The Tricky Dealings of Termite Frass

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Home sweet home, they say, but truly maintenance is the key. You look around and realize that it’s time to do deep cleaning, since some parts of the house are easily overlooked during simple daily cleaning routine. So you start moving around—checking cabinets, drawers, pantries, unused boxes in the attic or basement, and even inspect neglected corners around the house but alas! Something unwanted catch your eye. Upon closer look, you find out that it’s nothing but termite frass. You begin to see heaps of droppings lying around, and then crunch your nose as its smell start to waft in the air.

Termites can destroy wooden construction in your home, causing structural damage and a decay in appearance. Of the direst consequences of termite infestation is none other than frass or termite droppings. If you live in an area where termites are commonly found, then you must know key information about frass—how to identify it, how to prevent it, and how to get rid of it.

Worry not, we’ve got you covered. Let’s get down to business to investigate this matter of termite frass—and why you should watch out for the dangers of termite infestation.

1. How Termites Work Their Way

Different types of termites excrete different frass. Among them are drywood, dampwood and subterranean termites. The frass appearance differs from one termite to another; however, normally they are oval, small in size, with six concave sides and rounded ends. Termite dust is also referred as pellets.

It doesn’t take long to recognize termite infestation happening in your house once you spot the frass.

Capable of crawling out from the soil, termites break their way through dirt and saliva which formed into tubes. More advanced case can be found in adult termites, since they can fly too—depends on the species and type of relevant termites. Once they have infiltrated your house, these creatures crawl through narrow spaces and tight cracks—similar to cockroaches which they’re closely related to—nibbling and shaving the wood, inflicting damage to any wooden structure from doors, windows, drawers, and even furniture.

As they exploit their feces as construction material, termites also devour the wood. There are only a few animals that can feed on wood and extort nutrients from it; a feat that we are incapable of. According to Jared Leadbetter, a microbiologist of the California Institute of Technology, humans can ‘degrade proteins and fats and sugars and starches, but we don’t have enzymes in our saliva that break down cellulose’. Termites, however, are aided by hundreds and even thousands microbes that live inside their guts.

2. What Termite Frass Signifies

Commonly, finding termite droppings or frass is a sign of termite infestation. Frass differs from one termite species to another. Here are some signs that termites are secretly destroying your home.

  • Resonant sounding timber (meaning termites have been chewing on the structure)
    Hollow, sinking doors or floors
  • Cracked plaster or paint (as termites chew out timber, they affect the structural solidity, causing fractures in wallpaper or paint)
  • Muddy shelter tubes built by termites can be seen in architraves or brick foundations.
  • Brittle skirting boards and architraves or door jams also need to be noticed, as termites shrinks away the structural coherence of timber, therefore a small pound to these spots can inflict damage
  • Blackout can also signify that termites have infested your home, as they are drawn to the warmth of electrical structure behind the walls

3. Where Can I Spot Termite Frass?

Termites produce termite dust as they consume and dig deep into the wood. Afterwards, they expel the frass from the wooden structure, until it becomes a heap on the floor. Frass is commonly found under the door and window frames, or tucked in the corners of boards, drawers, cupboards, and at the edges of porches. If termites are gnawing on ceiling construction, the frass will often drop on to the floor below. This will create piles of litter, where humans may unwittingly vacuum or sweep an obvious sign termites of infestation under the rug.

Rainfall and temperature hold the utmost influence on termite activity, followed by the age of one’s house. If you happen to find a termite nest on your property, leave it alone until you have decided a suitable termite management plan with a certified pest manager.

Once you announce your presence and disturb their nest, termites can abandon the area, move someplace else and remain unnoticed. This can be troublesome since termites don’t just chomp on wooden structures; they also gnaw on furniture, fabrics, footwear, paper products, clothing, and fabrics. Termites can even wreck havoc on non-cellulose materials such as solid form insulation, soft plastics, and building sealants.

While there are obvious places for termite sighting like basements, termites can also expel frass in elevated indoor areas, such as entry way, porch, or kitchen. The color of termite dust can differ depending on the type of wood that they feed on. Some termite frass can look in similar color with salt and pepper. In addition, you must be careful not to get carpenter ant frass mixed with termite frass, as they look quite similar. Note that carpenter ants leave their frass around the entry of their nest or galleries. Meanwhile, termites tend to discard their frass.

