How much damage can a termite really do?

A better question would be how much can termites eat and how fast? Tough questions because the answers depend on so many variables such as: the type of termites, the size of the colony, the geographic location, even the kind of wood attacked. There is very little actual field data. Most of what we know is based on what termites eat in a laboratory setting—very different from the real world.

Obviously, the size of the termite colony will make a difference in the amount of wood consumed. Unfortunately, you don’t know the size of your termite colony. But even if an individual colony is relatively small, consider that there are often multiple colonies in an area that together can produce the same amount of damage as one larger colony.

It takes several years for an eastern subterranean termite colony to reach a mature size of about 60,000 workers. This colony will eat only 1/5 of an ounce of wood a day. At this rate the colony could consume more than one foot of a pine 2X4 board in six months. An average-sized eastern subterranean colony contains about 300,000 workers. Laboratory studies suggest that a colony of this size can consume approximately 22 linear feet of a 2X4 in one year. This is equivalent to approximately one cubic foot of wood.

Formosan subterranean termite colonies, that occur in the southern U.S., are much larger and much more destructive. A medium-sized colony of 3 million Formosan termites could eat one foot of that 2X4 board in only two days. In colder regions, termites are less active during the winter months. Obviously, the amount of feeding damage drops off as well. But in warmer regions or in heated locations, termites can remain active and continue to feed year round.

It’s almost impossible to give a definitive answer to the question, “How much do termites eat?” While we tell customers not to panic if they have termites (their house is not going to fall down tomorrow), we tell them not to ignore the problem either. The termites aren’t going away. Your home is probably your biggest investment…you don’t want to take chances with termites.


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