treatment.
  • Reduce soil moisture near the structure by directing runoff away from the foundation. Make sure water flows away from the house.
  • Keep soil, stacked wood, and other debris away from the foundation of the home. This will reduce the chances of subterranean termites infecting your house.
  • Maintain an 18-inch gap between the soil and wood portions of your home, and store firewood at least 20 feet from the home.
  • Remove old wood, fallen tree limbs, and rotted roof shingles. Replace weather stripping and loose mortar around the basement walls.

Termite control

Subterranean termite colonies may contain many thousands of individuals foraging in numerous directions. A perimeter application treatment program is the best approach. This type of application helps create a barrier around the house that keeps termites out and kills any that might already have taken root.

An important point to keep in mind is annual inspection of the property by a professional is important as it will ensure that the house is properly protected. Just because you applied a barrier or traps doesn’t mean they won’t come back. Make sure you schedule repeat inspections.

Sigma Termite Solutions

Sigma Termite Solutions (STS) allows you to have the peace of mind that your home is protected from termites for good. 

With Sigma Termite Solutions, your home receives a long-lasting barrier against termites, and a thorough inspection of your home is administered every year. If termites are ever found we will, as always, honor our satisfaction guaranty and take care of the problem.

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termite sigma pest control

What types of Termites live in Fredericksburg?

Over 2,000 species of termites exist around the world. Lucky for us, we only have to worry about ONE type of termite – the Eastern Reticulating Subterranean Termite.

Termites are known as the ‘silent killers’ because they are able to chew through wood undetected. As the ground warms, termites spring into action with the scout crew (a.k.a. Swarmers) the first to emerge from their winters nap, in search of new territory to harvest.

Swarmers have wings, and they fly, and are often mistaken for winged ants. But make no mistake about it, you need to know the difference between a flying ant and a termite before it is too late. 

Each year, termites cause roughly $5 billion in property damage. To help you identify these pests, we’ve created the following handy-dandy field guide.

Should you find that YOU DO have termites, call Sigma Pest Control for a free inspection and consultation.

the Eastern Reticulating

Subterranean Termite

termitesSubterranean termites often form large colonies and eat rapidly through wood, making them the most destructive termites. These pests live in the soil beneath and around homes and often enter through wood that touches the ground or by constructing mud tubes from the ground to the wood they infest. Cracks in concrete walls and foundations made of hollow blocks are also paths these insects could take to infest a house.

What do they look like?

Termites live according to a caste system. There are three main types of termites in the subterranean termite caste: workers, soldiers, and swarmers. Each has a specific job in support of the colony, and each is uniquely equipped with the tools they need to get the job done.

termitesWorkers are the smallest of the three types, measuring one-eighth to three-eighths of an inch in length. They are opaque, almost translucent, and they separate wood from it’s source. They live their entire lives in dark tunnels, both above and below ground. Because they are in the dark their entire lives they do not have eyes. Despite not having eyes, workers can sense the difference between light and dark. They know they are in danger of predators if exposed to light.

termiteSoldiers are as long as workers, but have larger heads with powerful mandibles. The role of the soldier is to protect the colony from predators.

termite wingsSwarmers have wings and can fly. they are coal black to pale yellow, flattened, and about 3/8th inch long. They leave a mature colony to mate and establish new colonies. They eventually become the king and queen in new colonies. Unlike soldiers and workers, swarmers have eyes which allows them to leave the dark tunnels of the nest.

Facts about subterranean termites

  • The king and queen can produce 3600 eggs per day.
  • The main portion of their nest underground and can have upwards of 2 million residents.
  • They make mud tubes to access structures and avoid daylight.
  • Termite colonies eat 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
  • The need contact with soil to survive.

Prevention tips

  • Avoid water accumulation near your home’s foundation. Divert water away from the home or property by using downspouts, gutters and splash blocks. Be sure these devices are working properly and not blocked or clogged.
  • Reduce humidity in crawl spaces with proper ventilation.
  • Remove wood and waste lumber from the yard, and never bury wood.
  • Eliminate wood contact with the soil.

What to do if you have Termites?

Out of sight doesn’t always mean out of mind, especially when it comes to termites. Termites will cause serious damage to your property if you allow them to go unchecked. The cost of repairing this damage can expensive, and the longer the termites have access to your home or business the more damage they’ll do.

That is why it is important to explore your termite treatment options as soon as possible in order to reduce the risk of damage to your home. Contact Sigma Pest Control for a FREE estimate, professional service, and THE best solution to your termite control needs.

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