Oftentimes, people notice piles of termite frass piling up on a window sill or other unusual spots, which makes the frass all the more stand out. Unfortunately, if frass is swept off out a termite burrow in the plafond or ceiling, it can hit the floor (wooden or carpet) and it’s unlikely to be spotted. The probability will rise if that happens in a household that doesn’t recognize what termite frass looks like.

Now that you know what termite frass looks like, you can be more self-assured in recognizing these commonly ignored signs of infestation sooner. Pay special attention to these spots since it’s quite common to be find termite droppings here:

  1. Door and window sills
  2. Around and in wooden porches

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In case you find anything that resembles saw dust, stop and inspect it closely. Do not vacuum or sweep anything that could be frass. Instead, put this inside a plastic zip lock bag then take it to pest control professional for examination. You also need to keep notes on the location you found it and it’s even better when you snap some pictures for documentation. That way, you can email the photos to pest control professionals. Clear, high-resolution pictures are enough to enable them distinguishing saw dust from termite frass.

Depending on the species, termite poop or frass can have different appearance. We will provide you information about three varied categories of termite frass, including dampwood, subterranean and drywood.

  1. Termite Frass Variations

4.1 Drywood Termites

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(Picture: Drywood termites infiltrates wooden structure)

Frass that you discover inside or around your home indicates that drywood termites are in vicinity. Drywood termites will even attack and build their nest inside healthy, solid wood in great condition. Moisture is unnecessary for drywood termites to thrive. They can also be frequently found in ceilings and attics—unusual places where you don’t normally find dampwood or subterranean termites. Drywood termites can create serious structural damage, so if spot frass and think your house might be infested, you must immediately contact en exterminator. This kind of situation sees termite infestation to be mandatory. The scale of infestation may vary from one house to another, so yours happen to be a large one, your exterminator may decontaminate the home with fumigation.

The exterminator may also spot-treat the termite-ravaged wood.
This species differs from subterranean termites that live underground and emerge to feast on moist wood.

Unlike other termite species, drywood termites dwell in dry wood and they are capable of surviving without nearby source of water. Drywood termites aren’t exclusively attracted to damaged or decayed wood, as they can crawl and settle inside healthy wooden structure. These invasive creatures are highly destructive. Drywood termites have similar feces with dampwood termites—the excretion takes the shape of hexagonal, hard pellets. Since they live in dry environment, drywood termites dust remains distinctive in shape, and the pellets’ color can range from tan to dark brown.

The type of wood that the termites consume doesn’t affect the color of their feces. Commonly, drywood termite feces accumulate in heaps and every pellet is slightly bigger than a grain of sand. By examining their frass, pest control professional can recognize drywood termites. The frass has rough, gritty, unique texture. The biological process of excreting the frass creates distinctive dryness. The drywods have three isolated pairs of anal glands, which draw all moisture out of the feces before it is secreted. This is crucial, since there is no water access available in their nests.

Usually, drywood termites leave minimum traces of activity in homes. The moment two drywood termites build a small nest inside the wood, they enclose the entry hole to the nest and remain inside. Most drywood termites can find all the necessary conditions inside the wood—food, water, shelter, and ideal temperature. The exception to this is swarmers that must venture outside in order to start new colonies.

4.2 Dampwood Termites

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(Picture: Dampwood termites chewing on moist bark)

This species prefer to dwell and feed on decaying or moist wood. These creatures must live in damp habitat or they risk potent death. Dampwood termites are threats to any damp, wooden structures, such as soaked wooden logs, moist wooden structures or neglected leaky roof. The frass excreted by these termites has six sides. This larval excrement is hard and hexagonal in shape. Its colors range from medium to light brown.

Due to their humid, wet habitat, dampwood termites droppings can’t retain their shape. The pellets will eventually stumble, forming a sticky paste. The more damp the termites’ nest, the harder it is to distinguish the frass. However, if the nest is dryer, the droppings may pile up outside or below the infested structure. In this case, they will remain solid and hexagonal in shape. Dampwood termites that are drawn to soaked wood use their droppings to construct their nests, changing a human residence into a termite latrine. Termite frass doesn’t stink; surprisingly it smells smoky.

