Termite Frass Indentification – An Often Overlooked Sign Of Termites

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Small Termite Frass Pile

Inspecting for termite frass is one relatively easy way for homeowners to find signs of termite activity (without the help of a termite professional).

Finding termite excrement on a window sill, porch, or elsewhere likely means you have or had termite activity. If you find termite droppings in or around your home, you need to figure out several questions:

  • How can I tell the difference between termite frass vs ant frass?
  • (Assuming you found termite droppings) How can I identify what type of termite droppings they are?  
  • How long has my house been infested with termites?
  • How much damage have termites caused?
  • How do I get rid of these termites?
  • How can I keep termites from damaging my property in the future?

Before your blood pressure rises too much… take a deep breath and learn more about what termite droppings in your home mean and what finding them can teach us. Termite droppings are usually a telltale sign of termite presence in a home, however, many homeowners overlook this vital clue of a hidden termite infestation. But you don’t have too if you keep reading.

What is Termite Frass?

Termite frass is another name termite droppings or excrement. Termite fecal matter is a reliable sign of drywood termites. Drywood termites will periodically clean out their tunnels by pushing out their fecal matter, leaving small frass piles of black, brown, or sand colored pellets. Frass piles often look like piles of salt and pepper or wood dust to many homeowners.

Termite Droppings Size

Drywood termite frass pellets are approximately one millimeter (0.04 inches) in length and pellet shaped.

Termite Dropping Shape

Termite droppings have six concave sides that are typically not visible without a magnifying glass. Subterranean termites do not leave behind the little pellets that drywood termites do, instead using their droppings to form mud tubes, often found along foundations.

Termite Dropping Color

Termite frass depends on the type of wood that termites are consuming. You can find termite pellets that are nearly white, beige, slightly red, dark brown, and even black. 

Do termites leave piles of frass?

When a termite tunnel becomes too filled with termite droppings, the termites will make a "kick out" hole to conduct spring cleaning. They will then push out their dropping through these kick out holes. Finding little piles of termite droppings is a sure sign that there is a termite infestation in the lumber near the frass pile. It is not a welcome sight for property owners, but the saving grace is that finding a frass pile informs us there is likely an active termite infestation.

How do you get rid of termite frass?

You can sweep up or vacuum termite frass to get rid of it. If possible, its a good idea to leave the termite droppings where you found them to have a termite professional look at them. A professional can use termite droppings to clue them to where a termite infestation is likely to be.

If you feel that you need to get rid of them before the termite inspector comes, try to sweep the suspected termite pellets into a plastic bag so that you can show them to a termite inspector later on for verification.  It is also a good idea to take a photo of where you found the frass pile to show the termite inspector later or to email to them. Additionally, remember where you cleaned up frass mounds if you did. If you find another frass pile in the same location a week or two later, there is 

Finding Termite Frass Can Actually Save Your House

Most homeowners have no clue what “frass” is or why knowing what it is and what it looks like can save your house. Termite frass is simply the proper word for termite excrement or termite droppings.

Depending on the stage of a termite infestation, spotting frass can be one of the signs of termites that can lead to an early discovery of an infestation. While discovering an infestation is never good news, finding one early could help prevent significant damage to your home.

People often find termite droppings before without realizing what they are looking at, often confusing termite droppings for sawdust. This is an understandable mistake, however, once you know what you are looking for it is easy to distinguish termite droppings from sawdust.

What's the Difference Between Termite Frass and Sawdust?

When you see termite poop for the first time, you are likely to confuse it for sawdust. Many people vacuum or sweep piles of termite droppings up, discarding it without thinking twice.

We want to prevent that from happening, because you could be overlooking a serious problem!

The biggest difference between a pile of termite excrement and saw dust is the shape of termite frass. If your sight is not the best, you may need a magnifying glass to tell the difference, but termite droppings are slightly granular pellets, often varying in color.

Some termite droppings are a darker coffee color while others may be a lighter color. Saw dust on the other hand will look more like tiny shavings and slivers rather than the typical 6-sided granular shape of termite frass. Additionally, saw dust tends to be mostly the same color.

Think you may have found termite droppings in your home? – Just fill out the info below and free quotes for professional termite services!

This guide compares drywood termite frass and carpenter ant frass. Carpenter ant frass closely resembles sawdust, whereas you can see that drywood frass pellets look almost like a deflated football or an oblong pea under magnification.

If you find termite dropping or carpenter ant frass in your home, I would recommend booking a professional pest inspection as soon as possible because either insect can damage your home if left untreated.

Termite Frass
Inspecting for termite frass or termite droppings is one of the signs of termites that you can identify without the help of an exterminator.

Drywood termite droppings are often referred to as drywood frass. Drywood frass is the result of the tiny wood colored pellets that termites knock loose from their tiny pin-sized holes as they burrow deeper into the lumber in your home. When termites accumulate droppings their tunnels, they eventually push them out to conduct some housekeeping. Hopefully, you notice their droppings if and when they do this. 

Termites typically remain undetected to humans and their predators by burrowing inside wood rather than eating at wood from the outside in.

This offers termites natural concealment and protection from animals that would eat them up if found in plain sight. All of this makes it quite difficult to spot termites unless you really know what you are looking for.

Thankfully termites like good housekeeping within their colonies. Why is this good news to us? Well, they will sometimes eat a hole through the outside of the wood to push out their pile of fecal pellets which is often the only visual sign that you may lead you to notice their presence.

If you find anything that resembles pellets of wood-like material you should compare it to the photos and videos in this article. Termite frass is usually a sign of drywood termite infestation.

