More often than not, it can be difficult to know that your home is currently under invasion from termites. These insects prefer to dwell inside of the structures they simultaneously eat and use for shelter.
What Are Termite Droppings?
It can be easy to live right alongside termites for months and possibly even years before the signs become apparent. One of the easiest ways to confirm a termite infestation is the appearance of termite droppings, better known as frass. These are frequently pushed out of a termite dwelling along with small shavings of wood (frass). If you see these droppings then it's a firm indication that termites are present within your home.
Droppings usually resemble small, black pellets that can easily be mistaken for black pepper. Frass is different from the droppings and is primarily the wood shavings created from termite exit holes. Termites frequently drill small holes inside of a structure so they can push out the pellets.
Termite exit holes are good indicators of present termites and are usually accompanied by piles of droppings and frass beneath them which follows the same patterns. This can be problematic and a bit alarming, since pellets from today are indistinguishable from ones that are many years old. Instead of living a life surrounded by feces, dry wood termites make small exit holes in areas they are living and force the pellets out of the wood. These holes are round and tiny and less than 1mm in diameter.
To rule out other burrowing insects, you can check by drilling a hole and using a flashlight. The sign of frass on or near the wood is a sure sign of dry wood termites, which are the species most likely to leave behind large amounts of droppings and frass.
Since termite droppings and frass are two of the best examples that we have to diagnose a termite infestation, it is crucial to know what to look out for and how to identify it. There are key differences between these two substances and termites are not the only insect species to produce frass and pellet droppings.
“Termite droppings are tiny, hard, oval-shaped pellets with six indentations on the sides which are a diagnostic feature of drywood termite infestation. Pellets range in color from cream to red to black and their color is not necessarily representative of the food they have been eating. The lack of water in the pellets helps preserve them for a long time, making it difficult to determine how long it’s been since they were kicked out.” According to the NPMA Library.
What is Termite “Frass”?
Pellets found on the ground can be traced to the exit hole from which they came. In addition to pellets, a material that resembles a fine dust will likely also be mixed in with the droppings. This is known as frass and this is essentially the wood shavings that result from the termites drilling into the wood to create exit holes for pellet elimination. Frass can also have a very fine, sawdust-like appearance.
Tips on inspecting your home for termite frass:
What Do Droppings or “Frass” Look Like?
Termite droppings will appear as small, pellet-shaped droppings with either a black or beige appearance. Think of pellets for a pellet gun, just smaller and black. Frass has a sawdust-like appearance and will also be either beige, brown, or even black depending on how old the frass is. Both of these substances can be mixed in together, or they can be alone; either way, this usually means termites are present.
Pictures of Termite Frass
How Do I Know if the Droppings Are Old or New?
There are no clear ways to determine if the droppings or frass are old or new. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how old the droppings are, since termites can be active for years inside of a structure. There are usually no color differentiations between old and new droppings, but simply the discovery of droppings or frass is cause for alarm, no matter the age.
Unfortunate duplex owner finds termite frass in his his nightstand:
Ant Droppings vs Termite Droppings
Along with termites, carpenter ants are also a species of insect that leaves behind frass. Unlike termites, carpenter ant frass will be much chunkier and likely contain bits and pieces from fellow ants due to cannibalism. Carpenter ant frass is simply the wood shavings that have been mulched by the ants to make burrowing much easier.
Termites eat wood and carpenter ants simply want to move wood out of their way. Termite frass will be much finer and usually appear as sand or sawdust. Carpenter ant frass will be larger and less processed, with ant body parts mixed with the wood chunks. This can make the process of elimination very simple by looking for these characteristics within the frass.
Are Termite Droppings and Poop Dangerous?
Thankfully, there is little inherent danger that comes along with termite droppings and/or frass. Termite poop is almost always 100% cellulose and wood, which means that unlike rodents or cockroaches, termites only eat natural substances and therefore do not produce waste that is harmful to humans.
However, termites can inflame allergies, as this is due to the insects feeding on cellulose that is found inside of wood and workers spend hours each day harvesting this compound from wood with shredding mandibles that extract the substance from wood. During this process, and along with the process of producing frass to extract pellets, tiny particles of wood are released into the atmosphere.
Is There A Health Risk?
Termite droppings can be a health risk for individuals who suffer from asthma or any other bronchial or respiratory ailments. HVAC and heating systems can also aggregate the dust and spread it evenly throughout your home. Allergic reactions from termite waste and saliva are also possible. Apart from respiratory or allergic reactions from frass, termite poop does not carry diseases and termites alone are not specifically harmful to humans or pets.
Any smell associated with termites, or their droppings in general, is typically a mild musty odor that can sometimes resemble sawed wood. Additionally, there can also be a smell resembling rotten fruit, which is primarily due to the cellulose extraction process from the wood being fed upon.
How Do I Clean Up Droppings and Frass?
Once you have identified frass and droppings, and used the process of elimination to know which insect you are dealing with, you can begin to clean up the droppings and frass before you begin your treatment. Cleaning is simple and can be achieved with a broom and dust pan. Always wear a mask and gloves to avoid breathing in or touching the substances.
Does the Appearance of Droppings and Frass Always Mean There Are Termites?
If you have discovered dry wood termite droppings or frass, nine times out of ten–you have an active infestation. There could be a distinct possibility that there was a previous infestation that has been eliminated and the droppings are simply remnants from when the infestation was active, but this is rare. If you have found droppings and after an inspection, you have failed to find any active termites, this is likely just leftovers from a previous infestation.
Related: Buying or selling a home with termite damage?
Can Termite Droppings Fall from the Ceiling?
Ceilings would likely be the last place you would ever think of termites infesting, but alas, this is an area that they have been found in. First and foremost, inspect the ceiling for signs of tunnels leading up from the ground to the ceiling, which allows the termites to freely crawl to their destination. Additionally, you can inspect the ground below for termite droppings and frass, which if discovered, especially with small exit holes in the ceiling above, this means that termites have infested the ceiling.
Check any wood either on or around and even leading up to the ceiling for damage, but termites in the ceiling are usually rare and mean that your home is likely undergoing a severe infestation. The most obvious indicator that the droppings or frass is from the ceiling would be the discovery of the substances in the middle of the floor.
The Bottom Line:
Termite droppings and frass are the two best indicators that your home may be undergoing an active termite infestation. Frass appears like sawdust or very fine sand and is usually found near wood with small exit holes. Along with the frass, will usually be the appearance of small, black or beige pellets, which are termite droppings that have been kicked out of the dwelling. The appearance of either of these substances is cause for alarm.
Although carpenter ants also produce frass, termite frass will be much smaller and less chunky than carpenter ant frass. If you have discovered termite droppings or frass, do not hesitate to contact a pest control professional. Additionally, check out our definitive termite elimination guide, which will guide you through every step and option to eliminate termites from your home.
- Dry wood termite. (2013)
- Differences between Carpenter Ant Frass and Termite Frass: https://utahpests.usu.edu/uppdl/files-ou/factsheet/carpenter-ant08.pdf
- Drywood termite frass (page 39): https://www.pestboard.ca.gov/howdoi/research/ucbfinal.pdf