Do termites eat paper? What about cardboard? Yes to both!

FAQs

Wondering if termites eat paper or chew on cardboard? Termites can and do eat paper (and cardboard).

Paper and cardboard are especially attractive to termites if it is waterlogged, but termites can eat any paper, cardboard, or other cellulose-containing material they find.

Cellulose is one of the main components of plants. This means termites can be attracted to any plant-based materials including cotton and hemp.

Do termites eat paper?

If you watch the video below then you’ll see that, yes, termites will eat paper with ease.

Video showing what it looks like when termites eat paper and cardboard

Do termites eat books?

Many people find this out the hard way. They’ll dig out a favorite, valuable book they had stashed away in a storage facility or attic for years only to find what appears to be many small tears throughout.

Termites will just as happily consume paper as they will wood, so it is not uncommon to find termites in books. This is especially true if your books are stored somewhere damp and dark.

Video showing termites in books

The reason is that both paper and wood contain cellulose, which is what the termites feed on. In fact, many termite bait stations (used to kill termite colonies by placing poisoned bait that will be taken back to the termite colony) use termiticide-treated paper or cardboard for bait.

The termites are attracted to the poisoned bait and then ideally take it back to the colony eventually killing off the entire colony (this is the ideal result but it doesn’t always exterminate the entire colony unfortunately.)

Termites Can Even Damage Books
Termites here are actively eating the pages of a book.

This lady was given around $65,000 worth of Chinese currency by her kids. She wrapped it up in plastic and stored it in her house. Obviously, whatever she stored it in within her house was penetrable by termites.

It is also likely that she already had termites in her home and perhaps wrapping the money in plastic trapped moisture in the stacks of cash.

Termites are particularly attracted to cellulose material (paper, wood, cardboard, etc.) that is also moist because they can easily digest the soaked cellulose.

This is one of the reasons why you should snip any leaks in the bud and be proactive in repairing any area of your home that has sustained water damage promptly.

If you leave water damaged lumber in your home for a significant amount of time you are essentially leaving termite bait in your house (without the poison) which will welcome subterranean termites to enter your home.

Do termites eat drywall paper?

Yes, termites will eat the paper or cardboard that encloses drywall. Termites are well known to eat away the thin cardboard or paper that covers sheetrock which eventually degrades the integrity of the sheetrock.

This is obviously a huge problem to encounter an as always with termites if you find a few… there are many more out of sight. Also take note in the above video that the drywall here was originally soaked from a pipe leak which attracted the termites to that area.

Moisture and cellulose material together creates prime conditions for termites to feast. So figure out where the water leak was, fix that, and then get a complete termite inspection from a certified pest control professional to ensure your home is not infested.

Video showing termite damage to drywall paper and the drywall itself

Will termites eat tar paper?

Usually, termites will stay away from tar paper although I won’t say that they absolutely cannot eat it since it does have some cellulose in it.

However, tar paper is generally considered effective enough at repelling termites that it is often used as a barrier between cinder block foundation walls and the wooden runners that from the base of the wooden walls.

Do termites eat cardboard?

Yep, termites will eat cardboard just as happily as they will munch on paper as shown in the below video. Why is that? Again, the common theme to all these paper-like items that termites eat is that they all contain cellulose which termites digest for food.

Video showing termite devouring some damp cardboard

Also take note in the above video that the cardboard boxes that the termites are feasting on appear to have gotten wet somehow.

Termites are particularly attracted to wet or damp cellulose containing materials. These damp cardboard boxes were probably also in a dark garage for long periods of time creating a perfect snack for these little insects.

Attics and storage garages are other areas that often experience termite damage to cardboard boxes that are often used to store other items.

Is there anything termites do NOT eat?

Well, after reading all the types of paper or paper-related material that termites will munch on, you may be wondering what they won’t eat.

The basic rule of thumb is that if an item or material has cellulose, then termites will eat it if they find their way to it. This list is certainly not exhaustive but these are some common items that termites have eaten.

  • Wood
  • Cardboard
  • Books
  • Paper
  • Cotton
  • Hemp
  • Plants and Plant Fibers (leaves, compost piles, etc.)
  • Trees
  • Furniture
  • Certain Cloth and Clothing
  • Some Carpets

Dampness + Darkness + Cellulose = Termite Heaven (and silverfish paradise too)

To help keep termites away you need to understand what attracts them. You already have a good understanding of what they like to eat, cellulose, which of course attract them.

But it is also important to understand the other two factors they require to thrive. With this understanding you can do a lot to prevent termites from eating paper containing valuables you may own.

Whether it is a valuable first edition book passed down from you Aunt or some stored cash for a rainy day, keeping your paper items dry and in a lit area helps keep termites away. Termites prefer darkness.

They especially avoid sunlight which is why subterranean termites build mud tubes when attempting to make their way from the soil to your homes foundation.

They also prefer moisture to help them digest the cellulose in whatever material they may be munching. Silverfish are another insect that enjoy paper, moisture, and darkness, though they are far less destructive than termites.

If you watched the video above of cardboard boxes that they termites were devouring, you will notice that the spots the termites are concentrated in appear to have been soaked with water at some point in time.

What can you do to protect your books & paper from termites?

If you have books or other paper items in storage, it is vital that you keep them in a dry environment and preferably some kind of air tight container.

It is also a good idea, as difficult as it may be, to check your papers, books, and wooden items in storage about once every 6 months to check for clues of termite activity.

Termites can get into areas that you thought were impenetrable to the tiny pests. They can easily pass through material that they do not necessarily eat to get to the material they want to eat.

For example, they have been known to get through tiny holes in a plastic tub, drywall gypsum, and even fiberglass insulation.

Termite Do Eat Paper Books
You can see here where termites ate through a thick book

And of course, if you ever encounter the unfortunate event of finding termites eating your valuable paper, please have you entire home or structure inspected because it is likely you have a termite infestation that is difficult to entirely detect without the tools and experience of pest control professionals.

Further resources on termites and paper:

  1. Is Medium Density Fireboard Resistant To Termites?
  2. Do Termites Eat Cedar? – myTermiteTreatmentCosts.com
  3. Termite Gut Microbes – University of Connecticut
  4. Termite Infestations – University of Nebraska Lincoln

Conclusion

We’ve gone over many things that termites can eat. You’ve likely caught on that if some material has cellulose in it, termites can consume it. This means termites can eat paper and cardboard, so if you have valuable paper documents, it’s best to keep them sealed in a termite-proof container and ensure they remain dry.

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