Types of Termites: Identification and Facts

Different Types of Termites

Once a clear distinction has been made between a winged ant and a termite, the type of termite present should be identified in order to help select the best course of action.

1. Dampwood Termites

Image titled dampwood termite

Image Credit: Lynette

Dampwood termites do not maintain a centralized colony but instead live in separate groups. As suggested in their name, they often choose to attack wood, or any other material containing cellulose, that is moist or damp, especially when the material is in direct contact with ground soil.

Although they prefer to inhabit spaces in close proximity to the earth, they do not nest under the ground like subterranean termites. Instead, they choose to establish their nests directly within the material they are invading. Decaying wood around homes, such as rotten fascia or baseboards, are prime targets for dampwood termites.

Colonies are introduced when two swarmers, or winged reproductive termites, encounter a suitable piece of material where they can mate. Once this material is found, the swarmers hollow out a chamber and crawl inside to begin the mating process.

The swarmers will only produce a limited number of eggs in the first year, but as time progresses the number of eggs will increase. Because of this practice, dampwood termite colonies tend to be relatively small initially but can become quite large over time.

Because dampwood termites do not nest within the earth’s soil, they do not have the need for many transportation tunnels, such as those utilized by the subterranean termite. Therefore, if termite damage is present but a tunneling system is not evident, it might suggest the presence of dampwood termites.

Interestingly, material that has been damaged by dampwood termites usually appears to be quite clean and smooth inside. In the case of wood, dampwood termites tend to eat across the grain, unlike other types of termites.

In order to protect themselves from outside hazards, dampwood termites utilize their fecal pellets to seal any exposed areas of their living galleries. With enough moisture, these pellets stick to the walls of the galleries, but the pellets will fall to the bottom if the material dries out.

Combating or resisting the presence of dampwood termites can be as simple as keeping a vigilant eye on moisture levels. However, once termite damage has been done it is irreversible, and simply ridding the damaged area of the insects will not guarantee the structure has not already been compromised.

If a nest of dampwood termites is spotted, it is advisable to contact a professional termite control agency in order to assess the damage and define the scope of the colony.

2. Drywood Termites

image titled drywood termites

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Drywood termites, unlike dampwood and subterranean termites, are not dependent upon the presence of moisture or a pathway to soil. Because they are free from these location restraints, drywood termite colonies are often found in elevated areas, such as attic frames or fascia boards. Drywood termites can, however, be present in any dry material containing cellulose.

Although these termites have unique capabilities regarding where they are able to nest, the transportation and establishment of a new colony are conducted in the same way as other types of termites. Reproductive swarmers are released from an existing colony in order to find a suitable location for expansion.

Once this location is discovered, the swarmers shed their wings, occupy the material and begin to mate. Warmer temperatures and substantial rains often encourage the swarming process. Drywood termites shed their wings much faster than subterranean termites, so the absence of any swarmers still possessing wings could be an indication that the termites in question are drywood.

Unlike dampwood termites, drywood termites conserve the water present in their fecal pellets by extracting as much moisture from them as possible. This process results in very dry, stiff fecal pellets, which are often no larger than 1 millimeter in diameter.

After the moisture has been extracted from the pellets, they are no longer useful to the colony and are removed from the galleries. These discarded pellets often indicate the presence of drywood termites to homeowners. Sometimes, however, these pellets can be misleading as they can remain in previously occupied areas almost indefinitely.

3. Formosan

image titled formosan termites

Image Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Formosan termites are a specific type of subterranean termite, so their nests are located underground within the soil. In order to travel from their nest to the desired feeding area, the area must either have direct contact with the ground, such as a sunken fence post or be close enough to be accessible through mud tubes that the termites create and use as tunnels.

In addition to mud tubes, Formosan termites are also capable of constructing a protective carton in their nests. This carton essentially acts as a moisture barrier, limiting the evaporation of the water within. This practice allows Formosan termites to build smaller nests outside the bounds of the soil.