If they are pooping, then they are eating, and you should either do an initial inspection yourself or hire a professional to assess how far the termite infestation has spread, what damage has been done, and what the next steps should be taken, in terms of treatment.

Seems like a lot to take care of? Don’t worry, most pest control professionals will perform an inspection for free with no strings attached. If you find one that does not offer a free termite inspection I would steer clear of them.

Found potential excrement, but still unsure if it is frass?

Here are some additional signs of termites that you should look out for. If you find two or more signs of termites, then you likely have an active termite infestation. Discarded termite wings are another often overlooked clue of termite presence. When termites reach an adult stage they grow wings and eventually shed them. When the termites 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 are looking for it is possible to detect them. They will be found in pairs of identical wings. Check on wooden floors, window sills, and spider webs in your house. If you have found frass 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 the sound of 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 a professional inspection done to assess the damage and then recommend treatment options.

This unlucky homeowner found drywood termite frass on their back porch

Where Should I Look For Termite Poop?

Many times, people notice termite frass sitting on a window sill or other locations where they are blatantly out of place because in such places frass catches your eyes. 

Unfortunately, if frass is kicked out of a termite 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. This is especially true for homeowners who have know clue what frass looks like.

But now you know what termite droppings look like, so you can be more confident in spotting this often ignored sign of termites sooner. Pay particular attention to these areas since finding termite droppings here is quite common:

  1. Window and door sills
  2. In and around wooden porches

If you ever find anything that looks like saw dust stop and take a closer look. Do NOT sweep or vacuum up anything that might be termite poop.

Stop and ask yourself, “Why would there be saw dust here?” before you go into cleaning mode. If you quickly discard it you may be throwing away valuable clues.

At the very least, put it in a plastic zip lock baggy and you can always take it to a pest control professional at a later time. Also keep note of where you found it and it would not hurt to snap a picture with your smart phone. You can usually email the photo to a termite control professional and as long as the resolution in the photograph is high enough they should be able to distinguish saw dust from termite droppings.

Do Subterranean Termites Leave Behind Droppings?

The equivalent of drywood frass for subterranean termites is what is known as mud tubes. Subterranean termites droppings are quite a bit different in appearance since their food differs from drywood termites' food. As their name suggests, drywood termites prefer… well, dry wood. Consequently their poop is dry and often looks like tiny coffee pellets or is sometimes confused for sand or sawdust.

Subterranean Termite Frass

Subterranean termites on the other hand prefer wood that is already under the earth. They use mud to help them create their colony-home and their fecal matter is a liquid form. Thankfully termites are simple and predictable creatures. This makes it easier for us as homeowners to understand them, deter, detect, and defeat them.

Black Termite Frass

Termite frass can be black. Black termite droppings do not hold any special significance other than that the termites who produced them consumed a darker colored wood. 

Termite Frass on Beds

If you find termite droppings on your bed, there is a good chance that the termites are in your ceiling. Termites in ceilings will often make a small kick out hole and push their pellets out (and down onto whatever lies below, in this case your bed). 

How to get rid of termites in your bed?

If you have termites in your bed or other wooden furniture, you should get a full home termite inspection to ensure they have not spread all over. However, you can get rid of termites in your bed or furniture by performing a spot termite treatment. To spot treat furniture for termites, drill small holes approximately every 10-inches in the the termite-infested furniture. You then need to inject termiticide in the holes and then patch the holes with wood putty or glue. Eventually, the termites will encounter or feed on the termiticide (depending on the type of insecticide) and the colony inside the furniture will die. It is best to have a professional spot treatment but if you do your own termite spot treatment, make sure you also inspect your entire home to make sure termites termites didn't spread to other areas.

Can termites spread from furniture?

If you find termites in your furniture, get a complete termite home inspection done because formosan and drywood termites can spread from furniture to other areas in your home. Keep this in mind when buying used wooden furniture because you could accidentally bring termites into your home. Below is a video of termite frass inside a nightstand. Luckily the homeowner noticed the termites and their feces and did not simply clean up the droppings without relaizing he had a problem.

Termite Frass on the Ceiling

Termite Frass but No Termites

Are Termite Droppings a Health Hazard?

Termite droppings are not directly harmful to humans. Some animal droppings, like mouse or raccoon droppings, can seriously harm humans because they spread diseases and parasites. However, if you find termite droppings in your home, it could mean that the structural integrity of your home is compromised. So, termite droppings can signify an indirect hazard to human health (having a wall or roof cave in is dangerous). 

Is frass harmful to humans?

The only known harm that termite frass can directly cause humans is skin irritation. This is rare, however, since it is uncommon for humans to accidentally come into contact with termite droppings. You do not really need to worry about termite frass making you sick.

Some Termite 101

Termites are tiny insects that feed on cellulose. They play an important role in nature by helping speed along the decaying process of fallen trees to bring about room for new life. This useful role however, can cause a home to crumble before it’s time as well. Termites are very similar in appearance to ants except that termites only have 2 body parts where ants have three. This is the key difference between the two.

Fun Fact about Termite Poop – One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Magnesium Supplement?

Believe it or Not… Some African tribes actually utilize termite poop as a dietary supplement because of it’s high magnesium content.

Additional Resources to Learn about Termite Frass

  1. Comparison between Carpenter Ant and Termite Frass - Utah State University
  2. Great article describing different wood-boring insects' frass - Clemson University
  3. Pest Board of California - Page 39 shows photos of Drywood Termite Frass
  4. Structural Pest Control - Control of Wood Destroying Pests by Nevada State Department of Agriculture


 

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