Signs of Termites in Trees

Two-thirds of the money spent on controlling insect pests in the United States is spent on termites that eat trees, foundations, floors, walls and furniture. Subterranean termites, found as far north as Canada, cause some 95 percent of the damage. Drywood termites are found in warm areas from California to Florida. Dampwood termites attack homes in the Pacific Northwest. There are a number of signs that tell you if you have a problem with termites.

Damaged Wood

The wood of your tree might look dark or blistered. If you strike wood infested by termites, it will sound hollow. The wood will be crumbly and easy to crush. You might see piles of chewed wood and termite excrement. If you use a knife to open damaged wood, you might see termite tunnels that run parallel to the grain of the wood.

Live Termites

If you see what you think is a termite, it might be an ant. Termites have thick waists, whereas ants have thin waists. Termites have straight antennae, and ants have antennae that are bent. The front and rear wings of termites are the same size, but the front wings of ants are larger than the rear wings.

Tubes or Tunnels

Subterranean termites build tubes or tunnels leading from their headquarters to wood that they eat. These tubes, about the thickness of a pencil, are made of digested soil and wood. You can see the the tubes headed toward a tree. If you check a tube and it is empty, that doesn't mean the termites are gone. They might only be working elsewhere in their system of tunnels.


Each year, usually in the spring, winged termites set out to start new colonies. They seek light so they head toward light figures or windows of houses at night. If you see a swarm of what appear to be flying ants, a nest of termites is likely near. The swarmers drop to the ground, pair off with a mate, lose their wings and attempt to start a new colony. If you see swarmers at night, they might be headed for your trees. Turn off your lights.

Piles of Wings

If you see piles of wings on the ground, it means that swarmers have dropped their wings to pair up with mates. They will be attempting to establish a new colony in the soil. If you see wings, look for a new colony that might be developing near your trees.

Keywords: termite signs, spotting termites, recognizing termites

About this Author

Richard Hoyt, the author of 26 mysteries, thrillers and other novels, is a former reporter for Honolulu dailies and writer for "Newsweek" magazine. He taught nonfiction writing and journalism at the university level for 10 years. He holds a Ph.D. in American studies.