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Wood Destroying Insect Identification

Are you seeing spots on the wood of your home that look like something has been chewing on it? Are you finding holes at the base of your door frames, trenches carved out of your rafter beams, or patches on your fence that look like someone sprayed it with a high-pressure hose? There are many pests that can damage wood, and each one does it in a slightly different way.

Carpenter bees, for example, bore circular tunnels in untreated wood. These holes are about the size of a nickel. If this is the kind of damage you're seeing, you're not dealing with carpenter ants or termites, but carpenter bees!

If you're seeing lots of tiny holes, those aren't carpenter bee holes. Instead, these tiny holes are the work of a smaller wood-destroying insect such as the carpenter ant. But not all tiny holes are created by carpenter ants. Powder post beetles can create these tiny holes as well. So if you’re seeing these signs, you have to consider what type of wood is being damaged to figure out whether or not you have a powderpost beetle infestation or a carpenter ant infestation. In this example, powder post beetles prefer hardwood and often attack furniture as well as hardwood building materials whereas carpenter ants are more likely to target softwood, especially softwood that is rotting or has been water damaged.

This same methodology can also be applied when comparing carpenter ant and termite damages!

Figuring out which pests is damaging the wood of your home can be a lot like an episode of CSI. There are many pests that can cause damage to your home, from small insects to large rodents, and everything in between! However, in this article, we're going to focus on carpenter ants and termites as they are the most destructive of all the wood-destroying pests that invade our New Jersey homes. Our goal is to equip you with a basic understanding of the diet, behavior, and habitat preferences of carpenter ants and termites to help you piece the puzzle together and figure out which of these destructive pests you're dealing with on your property.


First of all, carpenter ants don't actually eat wood. This is really important to understand when you're diagnosing wood damage. Carpenter ants tunnel galleries inside wood in order to establish a safe location to build their nests in. When they do this, they have to do something with all the wood that they chewed through. This chewed-up wood is called frass and is a fine, sawdust-like material. Sometimes, it’s so fine that it clings to walls when it is pushed out of the tiny kickout holes created by carpenter ant workers. The presence of this frass is a helpful clue when determining which kind of damage you're seeing. Frass can appear pouring out of a gap in the wall, piled in front of a recess, littered under a baseboard, built up around the base of a door or window frame, and more. But it’s important to understand that frass is not always pushed out where you can see it. Oftentimes, frass can build up inside the voids within walls, ceilings, and floors. And when this happens, it can be harder to tell which pest is damaging your home.

Termites, on the other hand, do consume the wood they tunnel through. Therefore, they have no need to push this sawdust-like material out of their tunnels. Some termite species do, however, push pellets out of kickout holes. These tiny pellets are also called frass, but they are not sawdust; they are actually the waste products of those termites. The termites that push these droppings out of their tunnels are drywood termites. These termites are not established in New Jersey but can be brought into homes inside furniture items that have been transported from a state that has a distribution of these insects. Usually, when we talk about the termites in New Jersey, we're referring to subterranean termites. These termites are far more destructive than drywood termites, partly due to the fact that there are no obvious signs of their presence and also due to the size of their populations.

 carpenter ants up close


There are some behaviors that subterranean termites exhibit that can help you identify the damages they cause. The most important of these behaviors is the construction of shelter tubes. Subterranean termite workers have thin skins that dry out quickly when exposed to sunlight. For this reason, these termite workers must build tubes made from moist soil in order to damage the wood of your home, especially if you have no areas where there is no wood-to-soil contact between the home and the soil surrounding it.

Termite shelter tubes are about the width of a pencil but they can be compacted together and appear much more substantial. If you are seeing wood damages to your home, search for the presence of compacted soil. It may be stuck to the outside of the wood or you may detect a grittiness inside the exposed tunneling. The tunnels created by carpenter ants are very smooth; you won't find any dirt in their galleries and you won't find any moist soil attached to the wood they're chewing on.

Another behavior that can help you detect which of these wood-destroying insects is chewing on your home is the presence of carpenter ant workers. Termites only show themselves when they emerge from their nests to swarm, mate, and establish new colonies, typically in the spring. These tiny black insects have long, equal-sized white wings and can be seen temporarily on the outside walls and sometimes even inside of the home during their swarming period. Carpenter ants, on the other hand, have no problem exposing themselves to sunlight or dry air. However, they are nocturnal and are typically only active when it is dark.

Carpenter ants and subterranean termites are both drawn to wood that has been damaged by moisture. Softwood is an easy meal for subterranean termites and easy for carpenter ant workers to excavate but, of the two, subterranean termites have a far greater preference for softwood. For this reason, the damages that termite workers cause will follow the natural wood grain, which is softer. Carpenter ants will chew along the grain as well as across the grain.

Habitat Preferences

The termites in our area are aptly named subterranean termites as they live primarily underground. In fact, none of the termite species found in our area create satellite colonies above ground. Carpenter ants, on the other hand, are prone to creating nests above ground. Their nests can often be found in logs and trees as well as inside the wood of homes. This difference in habitat preferences makes it more likely that damages found around window and door frames are the work of carpenter ants. These ants can chew their way into a home through vulnerable areas in the exterior then find a cool, moist location inside to establish their nest. Window and door frames are notorious entry points for these pests as they are typically high-moisture zones.

Interior Damage

When these insects invade your home, most of the damages they create will be in places you can't see. In fact, subterranean termites are even known to feed up to the paint on a wall and stop just short of breaking through. If you see bubbling paint on your wall, it may be a warning sign of termite activity. However, most of the time, you're not going to see any of the damages caused by termites. Oftentimes, you won't see carpenter ant damages to your home either. And, over time, you may begin to notice that your windows are beginning to stick or open and close freely, your doors are beginning to stick, your ceilings are starting to sink or your floors are dipping feel spongy to walk on, or your walls are starting to bulge out. These are all signs that your home is being damaged by wood-destroying insects. Does it matter by which? Well, yes it does. But no matter what, those insects need to be stopped!

Since both of these insects can damage your home’s structural wood and active inside the voids of your home where you can't see them, it is best to have a pest control professional perform an inspection and assess the threat of the infestation you’re dealing with. If not properly tracked and effectively treated, these wood-destroying pests can do a lot of damage to your home over time. In the United States alone, subterranean termites cost home and business owners over $5 billion in structural damages annually, and carpenter ant repairs total in the hundreds of millions. The worst part is that the damages done by these insects can be difficult or impossible to repair. These damages can be done deep inside the timbers of a home and there is no way to know exactly where this damage has been done or just how much damage has been done your house to know exactly where this damage has been done until it’s too late. Don't take that chance. Hire a trusted pest control expert to protect your equity!

At Arrow Pest Control, our pest professionals use the most advanced technologies and methods to find termites and carpenter ants and eliminate them from homes and businesses. We have a strong track record of success and the review our customers give us on our social media is a testament to this success. It is impossible to have a 5 out of 5 stars on 1187 reviews at Google without paying meticulous attention to details and providing quality services with long-lasting results. For residential pest control solutions you can depend on, call the experts at Arrow Pest Control today!

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