Reticulitermes spp., Coptotermes spp. and Heterotermes spp.
APPEARANCE OF SUBTERRANEAN TERMITES
Termites are broadly divided into three major termite groups: subterranean, drywood and dampwood. If you are trying to classify a specific termite colony into a group, you need to look at the soldiers and the alates, the winged, unmated reproductive caste, because worker termites across groups tend to look the same. Also important is the appearance of the damage wood they consume.
Three “castes” of a termite colony: workers are approximately 6 mm long, light-colored and wingless; soldiers have elongated heads with mandibles; reproductives are dark-colored and have two pair of equal-length wings.
Other factors that will help identify subterranean termites are:
- Alates (swarmers): Dark-brown to black in color, about ¼ to ½ inch long with two pairs of wings that are very close to being equal in length.
- Workers: No wings, about ¼ inch or less in length and cream colored.
- Soldiers: No wings, large mandibles (jaws), termite colony defenders, are creamy-white in color, but their head is often brownish in color.
- Appearance of damaged wood: Since subterranean termites build their nests underground, damaged wood usually has an accumulation of soil or mud within the tunnels of the wood they are eating. Since subterranean termites only eat the softwood, damaged wood appears to be layered, the result of the workers not eating the hardwood portion. In addition, subterranean termites feed “with the grain” rather than across the grain, as do drywood termites.
- Location of the nest: As their group name suggests, the nest is usually found below ground. Nests may be found above ground, but only when sufficient moisture conditions are available to support the above-ground nest and the colony is old and well established.
Behavior, Diet & Habit
Live in colonies underground, from which they build tunnels in search of food; able to reach food above the ground level by building mud tubes; dependent on moisture for survival.
Diet consists of wood and other cellulose material.
Different rates of growth from egg stage to adult, depending on individual species; one primary queen per colony, which can lay tens of thousands of eggs in its lifetime, but eggs also can be laid by supplementary reproductives in an established colony.
Read more about subterranean termite reproduction.
Signs of a Subterranean Termite Infestation
A subterranean termite infestation begins when warm temperatures and heavy rainfall trigger an established colony to send out a swarm of winged termites. Swarms consist of winged reproductive males and females. Subterranean termite colonies are usually active for three to five years before winged reproductives appear. Winged, reproductive termites are frequently mistaken for flying ants, but are smaller than ants and have straight, rather than bent, antennae. Termite swarmers have four wings that are all the same size. Ant swarmers have two large wings in front and two smaller wings behind. After mating, swarmer termites land and shed their wings, leaving them in piles that resemble fish scales. If there are piles of wings on windowsills of your home, check to see if they are all the same size. They could be termite wings especially if they are all the same size.
If you are constructing a new home, especially in a high-risk area, it is advisable that you obtain estimates from reliable professionals for termite-proofing your home. Pest control professionals are best equipped to take preventive measures, which could save homeowners from severe loss. Pest control experts will also be able to make recommendations that can help to prevent termite infestation.
There are over 2,300 described species of termite living today. Many of them are found in tropical and subtropical regions such as deserts and rain forests. However, there are more than 50 species that have been found living in the United States. Collectively, they are responsible for an average of $1 billion per year in property damages, infesting 350,000 structures.
These numerous species are broken down into subterranean termites, dampwood termites and drywood termites. The three types of termites differ in colony-building habits and preferred climate. Subterranean termites build large colonies underground, which are composed of elaborate tunnels and chambers. Worker termites then construct protective tunnels made of mud and saliva in order to reach above-ground wood. When subterranean termites eat wood, they fill it with soil to help maintain the humidity. If mud tunnels are visible on the walls or foundation of your home, it is highly likely that you are experiencing a subterranean termite infestation.
Alternatively, drywood termites make their nests within cellulose-based materials such as lumber, siding and wooden trim. They require no soil contact and get their moisture from the wood. They also attack floors, furniture and books. Drywood termites can be more difficult to detect and aren’t typically noticeable until small piles of pellets (their feces) collect.
Dampwood termites locate their colonies in wood that is wet and even decaying. Wood that is in contact with the soil or wood that is constantly wet are ideal nesting sites for these termites. They are common in the Southwest and along the Pacific Coast. They are also found in Florida. If your home has leaky pipes or other moisture situations, it may be attractive to dampwood termites.
Distribution of Subterranean Termites
Subterranean termites are found throughout the United States, but are relatively scarce in the colder states. They occur in greater numbers in warm, southern states. However they exist in every state except Alaska. They are most common in the humid, subtropical south between Florida and Southern California.
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Termites cost Americans more than $5 billion in damage each year and most insurance plans don’t cover the damage.
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