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All organisms from the most primitive to the most advanced, require nutrition from the outside environment in order to survive. In order to avoid nutrient deficiencies, humans must obtain a variety of vitamins and minerals from many different types of foods, but when it comes to termites, only one nutrient is needed, cellulose. Cellulose is the tough material that makes up the cell walls in all forms of plant matter, and wood is particularly rich in cellulose, as evidenced by its relative hardness. Due to its fibrosity, cellulose decays slowly, but termites provide an ecologically valuable service by breaking down cellulose. Most animals are incapable of digesting cellulose, but termites acquire specialized gut protozoa that digests cellulose for them. Naturally, termites must also possess relatively strong jaws in order to chew wood, but unfortunately, termites also use their strong jaws to damage property.

In manmade environments, termites frequently damage construction materials and other items such as rubber, vinyl siding, plastics, mortar and even concrete. Termites do not eat away at these indigestible materials because they like the taste; instead, termite workers often chew holes through non-cellulose items in an effort to reach wood. For example, termite workers may use their jaws to chisel openings in concrete slabs and mortar walls in order to access structural wood on the other side. Although all wood is made of cellulose, termites cannot consume all types of wood, as some tree species produce heartwood that is repellent or toxic to termites. Termites avoid consuming structural wood made from toxic softwood, but once such woods lose their toxic compounds through years of weathering, they become suitable for termite consumption. Termites have a particularly strong appetite for paper, as paper manufacturing removes all wood products, making paper pure cellulose. Other materials derived from plants, such as burlap and cotton, may also be consumed by termites for their cellulose content.

Have you ever found non-wood items that had sustained termite damage?