Western Subterranean Termites

Facts, Identification & Control

SCIENTIFIC NAME

Reticulitermes hesperus

APPEARANCE

Western subterranean termite workers look like white or cream-colored ants. Soldiers have an orange, rectangular-shaped head with large pincher- like mouthparts that are used to fight off colony invaders. Swarmers are about 3/8-inches long (wings included), and their body is dark brown. They have two pairs of wings, and the front wings are larger than the hind wings.

BEHAVIOR, DIET & HABITS

Western subterranean termites are similar to other subterranean termites in that they are social insects with three distinct castes – reproductives, workers and soldiers. Each caste has its own specialized functions to support the overall colony. The queen termite is a reproductive "engine" that can live more than 25 years and can produce more that 2,000 eggs per day. The workers, who feed on wood or other cellulose materials, are the most populous caste in the colony. They are the culprits that damage and destroy wood, build tunnels and repair and enlarge the nest, plus feed the soldiers. The soldiers are the termite colony's defenders and protectors. Most nests lie beneath the frost line and above the water table.

Building colonies is not an overnight process, but generally it takes at least three years before a few swarmers can form a new colony. However, if a structure was built close to a mature, healthy colony, substantial damage to a home could be experienced within a year or two after construction.

Western subterranean termites are not picky when it comes to food sources. They are more likely found infesting fallen trees, stumps or other dead wood in the forest that's in contact with the soil. Decayed wood is eaten faster and preferred over sound wood since the decaying fungi in the wood breaks down cellulose that makes digestion easier. The workers still consume and digest non-decayed wood.

Termites have a very interesting way to feed their colony members. One of the chief means of shared feeding is called trophallaxis, which is the give-and-take exchange of gut contents between colony members. Trophallaxis also involves using nutrients efficiently, recognizing colony members, distributing the chemicals involved in regulating caste members and transferring cellulose-digesting protozoans found within the termite's digestive system.

Termite workers are susceptible to dehydration and must constantly be in an environment with sufficient moisture to prevent death. Since workers must forage away from the nest to find sources of cellulose, once they leave the friendly confines of the soil, they must build mud tubes that extend from the soil to above-ground wood food sources.

REPRODUCTION

Reticulitermes hesperus alates swarm in the spring, often after rainfall. A large, healthy termite nest produces thousands of swarmers that begin a search to find other swarmers to mate with and begin a new colony.

SIGNS OF AN INFESTATION

Infestation signs include damage, presence of mud tubes and evidence of swarmers. Wood damaged by termites is honeycombed in appearance with layered hollow sections of the wood packed with mud and partially digested wood.

DISTRIBUTION

As the most common and widely distributed termite in the western part of the United States, western subterranean termites present great risk for homeowners in Washington, Idaho, California, and parts of Nevada.

OTHER INFORMATION

  • While damage is most commonly caused in basements, termites can infest wood at higher levels, too.
  • Many colonies are situated in the ground, with some existing above ground in the presence of constant moisture.

Western subterranean termite control is labor intensive and exacting. Always contact your pest management professional to confirm whether you have a termite problem and, if so, which termite species has invaded your property. If you need termite control, your pest management professional will make recommendations that will be the most effective and efficient for your home. In addition, your pest management professional will suggest that your termite control program also include an annual termite inspection.

Termite Control

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