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Types of termites

There are several different types of termites in the world. There are approximately 2,000 known termite species, all of them varying in shape, size and behaviour. The one thing they have in common is a love for wood, and the damage they can do to homes and property. Here are the four which present the biggest threat to homeowners in North America and require professional termite control:

Western subterranean termites

Western subterranean termites

By far the most destructive and widespread species in the U.S., western subterranean termites live in underground colonies. Rather than embracing moisture like dampwood termites, they live between it - below the frost line but above the water table. Western subterranean termites are claustrophobic and build mud tubes for safe passage, sheltered from the elements. Secondary colonies may live above ground if there is moisture, such as a leaky pipe. They prefer to eat soft woods - no spring wood is safe from them, but in the summer, they stick to newspapers as they cannot digest the lignin in the wood.

If you find damaged wood on your property and the holes appear like a honeycomb, it is likely the culprits are subterranean termites. Common in the western states, from British Columbia, south to western Mexico and east to Idaho and Nevada, a crack less than 1/16 inch (1-2mm) is all the clearance a western subterranean termite requires for access into your property.

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!

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.

Formosan termites

Formosan termites

Some of the worst of the termite species we find here in the U.S., formosan termites are invasive, meaning they are not native to North America, but were likely imported from China or Japan. Bigger in size compared to the average termite, formosan termites are some of the most destructive of subterranean termites. Known for creating enormous colonies of thousands, it is their sheer number which is reason for concern as these termites devour and destroy large volumes of wood very quickly.

Drywood termites

Drywood termites

Unlike their cousins (subterranean termites), drywood termites do not need to be near the soil, do not create mud tunnels and prefer to eat dry wood (moisture content 12% and under). The wood devoured by drywood termites will appear smooth and they establish nests in roof materials and structures such as wooden support beams, furniture and hardwood floors. Drywood termites are commonly found in southwest U.S. and northwest Mexico but can also be found in Florida and outside these areas via infested furniture and lumber.

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-ilke. 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.

Drywood termite droppings

Drywood termite droppings are hard, oval-shaped pellets with rounded ends and 6 concave sides at less than 1/32 inch (1mm) in length.

Dampwood termites

Dampwood termite

As their name suggests, you will find dampwood termites infesting wood with a high moisture content; decaying wood such as tree stumps or old wood stores around your property. Dampwood termites rarely end up inside a property as dry wood is generally used for building, but they may well be eating the utility pole right next to your home. Dampwood termites are commonly found on and adjacent to the western coast of the U.S., the desert or semi-arid southwest and southern Florida.

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 colour as the wood eaten.

Western Exterminator: Experts in termite species

Our Western Exterminator termite specialists are trained in spot the signs of termites and to identify what types of termites are at work on your property and inside your home. Experienced termite inspectors can identify hiding places, their method of access, determine where damage has been done 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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