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Termites v Borers – What's the difference?

Updated: Jul 25

Termites and borers both damage structural timber and wood items in homes, but they are very different beasts. It takes some skill to detect their presence and identify which pest is causing the problem. Certainly, a professional timber pest inspection is the way to go, but it’s worth homeowners knowing a thing or two, so if they spot something of concern they can call a pest professional. Here’s your crash course…


The key pest termites in Australia are subterranean termites, which means they spend most of their time underground. Many species have their nests underground too, but even those that have their nests in trees are connected to the ground by mud tubes.

Termites build these protective mud tubes when they need to move above ground, typically to get to a food source… such as your home! If you happen to see the termites they are pale, soft-bodied insects that look a bit like ants, which is why some people call them “white ants.” However, they aren’t ants at all, they are more closely related to cockroaches.

In most cases, termite nests are outside the home, although sometimes they can build their nest under homes. It is thought that 80% of all homes in Australia are with 25m of a termite nest. With termites able to travel up to 100 m from their nest to a feeding site, your home is likely within the range of a number of termite nests.

Of all the timber pests, termites cause the majority of the damage to buildings. They are the number one timber pest and so quite rightly they are the focus of inspections and treatments. Unlike borers, it is possible to do install a preventative termite system around your home (termite monitoring system or soil treatment) to help prevent a termite attack.

To attack a home, termites require the right soil conditions (moisture is vital) and a way to access the timbers of the home. As such, termite inspections are not only looking for termite activity and damage but spot conditions around the home and construction faults that make a termite attack more likely. Although a professional termite inspection is recommended at least once a year, it’s a good idea to learn more about the signs of termite activity.

Termite inspections reveals worker termites on wood.
Worker termites look like "white ants"
Termite damage to wood after professional termite inspection.
Termite damage often remain hidden as normally termites leave a think veneer on the surface


There is a range of borers that attack timber. Borers are beetles and it’s their larval stage, the grub, which causes all the damage.

Some of these beetles are pests of trees or freshly milled timber. They lay their eggs in the timber and the larvae that hatch stay within the timber, feeding and causing damage until they are ready to pupate and emerge as adults. Some of these longicorn and jewel beetles can take many years to develop into an adult, so the infested timber can be used for construction, only for the adults to emerge several years after the house has been built.

Pinhole borers are another pest of freshly sawn timber, whose damage may be detected by homeowners and pest professionals. When they attack these green logs, they often leave small “pinhole” exit holes, surrounded by a small dark stain. This will be visible in any finished timber used in the home. Often homeowners may not notice these holes for many years and on discovery get worried. But actually, there is nothing to do… it is pre-existing damage and the culprit is long gone.

However, it is the pests of seasoned timber – existing wood in the home – that should be of most concern to homeowners. The powderpost beetle and furniture beetle are two key pests. These pests can attack structural timber and wood items in the home at any time and can literally turn the item to dust! So it’s important to be vigilant and it’s a key reason why it’s a good idea for regular inspections by a professional. Unlike termites, there is no preventative treatment that protects existing structural timber or furniture items, so inspections are vital. However, if borers are detected, treatment can be carried out.

Wood borer near exit hole discovered during termite inspection.
It's the larvae of wood borers that do all the damage. They often only become visible when they make the exit hole
Furniture beetle damage
Furniture beetles leave obviously piles of sawdust and lots of small exit holes

What does Spiderman SE do?

Although most homeowners will have a timber pest inspection as part of their pre-purchase inspections before they buy a property after they’ve moved in they will often only have an annual termite inspection. This is recommended best practice and it certainly is a good thing, as termites are the most common timber pest. However, termite inspections are not specifically looking for other timber pests such as borers.

Spiderman SE doesn’t do termite inspections, we only do timber pest inspections. We figure that if something is eating your home, whether termites or borers, you’d want to know! So book your next termite timber pest inspection with Spiderman SE.

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