Pest Information Termite Droppings: How To Spot Termite Poop vs. Saw Dust In Your House

Termite Droppings: How To Spot Termite Poop vs. Saw Dust In Your House

What do termite droppings look like? How can you tell the difference between their droppings and sawdust? Do different termites have different looking droppings? Learn how to distinguish termite poop from sawdust so you know if you need to take any actions for pest control.

If you learn to spot termite droppings and understand  how to distinguish them from their common lookalikes such as sawdust, then you just might be able to spot a termite infestation before it’s too late.  

Termites are sneaky.  They don’t like to be noticed. They remain undetected by burrowing inside wood rather than eating at wood from the outside in.  

Usually the only evidence they leave for you are their droppings.  All of this makes it quite difficult to spot termites unless you really know what you are looking for…and termite droppings are a great place to start.  

Before We Start, Termite Droppings are also Called Frass

A small pile of termite frass on a wooden surface

Yes, if you hear the term – and you will – be aware that frass is just a fancy term for the droppings of termites.

American drywood termites live inside of wood. That means they have to find a way and a place to get rid of their droppings, otherwise their tunnels would be filled with it!

So they create openings in their home out from which they push their excrement, which collects in piles outside their nest, and this is what we call frass.

What do Termite Droppings Look Like?

Although it can vary species to species, termite droppings are usually small, light brown to dark-brown pellets that resemble table salt grains or sawdust. However, they can be very dark and even black, depending on what the termites eat.

An individual dropping is tiny, oval-shaped, and less than 1/20th of an inch long.

The most common type of termite found in the United States is drywood termites, and it’s these droppings that look the most similar to sawdust or wood shavings.

Where Should I Look For Termite Poop?

Termite poop gathered at the base of a wooden stair bannister

A lot of times people notice termite piles sitting on a window sill or somewhere else where it seems out of place.  Unfortunately, if termite droppings are kicked out of a burrow in the ceiling or some other place it can fall unto the floor (wooden or carpet) where it is unlikely to ever be detected.  

As a general rule of thumb, pay special attention to these areas when inspecting for termite droppings:

  • Window and Door Sills
  • Wooden bannisters
  • In Or Around Wooden Porches
  • Basements
  • Crawl spaces
  • Isolated corners of seldom used rooms or storage areas.

Drywood termite species are notorious for building colony nests in the sub-roofs and eaves of dwellings, and they may also infest the wood between floors and ceilings in multi-floored homes.

Inspection of attic areas, especially around joists is therefore advisable.  In certain extreme cases of ceiling nests, termite waste might also be found on living space surfaces including counters and bedding, as kick holes are created in ceilings and the termite poop kicked out to fall into the room below.

Termite Droppings and Sawdust: Spotting The Difference

termite droppings surrounding what looks like a nut attached to a bolt

Drywood termite droppings look a lot like sawdust.  Typically a homeowner who sees it for the first time will confuse it with saw dust and clean it up and discard it without thinking twice.

The biggest difference between droppings and saw dust is the shape.  If your sight is not the greatest you may need a magnifying glass to tell the difference, but termite droppings will be granular pellets often varying in color.  

If you look close enough, you’ll notice that drywood termite droppings have a 6-sided shape.  Saw dust on the other hand will look more like tiny shavings and slivers rather than the 6-sided granular shape of droppings.

Drywood termite pellets look almost like a deflated football or an oblong pea under magnification. However, Drywood termite droppings aren’t the only kind of termite to be on the lookout for.

Subterranean vs. Drywood Termite Frass

The intensity of an infestation and rate of damage will often depend on the type of termite that is involved.  There are two types that we would like to call attention to here: Subterranean and Drywood.  Though you need to be on the lookout for both, Subterranean termites are potentially the more destructive of the two.

Subterranean termites produce a liquid form of excrement whereas Drywood termites produce a dry form of excrement.

Drywoods, the more “tidy” of the two, push their poop out of their living spaces whereas Subterraneans prefer to use their liquid droppings, mixing it with dirt, debris and saliva to construct a sort of covered termite superhighway.  They use these poop based mud tube highways to travel to their next food source, which just might be your house.  

Subterranean termites also construct nests from their droppings or use their poop based “cement” to heal breaches in nests established deep within wood sources. Because of the fluid nature of their poop and their extensive use of droppings as part of their nest construction activities, discrete piles or mounds of their waste aren’t likely to be found and their absence cannot be used to discount the likelihood of an infestation.

So, if they’re harder to spot than Drywood termites,  where should one look to find Subterranean termites within their home?  

When it comes to houses, they are most commonly found in chimneys and empty wall spaces.  They also often build such nests if moisture is allowed to regularly collect inside the wall cavity, say from leaking pipes, shower recess, faulty plumbing, guttering, broken roof tiles, etc.  

They are super secretive, preferring to enter buildings through areas that are often inaccessible to inspection such as through in-fill patios, fire heaths, expansion joints and cracks in concrete slab flooring.

Old or New Droppings? Does This

Determine Your Actions?

You might think if the droppings are old, that the termites may have moved on, and you don’t have to tackle the problem.

However, this isn’t the case!

First of all, there is no way to determine if droppings are new or fresh, they look exactly the same.

But also, it’s improbable the termites have gone. Wat’s more likely is they have just started pushing out their waste elsewhere and not onto the pile you have found and are currently looking at.

Other “Types” of Termite Residue

Termite droppings don’t exclusively consist of their poo…they “drop” other things as well that might clue you in to their unwanted intrusion into your home.  Here are some additional signs of termites that you should look out for.  

Discarded wings are another often overlooked clue of their presence. 

A collection of dropped Termite Wings

When termites reach an adult stage they grow wings and eventually shed them.  When they are in their flying stage of adulthood they are often referred to as swarmers.  After the swarmers land in their intended destination they shed their wings.  If their intended destination was somewhere within your home or structure then those wings should be visible somewhere.

Of course these wings are small but if you know what you’re looking for it is possible to detect them.  They will be found in pairs of identical wings. 

Check on wooden floors, window sills, and any spiderwebs in your house.  If you have found termite droppings and wings in an area you can do a quick test with a screwdriver to get a general idea if you have a problem area.

Take the end of the screwdriver (Phillips or standard) and tap along the wood around the area the wings or dropping were found.  If the termites are inside the wood and have been eating away the cellulose for a considerable amount of time… there will be a hollow type of noise when you tap over the previously infested areas.

This sound will sound different from solid wood being tapped on.  Again this is only a quick field test but when accompanied with other signs of termites, it is probably time to get an professional inspection done to assess the damage and then recommend treatment options.

Drywood termite droppings

Is Termite Excrement Dangerous or Toxic?

The short answer is NO.  

While the list of animal and insect droppings that are potentially harmful and toxic is long, termite droppings are not are not on that list.  Actually, termite dirt piles have been recognized to be rich in magnesium (a good thing).  In fact, certain African tribes have even been known historically to use termite dung as a dietary supplement.  Yummy.  

Suffice this to say that the toxicity of termite droppings in your home, if you should spot them, should be the least of your worries.

Hopefully this article has given you a better understanding into the intricacies of termites and their droppings.

Managing Editor & CEO Jack has been writing as a contractor and for businesses for over 10 years. He owns his own home, and has been doing his own pest control since he bought his first house.

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