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Termites vs Borers: What Are The Differences?

If you’ve started to notice damage to your wooden structures, you can usually blame one of the two most likely culprits: termites or borers. 

But, how do you know which is causing the damage?

The easiest way to tell the difference between termites and borers has to do with the way they look. Most termites appear similar to ants and sometimes have wings. Meanwhile, the term “wood borers” primarily refers to the larval stage of certain beetles, which usually look like whitish-colored worms. 

What Are Termites?

Close-up photo of termites.

Termites are small ant-like insects that eat and nest in wood. 

They live in colonies that usually contain between 60,000 and 1,000,000 members. 

Of the colony members, about 90% are worker termites, which break down the cellulose in wood so that the colony can eat it. 

Soldier termites, meanwhile, are the colony’s defenders who use their powerful mandibles to attack predators. 

There are also swarmer termites who leave the colony to mate and start new colonies. 

And finally, there is the king and queen, who control the colony and produce new termites. 

Overall, having a termite infestation in your home is pretty bad news because termites will eventually destroy a house if no one works to exterminate them. 

What Are Borers?

Borers are not one single type of bug but are actually several species of beetles that consume wood. 

Typically, these beetles only eat wood when they’re in the larval stage

Once they mature, they will chew their way out of the wood they’ve been living in and consuming before flying away. 

And remember that even though they don’t spend their whole lives eating the wood in your house, they can still be tremendous pests that can cause problems around your home. 

Termites Vs. Borers – Appearance 

Close-up photo of a borer eating wood.

Since damage caused by termites and borers can look similar, you should know how to differentiate between the physical appearances of the two. 

If you can, you will easily be able to tell which one you have in your home. 

Termite Appearance 

Termite appearance varies depending on the termite’s species and role in the colony. 

Worker termites are generally between ⅛ and ⅜ of an inch (0.3-1 cm) long. 

Most of them have light tan bodies that almost appear see-through. 

However, some species are darker near the backs of their bodies. 

Overall, worker termites look a lot like ants, but these insects only have two distinct body segments while ants have three. 

Soldier termites, meanwhile, don’t look much different than worker termites. 

The main difference is that soldiers have large heads and long pinchers, which they use to defend the colony. 

Many soldier termites have a light tan body, like the workers, but have red heads and black pinchers. 

Other soldier termites are primarily black with tan legs and some red near their mandibles. 

Finally, swarmer termites look similar to flying ants, as they have the same long wings on their backs. 

Also, most swarmers have bodies that are black on top with tan undersides. 

And their wings are either transparent with a black outline or tan with a slightly darker outline. 

Borer Appearance 

Since borers usually only eat wood in the larval stage (when people refer to them as woodworms), that is the appearance I will describe here. 

Although there are many different species of woodworms, they all look quite similar. 

The average woodworm is a white or off-white, fleshy, worm-looking creature with a somewhat similar appearance to a maggot. 

Woodworms also have ridges along their bodies that make them look a bit like an accordion. 

Additionally, most woodworms have dark heads that are either black or brown. 

Many species also have bodies that get thicker near their heads. 

How Can I Tell Apart Termite and Borer Damage?

Of course, actually finding a bug will tell you if you have termites or wood borers. 

However, since both of these insects hide rather well, you may have to look for the following signs to determine which pest you have. 

Do You See Mud Tunnels?

Some species of termites create mud tunnels to protect themselves from predators and keep their bodies moist as they move from their nests to other areas. 

And these tubes look exactly how they sound, like tunnels of mud. 

Seeing any of these tunnels is a sure sign that you have termites. 

Yet, not finding mud tunnels doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have termites since not all species make these tubes. 

Have You Found Wings Around Your House?

In homes with termite infestations, it is quite common to find discarded wings around your home because swarmer termites drop their wings when they mate. 

Thus, if you find several sets of wings around your home, particularly on windowsills, you have termites. 

What Kind of Holes Do You See in the Wood?

Typically, wood borers and termites do not leave the same types of holes in wood. 

In wood infested with termites, you will generally notice that the wood looks like something has been chewing on it. 

Also, in cases of termite damage, you are likely to find the top layer of the wood missing. 

Inside, there will be tunnels and dents throughout the wood. 

If an object is suffering from borers, though, the wood will appear as though something has drilled holes into it. 

These pinpoint holes occur because the adult borer needs to literally bore its way out of the wood to get free. 

Is it Worse to Have Termites or Borers?

A group of termites on a damaged wood.

In the vast majority of cases, termites are worse than borers. 

For one, termites are a tricky pest to get rid of because they don’t want to leave their food source. 

And since your home is their food source, they won’t just disappear on their own. 

Borers, though, usually only eat wood as larvae and then fly away once they get larger. 

So, on average, it is much harder to get termites to leave your home. 

Secondly, termites are more likely to cause immense structural damage to a home because their colonies can get huge and require a lot of food. 

Lastly, borers are usually easy to spot and, thus, eliminate once they become adults. 

Termites, on the other hand, hide for most of their lives, making them hard to find for extermination purposes. 

Are Wood Borers and Termites Beneficial to the Environment?

Yes, both borers and termites are good for the environment. 

These creatures are decomposers, meaning they break down organic matter and return its nutrients to the soil. 

With the nutrients back in the soil, new plants can grow. 

Decomposers also clean up the forest floor so that there is less decaying matter. 

With less dead plant life choking up the soil, more plants can sprout. 

How Can I Get Rid of Termites and Wood Borers at the Same Time?

An exterminator spraying pesticide in the kitchen.

You can get rid of termites and wood borers at the same time by using an insecticide treatment. 

But, when doing so, make sure you get an insecticide that works on both types of insects. 


Although termites and wood borers both eat wood, they are not the same insect. 

The easiest way to tell the two apart is through their appearance, but if you can’t find the actual bugs, you can inspect the damaged wood to determine which pest you have.