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Dampwood Termites vs. Subterranean Termites: What’s the Difference?

Termites are destructive household pests that can cost you thousands of dollars in repair if left alone. While all termite species look the same to most people, there are actually termite species that require different pest control methods. Telling dampwood termites apart from their subterranean counterparts can help homeowners find the best way to get rid of them.

So what’s the difference between dampwood termites and subterranean termites? The easiest way to tell them apart is by looking at their appearance and nesting habits. Dampwood termites are bigger than subterranean termites, don’t build their nest in the soil, andprefer attacking wood with high moisture content instead of sound wood. To eliminate termites or prevent infestations, it’s best to call a professional pest control company. 

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How to Tell the Difference Between Dampwood vs. Subterranean Termites

About 600,000 homes report termite infestations every year, making these pests a common household problem in the United States. These invasive species attack wood for food and shelter, causing the building’s foundation to weaken and the property value to drop. Termites are hard to spot, so most termite damages are only discovered when it’s already severe.

Subterranean termites and dampwood termites are 2 of the most common species of termites to invade homes.Knowing which termite species you’re dealing with is important in choosing an effective treatment method against a termite infestation, but it might be difficult to differentiate them for people who aren’t familiar with insects.

Here are important differences to know between dampwood and subterranean termites: 


Dampwood termites are the largest termite types to invade homes with bodies that measure about 1/2 inch to 5/8 inch long. They also have a pair of antennae and 6 legs attached to their long, narrow, and oval bodies that are usually creamy white to brown in color. Another noticeable physical feature of dampwood termites is the large pinchers in their head.

On the other hand, subterranean termites are much smaller with bodies that are only about 1/8 inch long. They also have 6 legs, a pair of antennae, long and narrow bodies, and creamy white to dark brown or black color.

The physical appearance of subterranean termites varies according to which of the 3 distinct castes or roles in the colony they belong. The queen subterranean termite is the largest one in the colony while the king is much smaller.

The alates or reproductive termites have dark bodies and milky-colored wings. Worker termites have small jaws that allow them to chew dead wood and move materials around, while soldier termites have large mandibles they use to defend the colony. 

Nesting Habits

Subterranean species of termites are social insects that got their name from their nesting habit. They live in colonies underground and build tunnels into wooden structures in search of food. These pests need a lot of moisture, so a subterranean termite colony underground is always damp and cool.

Dampwood termites don’t live underground but they still need a lot of moisture to survive. These pests usually attack wet, rotting, or decaying wood in the house. They prefer staying near a water source like the leaky roof or faulty drainage systems. They can also build a dampwood termite colony in tree stumps, woodpiles, and leaf litters that are close to the soil. 


Both dampwood termites and subterranean termites consume wood to survive, but the main difference is that dampwood termites are commonly found in dead trees or rotten wood that has high moisture content.

Subterranean termites may attack decayed wood first and then move on to dry wood or sound wood if they need to. They just need the wooden structure to be in direct contact with soil where their main colony is located. 

Termite Damage

Regardless of their species, termite damages across the country can add up to about $5 billion every year. These destructive pests weaken the foundation of property by eating the wooden structures of the building, as well as the wood floorings. They also cause serious damage when they attack the antique wooden furniture in a home.

But aside from the structural damage they cause, dampwood termites also make it easier for microorganisms like fungi to attack the decaying or wet wood. The dampwood they leave behind also serves as a meal to other pests like carpenter ants and other termite types.

Termite damages also lower the value of a home if the homeowner has plans to sell it in the future. Most home insurance policies don’t cover this type of household issue, so homeowners have to prepare thousands of dollars out of their pocket to pay for the termite control treatments and repairs. 

Signs of Dampwood or Subterranean Termite Infestation

Dampwood termites, drywood termites, and subterranean termites are difficult to spot because of their size and color. But homeowners should remain vigilant of the things that happen in and out of their homes so they can spot a termite infestation before it causes a huge problem.

Here are the common signs of dampwood or subterranean termite activity to look out for:

  • Mud Tubes – Subterranean termites create shelter tubes to travel between the colony and the food source without being exposed. Dampwood termites don’t make mud tubes when foraging.
  • Hollow Wood – Termites usually attack wood inside out so homeowners might notice hollow sounds when they knock on the wooden walls, floors, or other timber materials.
  • Frass – Subterranean termites may leave grainy fecal material near the opening of the infested wood, but dampwood termites cover the exit holes with their own fecal pellets.
  • Discarded Wings – Winged termites or termite swarmers leave wings lying near the entry point of their chosen termite nests after the mating. 

Recommended Termite Control Methods

After identifying the types of termites in the property through a termite inspection, pest experts should develop a recommended termite treatment plan based on the situation.

For subterranean termites, most pest management professionals recommend applying a chemical barrier on the soil around the property. This kind of subterranean termite treatment prevents the pests from entering the house while ensuring that most of them die as they return to their main colony.

Direct treatment of the affected wood using borate-based products is the best extermination method for dampwood termites. The infested wood should then be discarded and replaced to avoid re-infestation.

But regardless of which species of termites attack your home, it’s important to have preventive measures in place after they’re treated. Make sure to fix all moisture problems at home, reduce humidity in crawl spaces, and avoid storing wood debris near the ground to keep your property termite-free. 

Hassle-Free Termite Extermination by Positive Pest Management

pest control worker doing his job spraying pesticide for termite control

Subterranean and dampwood termite infestations can be a pain to deal with. DIY treatments are rarely successful in the long run, so it’s best to leave this kind of household issue in the hands of an experienced pest management expert like Positive Pest Management.

We are a top-rated pest control company based in NYC that uses proactive treatment methods to get rid of termites and other pests in residential and commercial properties. Get your peace of mind back and don’t hesitate to call us at 1-800-294-3130 to book an appointment or request a free quote.

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