The spread of Formosan termite colonies is achieved through the same means as most other termite colonies. First, reproductive swarmers are produced and then subsequently sent on a search for a suitable mating site.

Once this site is discovered, the swarmers shed their wings and begin the mating process. Although the swarmers act similarly to those of other varieties of termite, the Formosan soldiers have a markedly more aggressive demeanor, often becoming quite violent when even the slightest threat to the nest is detected. Other than noticing these small differences, it is difficult to differentiate between Formosan termites and other varieties.

4. Subterranean

image titled subterranean termites

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As indicated by their name, subterranean termites build their main nests underneath the ground. It is not impossible for subterranean termites to build and maintain nests above ground, but adequate moisture levels must be present for this to occur. Additionally, the appearance of nests above the ground is often a sign of a thriving colony, as each nest above ground can be thought of as a satellite extension of the main subterranean nest.

Like the Formosan termite, standard subterranean termites are capable of reaching feeding areas that are either in direct contact with the ground or are within a close proximity to the ground. Materials that are completely or partially buried, such as fence posts or home siding, are easy targets for subterranean termites, as they will burrow their way into the material with ease.

Materials that do not directly come in contact with the soil are still accessible as long as they are within close proximity. For these materials, the subterranean termite will construct mud tubes and travel through them to the feeding site.

The width of the mud tube can serve as an indication as to how long the subterranean termites have been present. Mud tubes can be thought of as termite highways, and as the termite population increases so must the width of the mud tube.

Subterranean termites tend to feed only on soft portions of wood, choosing to eat around the hardwood. Because of this, areas of wood damaged by subterranean termites will often appear to be layered.

This wood will also show an accumulation of mud or soil, which the termites bring inside in order to maintain proper humidity levels. Subterranean termites are present throughout the continental United States but are most prevalent in the warm, southern states.

Image Titled Conehead Termite

​5. Conehead

Conehead termites are a recent addition to the United States’ termite population, having been introduced to Florida in 2001. Originally, they primarily inhabited areas in the Caribbean and Central America. Since their introduction to the United States, it has become clear that the potential for damage from conehead termites is quite large.

Originally deemed tree termites, this species is known for building nests in more conspicuous locations than other termites, such as in trees, exposed wooden structures and above ground directly on top of the soil.

These nests are primarily constructed from the same materials as the common mud tunnel, but they often have a rigid surface of chewed wood encompassing the entirety of the nest. Not only are these nests reinforced against predators, but they can also reach up to 3 feet in diameter.

Similar to subterranean termites, conehead termites use mud tunnels to reach food sources. However, conehead tunnels tend to be much wider and more extensive than those of the standard subterranean termite. These mud tunnels tend not to have the same pulpy exterior as nests, so it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between a newly constructed conehead tunnel and a thriving subterranean tunnel.

Because of this difficulty, individuals attempting to determine the presence of conehead termites should consider a professional termite inspection.

image titled queen termite

Image Credit: Ryan Somma

​6. Queen

A termite colony is based on a caste system, and the queen termite is at the top of that hierarchy. Queens are integral to the creation, growth and ultimate success of a termite colony.

Queens begin their life as a female swarmer, and their transformation into queen termite is dependent upon the successful creation of a new colony. If a pair of swarmers is able to produce enough eggs to establish a new colony, then they will become the king and queen. At this point, the queen’s sole job is to produce as many eggs as possible. Throughout her life, she may produce over two hundred million eggs. As they emerge from the queen’s ovipositor, the eggs are stacked into neat piles by worker termites.

The queen’s growth potential is also astounding, as she is capable of growing to nearly one hundred times the size of any other termite in the colony. In one instance, a queen termite grew to the length of 10 centimeters.

The queen’s size and function both serve to illustrate her importance to the colony. And, upon the queen’s death, the colony will disband. At that point, flocks of swarmers will be sent out to search for new breeding locations.

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