Desert Termites


Gnathamitermes spp.


Similar to most other termites, the desert termite has three castes (stages) in their colony – the workers, soldiers and male/ female reproductives, often called the kings and queen. Worker termites are the most abundant and provide food and colony maintenance. The soldier caste is armed with large teeth-like mouthparts, and their role is to protect the colony from predators. The reproductives are about ½-inch long with a light-brown body and wings, and they are the reproducers within the colony.


Desert termites are very susceptible to losing moisture and drying out, so they build moisture-retaining tubes or sheets that are made of carton – a mixture of moist soil and feces that is glued together with the termite’s saliva – to overcome this obstacle and survive. Desert termites tunnel in or on the soil, and their tunneling makes the soil more porous, a soil characteristic that improves the infiltration of rainfall and can improve plant growth in arid areas. Desert termites feed on living, dead or decom¬posed plant material and prefer a habitat of living and dead grasses, plus under livestock manure.


Females of all reproductive forms can lay eggs to produce offspring. New desert termite colonies are formed by winged reproductives called swarmers that leave the established colony, find locations for new colonies and become kings and queens of the new colony. The insects are known to swarm before sunset following summer rainstorms.


Signs of desert termites include the presence of workers, soldiers or swarmers and the presence of their protective tubes on and in the soil.


Desert termites are most likely to be found in west Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.


If needed, your pest management or lawn professional is the best person to identify desert termites to ensure the termites on your property are not one of the serious, wood-damaging subterranean termite species. Correct identification is critical since desert termites are likely to benefit, rather than harm, rangelands, crops or turf. In addition, desert termites rarely damage structures on the homeowner’s property. Therefore, desert termite control in turf grass is not rec¬ommended. Instead, practice normal lawn care by using sufficient amounts of water and fertilizer, which usually overcomes any turf-related problems caused by desert termite feeding.

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