4.3 Subterranean Termites

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(Picture: Subterranean termites foraging on the ground)

Similar to dampwood termites, moist habitat is necessary for subterranean termites to survive. They usually build their nests in the soil, below the ground. These creatures scour away from the nests, to feed on wooden structure. The worker termites build tubes which enable them to make an entrance from the ground, reaching for their target structure.

The nest of subterranean termites can look a certain way. Some species construct low mounds dotted with holes, while others build high tower-like slopes. Unlike other species, subterranean termites excrete liquid droppings. They utilize their droppings as an adhesive for creating nests, so the droppings look indistinguishable from the nest.

Subterranean termites normally don’t leave behind detectable frass. The initial sign of termite infestation can look vermicular mood tunnels that trail up walls or foundations.

Living completely inside the wood they feed on, drywood and dampwood termites are hard to be traced. It’s unlikely that you will spot signs of their occupancy, unless you can identify droppings or frass underneath infested wood.

  1. Are Termite Droppings Harmful?

Termite droppings are not harmful, but you still need the help of pest control professionals to handle them. Although drywood termites frass doesn’t pose any danger or complication hazard, you should not clean it up alone. As you are waiting for termite extermination, please note that termite frass will not spread any contagious diseases. However, some people can catch allergy symptoms caused by the droppings. Directly touching the frass can make your skin itchy, or you might develop certain respiratory symptoms if you breathe in frass particles.

Call up your local pest control to ensure the infested area will be properly sterilized. People with chemical allergies will benefit from less chemical usage if they could find the frass as soon as possible. This is because pest control professionals are less likely to use many chemicals if the infestation is discovered early.

  1. What’s The Best Way to Clean up Frass?

Self protection is paramount. Cleaning frass requires gloves to ensure your hands are protected. Although it’s not necessary, wearing a face mask is a nice precaution as well, especially if you have recognized allergies. With the exception of dampwood termites, frass is generally dry; you can sweep or vacuum it up. Once you are through, apply a good dose of all-purpose disinfectant.

Once exterminator arrives at your home, you still must examine if there’s additional frass hidden somewhere. Clean the area of your house in regular intervals, so you can spot any difference in case another infestation is about to happen. If the frass starts disappearing, it indicates that the termites have been wiped out by insecticide.

  1. How Do I Avoid The Risk of Infestation?
  • Repair any moisture issue like shoddy drainage, leaking pipes or poor ventilation
  • Examine your home surroundings—garden beds or bushes should be maintained and not conceal weep holes (the small crack left between bricks to drain water out)
  • Maintain the cleanliness of areas underneath your house. Don’t hoard items than can limit the ventilation are under the house.
  • Regularly check outdoor house foundations such as wooden fence and deck. Remove dead wood from your shed or storage. Check if there’s frass lying around.
  • Get rid of any wood that touches the ground and is located close to your house.
  • Consider to use non-organic materials and construction methods to sharply lessen the risk of termite infestation.
  • Clean dark or damp areas in your house in regular bass, such as kitchen, laundry room, basement, and storage rooms.
  • Schedule pest inspection check from professionals and follow their instructions.
  1. Final Thoughts

Recognizing termite frass in a crucial action for preventing damage to the property you hold the most dear: your home. The color of termite frass will typically match the color of the wood that they consume and it will resemble sawdust or a heap of dirt. If you happen to find any piles that could potentially be termite frass, please call pest exterminator immediately. Additionally, watch out for infestation in high-traffic home areas that you clean frequently, because you might have swept or vacuumed those spots without discerning any sign of infestation. For this reason, getting professional help is the best defense against possible large-scale termite infestation.

  1. References

https://www.orkin.com/termites/signs/droppings

https://www.jcehrlich.com/blog/termite-droppings-101/

Termite Droppings (Frass): Appearance & Treatment

How to Identify Drywood Termite Droppings

Frass: A Key Sign of Drywood Termite Infestations

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/termites-transform-home-poop-palace

https://pestsguide.com/termites/termite-droppings-in-your-house/
https://citypests.com/termite-droppings-frass-or-dust/

https://mytermitetreatmentcosts.com/termite-frass-can-save-your-home/

https://www.accuratepestsolutions.com/termites

https://www.masseyservices.com/hungry-drywood-termites/

https://www.rentokil.co.id/blog/drywood-termites-and-subterranean-termites-whats-the-difference/

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