What do termites look like? According to Orkin, there are over 40 species of termites in the US. The typical termite measures between 1/4” and 1/2” long with straight antennae. Queens are larger, capable of reaching over 1”. Colors range from white to light brown. Flying termites have two pairs of large translucent wings longer than their bodies that have a rainbow appearance in light.
Winged termites can be distinguished from winged ants because termites have a thick waist, straight antennae, and equal-length wings whereas ants have a distinctly thin or wasp-like waist, elbowed antennae, and shorter hind wings than fore wings.
The three main categories of termites you’ll find most often in the US are Drywood, Subterranean, and Dampwood. Though they all eat wood each of these different types behaves very differently in the way they attack and the speed of that attack. Check out my earlier post 5 Signs You Have Termites to make sure your home is free of these pests.
Termites of the same species may look wildly different depending on their role or maturity. See the picture below to get a sense of the termite lifecycle and different appearances of the various stages and roles of termites within a colony.
Larger and more aggressive in the damage they create is the subterranean termite. This termite lives in the soil and typically attacks from under the house by building mud tubes from the soil up the wood in the structure. These colonies can grow very quickly and they can create massive damage in a short time.
Subterranean termites cannot live without the connection to the soil so prevention is much easier than with drywood termites. The use of bait or soil treatments to create a barrier have been very effective at preventing subterranean termites.
Drywood termites infest dry wood and unlike their subterranean cousins do not require contact with the soil. Drywood termites occur in small colonies in isolated wood pieces. Multiple colonies can infest a structure simultaneously.
Drywood termites remain hidden within the wood or other material on which they feed, so they are seldom seen. Fecal pellets called frass, are ejected periodically. In late spring or summer the colonies break up and the termites swarm to new locations where they establish new colonies and the cycle continues year after year.
Drywood termites are extremely difficult to prevent since they can fly from structure to structure and begin a new colony almost undetected. The most common treatment for drywood termites in fumigation and whole house tenting.
Dampwood termites typically infest only damp decaying wood and are generally much larger than subterranean termites. The swarmers may be up to 1” in length, including their wings. The soldiers of dampwood termites have a large reddish-brown head and large multi-toothed mandibles (pincers). Dampwood termites contain various species, and are known to “swarm” to set up new nests.
Commonly found in the Pacific Northwestern, these species are the easiest to prevent. Resolving wood rot or moisture leaks in your house will largely keep dampwood termites at bay. They do not like to attack dry wood and focus their energy on wood with a high moisture content so resolving any moisture issues in your home will provide excellent prevention.
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