Sometimes called “silent destroyers,” termites may leave few signs of activity as the steadily consume wood and sheetrock paper in the walls, ceilings and floors of homes. Termites eat wood and do more damage to wood structures in the United States than fires and windstorms combined.
The Romans referred to these insects as “Termes” which means woodworm. Related to cockroaches, termites are one of our most ancient insects. Fossilized termites as old as 55 million years have been found.
Termites live in colonies, are social insects and divide their work among specialized members. They have a rigid caste system which are the reproductive, the worker and the soldier. The reproductive termites are winged. Termites live in darkness, in narrow passageways, where the temperature, the moisture and probably the oxygen pressure to some extent are under their control. Each colony is distinct from any other colony of termites, and when two colonies meet the members will slaughter each other.
Queens are believed to live up to 25 years and can lay up to 8,460 eggs a day. A queen weighs at least 100 times as much as a worker or soldier.
Termites can be distinguished from ants by noting that they do not have a narrowly pinched waist as ants do.
There are three types of termites common in North America. They are damp woods, dry woods, and subterranean.
Damp wood Termites (not in our area)
Damp wood termites are found in the West and are most widespread on the Pacific Coast and require damp wood to feed on. These termites are the largest of the three types and are usually found in logs and damp or decaying wood. Although swarming may occur throughout the year, damp wood termites usually swarm from July through October.
Dry wood termites (rare in our area)
Dry wood termites live in and eat dry wood as their name suggests. They are mainly found in the mid regions of California. They are found in the Bay Area. Dry wood termites are usually detected by the piles of pellets that collect below holes in walls and or windows. They are smaller than damp woods and larger than subterranean termites. Swarming occurs in June and July in Northern California and September through October in Southern California.
Formosan Termites (on their way)
The Formosan subterranean termite (Coptotermes formosanus) has now become established in Florida and other southern states. At least one colony has been found In California (1995). Formosan termites are a serious timber pest in Hawaii and coastal regions of Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina and southern California, as well as, inland towns and cities. The Formosan termite is rarely found North of 35° N latitude. They have been reported from 11 states including: Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. Their distribution will probably continue to be restricted to southern areas because their eggs will not hatch below about 20° C (68° F).
Formosan termites swarm in huge numbers in late spring or summer; usually following a warm rainy day. They prefer to swarm in times of high humidity in the evening hours from dusk to midnight. The swarmers are attracted to lights and are about 1/25”, including wings. Their body color is pale yellowish brown. A fontanelle (frontal gland pore) is present.
Subterranean Termites (present in our area)
Subterranean termites are the most common termites in the south. 1 in 20 homes is infested every year by them. Colonies are usually located in the soil from which the workers build mud tubes to the wood in structures on which they feed. However, on occasion an above ground colony is found.
Subterranean termites can be identified by seeing their swarmers (winged termites), or by seeing mud tubes attached to the wood. Swarming occurs in early Spring and September through October in the Southern states.