Let’s be honest, termites suck. Especially for those of us who live in wooden houses. These little bugs hide in the walls of our homes eating away at the structure and according to some estimates do $30 billion in damage to crops and man-made structures in the US each year.
One of the most telltale signs of their presence in your home are termite droppings or frass. Knowing the difference between termite droppings and other insects is imperative to protect your home. Once you know what termite droppings look like you can focus your treatment on the affected areas and stop them in their tracks.
Identifying Termite Droppings
Termite droppings, commonly known as frass, are a mixture of wood particles and termite excrement. That’s right, it’s termite poop! Termites consume cellulose-based materials like wood and convert them into a fine, sand-like substance that they excrete from their colonies.
The droppings remain in the wood until it gets too crowded for the termites then they create an exit hole which is often so small it’s very easy to miss. The frass in then ejected from the hole and typically accumulates in small piles near active termite nesting areas.
Termite droppings are quite distinct and can be easily identified once you know what to look for. They resemble tiny, elongated pellets with rounded ends. The color of the droppings can vary based on the termite species and the type of wood they consume. Generally, frass can be light brown, beige, or dark brown.
Locating Termite Droppings
Termites like to linger in a few prime areas in a house, but if given long enough they can spread almost everywhere. That’s why it’s important to spot piles of frass early and often and treat the areas to slow their spread.
When the droppings are ejected from the wood the termites are making a meal of they will fall directly down thanks to gravity so inspecting above the piles of frass will give you the best chance to find the exit hole source.
Termites do not eject their droppings up, so if you’re finding piles on the floor look up to find the source of the termite droppings.
It’s easy to miss these piles as they can start relatively small or get vacuumed up without even noticing so check areas like window sills and door jambs where there is greater opportunity for termite activity.
Termite Droppings vs. Other Debris
It’s essential to differentiate termite droppings from other debris like sawdust or carpenter ant frass. While they may look similar, there are some telltale signs that can help you figure what you’re looking at.
- Termite Droppings vs. Sawdust: Termite droppings are generally more uniform in shape and size, while sawdust tends to have irregular shapes and sizes. Additionally, frass pellets are harder and have a grainy texture compared to sawdust.
- Termite Droppings vs. Carpenter Ant Frass: Carpenter ant droppings consist of insect body parts and wood fragments, appearing more varied and less uniform than termite droppings.
- Conducting the Water Test: To confirm the presence of termite droppings, sprinkle a few droplets of water on the suspected frass piles. If the pellets disintegrate into a fine powder, it is likely termite droppings since they are sensitive to moisture.
How To Spot Treat Termites
So, you’ve determined that you’ve got termites. My condolences. That doesn’t mean you need to tent your whole house and go scorched earth. For smaller infestations it is possible to have success by spot treating the source areas where you noticed the termite droppings coming from.
When it comes to spot treating termites, the effectiveness of the treatment largely depends on the type of termiticide used. Here are some of the best termite control products commonly recommended for spot treatments:
- Liquid Termiticides: Liquid termiticides are the most widely used and effective products for spot treatment. They come in concentrated forms that need to be diluted with water and then applied to the infested areas. The termiticide can be directly injected into the termite galleries, drilled holes, or poured into the soil near termite activity. Popular active ingredients in liquid termiticides include:
- Foam Termiticides: Foams are some of the most useful for spot treating because they are designed to expand after application, allowing them to reach deep into termite galleries and hard-to-reach areas. Foam termiticides are convenient for spot treatments as they can be applied directly to infested wood, voids, and wall cavities. Common active ingredients in foam termiticides include:
- Borate-based Termiticides: Borate-based termiticides are eco-friendly and have low toxicity to humans and pets. Borate treatments can be applied to infested wood or used preventively on exposed wooden surfaces. Borates work by being absorbed into the wood, making it toxic to termites upon ingestion. Common options for borate treatments include:
- Termite Baits: Termite bait stations are another form of spot treatment, especially useful for subterranean termites. These bait stations contain a cellulose-based material laced with slow-acting termiticides. Termites consume the bait and then transfer the poison back to the colony, eventually eradicating the entire colony. Common active ingredients in termite baits include:
- Desiccant Dusts: Desiccant dusts are natural or synthetic powders that absorb moisture from termites’ exoskeleton, causing them to dehydrate and die (sounds pleasant, right?). These dusts can be applied to termite galleries, voids, or other infested areas. Silica gel and diatomaceous earth are examples of desiccant dusts used for termite spot treatment
The main point I’m trying to make is that there are options for most every situation once you’ve identified termite droppings in your house if folks tell you that spot treatment is not an option they are often mistaken.
Having done thousands of inspections on old houses and worked around my share of termites I suggest starting with spot treatments. If that just isn’t cutting the mustard then you can move up to larger and more expensive options like tenting and fumigation.
Founder & Editor-in-Chief
I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.