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Different types of termite species

There are approximately 2,000 known termite species, all of them varying in shape, size and behavior. But the two things all termites have in common are a love for wood and a propensity for causing significant damage to homes and property. Here are the four that present the biggest threat to homeowners in North America and require professional termite control:


Where are different types of termites found?

Depending on where you are located, you will be more susceptible to different types of termites. Subterranean, drywood, dampwood, and formosan termites cover a large portion of the United States, with many of them found in Arizona and California.


Characteristics of western subterranean termites

The winged reproductive caste (alates) is dark brown to brown-black, with brownish gray wings. The front wings have two dark, hardened veins in front and the front wing is larger than the hind wing. When swarming, they are black and their wings are twice the size of their body. Except for the queen, all other members of the colony are whitish and termite soldiers look like peanuts!

Subterranean termites

By far the most destructive and widespread species in the U.S., subterranean termites live in underground colonies, in contact with the soil. To protect themselves from open air, subterranean termites build mud tubes for safe passage. Secondary colonies may live above ground if there is a moisture source, such as a leaky pipe.

Subterranean termites only need an opening 1/32 inch wide to gain access to your property. These termites eat 24/7 – usually softwoods such as springwood, or wood byproducts like newspapers, drywall, cardboard, etc. Because their colonies are so large, a tiny crack in your foundation can quickly lead to significant damage. If you find mud tubes or blistering/hollow-sounding wood on your property, subterranean termites may be to blame.

Western subterranean termite biology

It only takes two to start a colony. After swarming, a pair of reproductives construct a cavity for a future nest site and mate within a day. The female lays about 10 eggs, which hatch 50 days later, giving the pair plenty of time to get settled in. Development takes over 5 months, with up to 7 instars (stages). Swarmers don't appear until the third or fourth year. Swarming takes place in daytime in the spring in the northern regions, and following rain in southern regions. In the fall, swarms can reach substantial sizes in some areas.


Drywood termites

Unlike their subterranean cousins, drywood termites do not need to be near the soil, do not create mud tunnels, and prefer to eat wood with a moisture content of 12% or less. Drywood termites are commonly found in the southwest U.S. and northwest Mexico but can be carried elsewhere via infested furniture and lumber.

Drywood termite swarming typically occurs on warm and sunny days after a sudden temperature increase. These termites are homebodies, setting up house within the wood itself. Swarmers start by gnawing a small tunnel. They then close it, excavate a chamber, and mate. Drywood termites commonly establish nests in roof materials and structures such as wooden support beams, furniture and hardwood floors, leaving the tunneled wood smooth. Once drywood termite eggs hatch, immatures and nymphs are put to work, as there is no worker division.

Characteristics of drywood termites

Drywood termite swarmers’ head and pronotum is orange-brown and the abdomen is dark brown. Their wings are smoky and their membrane and pigmented veins are blackish.

Drywood termite soldiers have a forehead that slopes down gradually from the top of an orange to reddish-brown head. From a side view, it looks flattened to slightly rounded and they have a whitish eye spot. Antennae have a third segment that is enlarged and club-like. The pronotum (top body plate) is as wide or wider than the head when viewed from above.

Drywood termite biology

Drywood termites are homebodies, setting up house in wood. As there is no worker division, immatures and nymphs are put to work. Drywood termites swarm and find cracks or knotholes in wood with nest potential. They start by gnawing a small tunnel, then close it, excavate a chamber, and mate. Drywood termites may stay dormant for nearly a year before laying up to 5 eggs, 20 nymphs and 1 soldier.

By the end of the second year the colony may have grown to 6-40 nymphs and 1 soldier; by the third year there may be 40-165 termites, and by the fourth year the population explodes to 70-700. By this time, swarmers may have developed. They swarm in dozens or sometimes even hundreds – not at all a welcome sight. Drywood termite swarming typically occurs in September – November on a bright day in warm, sunny weather (80 degrees F), peaking after a sudden temperature increase. In Arizona, they swarm on July nights.


Dampwood termites

As their name suggests, you will find dampwood termites infesting wood with high moisture content. Dampwood termites rarely end up inside a property since dry wood is generally used for building, but they might be eating the utility pole or old tree stump right next to your home. They do not usually live or burrow underground, as they do not need contact with damp ground. However, they do require wood in contact with some sort of moisture.

Dampwood termites are commonly found on and adjacent to the western coast of the U.S. and in the desert or semi-arid southwest. Swarm timing depends on the colony, but when it happens, swarmers excavate a chamber in the wood, enter, and seal it off. They then mate within the chamber and the female lays eggs. Like drywood termites, there is no worker caste, so once they hatch, the immatures do all the work.

Dampwood termite biology

Dampwood termites do not usually live or burrow underground. They do not need contact with damp ground, but do need wood in contact with some sort of moisture.

Swarming time depends on the colony, but when it happens, swarmers excavate a chamber in the wood, enter, and seal it off. They then mate, and the female (queen) lays eggs. There is no worker caste; immatures do all the work. Swarming takes place in daytime in the spring in the northern regions, and following rain in southern regions. In the fall, swarms can get pretty big in some areas.

Dampwood termite droppings

Oval-shaped pellets about 1mm in length that often clump together and may be the same color as the wood eaten.


Formosan termites

Originally from China, formosan termites are now the most aggressive of the termite species we find here in the U.S. They prefer mild climates such as those found in the southern U.S. or in Hawaii. Bigger in size than the average termite, Formosan termites are some of the most destructive subterranean termites. One colony may have as many as 350,000 workers and together they can eat more than one ounce per day. These voracious termites can be difficult to control once they infest a structure, so prevention is key when it comes to Formosans. 


Identifying termites from their damage

At Western Exterminator, our experts can confirm the invading termite species through a visual identification process, but you may also be able to identify them by the evidence of the damage to your building or home.

Subterranean termites begin their feeding process from the ground up and typically enter a building through the sub-structure. Homes with crawl spaces are at great risk. It is here you should look for evidence of damaged wood and mud tubes. Wood damaged by this particular species develops “galleries” (hollow tunnels), which run along the grain of the wood.

Drywood termites typically enter structures near the roof line or other exposed wood to begin building their colony. Inspect your attic for evidence of damaged wood. Look for tiny holes in the wood with evidence of frass collecting nearby. Probing the wood can also expose galleries as well.

Having experienced a termite infestation, most people will be eager to ensure they do not have the same problem in the future. Your Western Technician can give you simple steps you can take to “termite-proof” your home or business and offer prevention solutions to keep your property protected.

Western Exterminator: Experts in termite species

Our Western Exterminator termite Technicians are trained to spot the signs of termites and to accurately identify what types of termites are at work on your property. Experienced termite inspectors can identify hiding places, access points, and existing termite damage before recommending the most suitable termite treatment plan to protect your home or business. Contact us to schedule a free termite inspection today.

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