Types of Termites: From Subterranean to Dampwood, Drywood and more

Subterranean Termites

Summary: Subterranean termites are the most common type of termite found in the United States. They live in underground colonies and build distinctive tunnels, often referred to as “mud tubes,” to reach food sources and protect themselves from open air. They eat wood 24 hours a day, seven days a week, using their saw-toothed jaws to bite off small fragments of wood one piece at a time.

Most Common Habitat: Subterranean termites are found in every state except Alaska. They are most common in the southern states, where the climate is warmer and more humid.

Danger of Infestation in US: Subterranean termites are a significant threat to homeowners. They cause more damage to homes in the United States than fires, storms, and earthquakes combined – over $5 billion annually.

Dampwood Termites

Summary: As their name suggests, dampwood termites infest wood with a high moisture content. Dampwood termites are normally larger in size than other termite species. They do not require contact with the soil to survive and can infest decayed wood that is wet. They are rarely found in homes or other man-made structures.

Most Common Habitat: Dampwood termites are found in the Pacific Northwest, along the coastal and adjacent areas of California, and in the desert or semi-desert areas of Nevada, western Texas, and Arizona.

Danger of Infestation in US: Dampwood termites are not usually a threat to structures unless they are in contact with soil or if the structure has a severe moisture problem.

Drywood Termites

Summary: Drywood termites form colonies of up to 2,500 members and infest dry wood, like that found in attic framings. Unlike subterranean termite species, drywood termite colonies do not have a worker caste. The work is done by immature termites before they reach adulthood.

Most Common Habitat: Drywood termites are commonly found on the West Coast, Florida, and Hawaii, but they can extend east to Texas and the Carolinas.

Danger of Infestation in US: Drywood termites can chew through almost anything made of cellulose, including support beams, floors, and walls, causing expensive home repairs. They cause a collective $5 billion in property damage each year – a cost typically not covered by homeowners’ insurance.

Formosan Termites

Summary: Formosan termites are a subterranean species of termite with three distinct castes: alates (or reproductive), soldiers, and workers. Often referred to as “super termites,” they are the most voracious, aggressive, and devious of over 2,000 termite species known to science.

Most Common Habitat: Formosan termites prefer mildly temperate climates and are found in many states across the southern U.S., including Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi,Louisiana, and Texas. Smaller populations of Formosan termites have also been discovered as far north as the Canadian border.

Danger of Infestation in US: Because of their aggressive nature, Formosan termites are difficult to control once they infest a structure. A mature Formosan termite colony can eat about 31 grams or 1+ ounce per day. At this rate, such a colony could completely consume one foot of 2X4 wood in 25 days – causing severe structural damage to a home in as little as six months. They are also known to chew through the coverings of telephone and electric cable insulation, resulting in costly damage and power outages in cities.

Conehead Termites (Nasutitermes corniger)

Conehead termites, originally known as “tree termites,” are an invasive species native to the Caribbean. They were first introduced to the United States in 2001. Unlike most termites, conehead termites do not rely on underground tunneling to travel. Instead, they forage on the ground like ants, allowing them to spread quickly. They can survive in most environments, which allows them to travel far distances.

Most Common Habitat: Conehead termites build dark brown “mud” tubes that are used to travel from their nests to feeding locations. These above-ground tunnels are usually only about ½ an inch wide and can be found along the sides of buildings, the mortar joints of brick, and on about any surface. They also create freestanding nests on the ground, in trees, or in wooden structures. The nests can be up to 3 feet in diameter, resembling a large ball of paper and mud carton.

Danger of Infestation in US: Conehead termites are an extremely aggressive species known for causing widespread property damage in a short period of time. They feast on anything containing cellulose, meaning trees, shrubs, wooden furniture, and structural lumbar. If left unchecked, these destructive pests can spread and cause millions of dollars in damage. They are primarily found in Broward County, Florida, but their ability to travel above ground and adapt to various environments makes them a potential threat in other areas as well.

Dampwood Termites (Family Hodotermitidae)

Summary: Dampwood termites, as their name suggests, infest wood with high moisture content. They are usually larger in size than other termite species. Unlike drywood termites, dampwood termite colonies do not have a worker caste. Instead, the nymph dampwood termites take care of the kings and queens of the colony and feed the soldier caste. They create a series of chambers in wood, which are connected by tunnels with smooth walls, as if sandpapered.

Most Common Habitat: Dampwood termites are usually found in logs, stumps, dead trees, fence posts, and utility poles. They are found throughout the Pacific coastal and adjacent states, the desert or semi-arid southwest, and southern Florida.

Danger of Infestation in US: Dampwood termites do not usually infest structures because of their need for excessive moisture. However, they can cause serious property damage if they are attracted to a structure. In fact, dampwood termites and other termite species cause a collective $5 billion in property damage each year. To avoid dampwood termites, homeowners should eliminate sources of moisture by diverting water away from the home’s foundation. It’s important to repair leaking faucets, water pipes, and AC units on the outside of the home as dampwood termites are often drawn to these areas. Firewood should be stored at least 20 feet away from the house. To prevent dampwood termites indoors, reduce humidity by properly ventilating crawl spaces, attics, and basements.

For more information on how to identify and deal with dampwood termites, check out our detailed guide on Dampwood Termites.

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