Dampwood Termites

Dampwood Termite soldierIn the United States most termites live in tropical areas.  There are over 2600 species of termites identified worldwide, and just 45 species live in America.  Of these only 30 species cause damage to timber and wood and dampwood termites are one of them.  Termites are related to cockroaches, which seems peculiar because most would say they resemble ants.  When it comes to wood destroying pests – take the expression ‘eat you out of house and home’ very seriously.  Munching termites cause millions of dollars in damage every year.

Termites’ main job in the circle of life is to break down wood and plant matter and return nutrients to the soil.  All species of termites are an important part of our ecosystem. The first bug that comes to mind when you see wood damage is the termite.  But, there are other insects that can cause damage as well such as carpenter ants, flying ants, carpenter bees, and powderpost beetles  – just to name a few.

Dampwood Termites are detected on the west coast of the United States and are also found in Florida and the southwestern desert states.  These states include Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, and Nevada.

Ants and termites swarm at the same time of the year and winged ants are most times mistaken for termites.  The main difference is that ants have two pairs of wings that are not equal in size, and their bodies are pinched or segmented behind their wings.

The Dampwood termite comes by its ‘Dampwood’ name because they like to invade wood with high moisture content.  Infesting fallen and dying trees that are on the ground, but this insect does not build its nests in ground soil.

“These termites subsist on rotten wood, digested with the help of symbiotic protozoa and bacteria. They will also eat injured colony members and members of other colonies within the same tree if given the opportunity.” – bugguide.net

Dampwood termites are almost an inch long which is quite a bit larger than the Subterranean or the Drywood variety.  Swarming occurs between January and October – which is a long swarming season.  These insects only infest wood and timber that contains high water content. The Dampwoods’ come in a variety, and each is named for the location in which they are found:  Desert Dampwood Termites, Florida Dampwood Termites, Nevada Dampwood Termites, and Pacific Dampwood termites.

Dampwood termites are identified by their soldiers and reproductives.  The colony consists of nymphs, soldiers, and reproductives.  Soldiers have a flat brown head with brown-black mandibles.  The reproductives are dark brown with wings.  And the nymphs are a creamy color, almost see through.

identify dampwood termite typesSwarmers (the reproductives) are large winged termites that mate and begin new colonies.  When specific conditions are present, the termites swarm.  But less than 1% of the swarmers will survive to bring forth a new colony.  The factors that control the swarm are light, humidity, temperature and barometric pressure.

How to prevent Dampwood termites invasion:

  • Get any rotting or dead wood off of your property
  • Addressing any leaks as moisture is crucial for this pests
  • Remove any old furniture that may have gotten wet
  • Make sure you have proper drainage away from your home
  • Try to increase the ventilation around your home
  • Discard any decorative item – utility poles or any wooden item that is not pressure treated

Desert Dampwood Termites

desert dampwood termiteDesert Dampwood Termites are found in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Southern California.  Living where the habitat is dry and arid in these regions of the United States.

They ingest damp wood that is buried in the ground.  Munching termites attack tree roots, bushes, door frames and fence posts.  The Dampwood also feeds on live trees – wood that is under ground level.

They are attracted to the moisture in the sap, and when they are done the tree is deadened below the surface of the soil.

Formally the name of this species is Paraneotermes simplicicornis. 

This desert species rarely damage homes like others of their kind.   The desert dampwood termite is not classified as a major structural pest in the United States.

When found in a home they are usually found in wet wood or wood that is kept wet by constantly dripping water.  If you do see them in or by your home you probably have a leakage somewhere. Occasional infestations of dwellings are commonly found in door frames or baseboards.

The desert dampwood termite is the only dampwood termite considered a pest of wooden structures in Arizona.

The swarmers, kings, and queens of the Desert Dampwood Termite species are brown.  They have brown bodies and brown wings.  Soldiers are yellowish brown, and nymphs are a creamy color with a spot on their abdomen.  This spot indicates the presence of food.

What makes them Differrent

  • Soldiers are up to 5/16” long with flat heads and short wide black mandibles.  Desert Dampwood Termite soldiers also have an antenna on either side of their head.
  • Nymphs take care of the colony and feed the others.  This muncher’s favorite food is damp wood even though they like dryer weather climates.  If trees around your home show signs of infestation, you may need to take them down.  Weak wood trees are a hazard to your home.
  • The winged adults swarm starting in May until September – in the daytime.  Termites swarm, mate and start a new colony.  The desert dampwood prefers citrus trees and can use the sap for required moisture.
  • This termite has a strong odor.
  • This species does not build mud tubes to stay hydrated or to reach a wood source.  The colony itself will stretch out over a distance to go from wood to soil.  This distinction makes the Desert Dampwood Termite different from others of its kind.

The desert termite lives in small colonies – less than 1500 termites.  If infected wood is found – look closely for tunnels inside the wood, the tunnels will appear smooth as is sanded.

Florida Dampwood Termites

Florida Dampwood Termites are just that – termites that nest in damp and rotting wood of fallen logs.  Living in fallen trees in which are found in coastal regions of Florida.  Their scientific name is Neotermes.  There are over 100 species in the Neotermes, genus family.  They like high humidity and being around water, and are found in tropical climates worldwide.

Other places they are found are not in the continental United States are Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.  By Zonal Creek they have extended down to Mexico, Cuba, and the Bahamas. Florida with its warm and humid climates makes an ideal home for all kinds of termites.  The Florida Dampwood Termite is not considered as a huge structural pest, as are some of the other species.

These termites do not live in soil but do need contact with water.  In Florida, they live in mangrove forests and subtropical woodlands, and in urbanized areas of coastal towns and the Florida Keys.

The Florida dampwood termites are not strong fliers and will settle close to the nest unless the wind carries them further.  They will settle only a few feet from the original infestation.

They do not build mud tubes and any holes made in wood are plugged with fecal matter.  They hide deep in the wood that shields them from drying out.  This practice makes it close to impossible to find them unless you probe the wood for weak spots.  In decaying wood, their munching forms tunnels and galleries across the grain.  Feces will be found around the edges or at the bottom of their galleries.  This fecal matter is called frass.

 Florida Dampwood Termites like moist wood.  That includes living trees, logs, posts, and any wood that is not pressure treated.  They are attracted to light, and they make their entrance to your home through broken screens and opened doors. They won’t necessarily infest your home unless you have a leak.  Check your roof – especially around the fireplace area and where your roof meets your eaves.   Check any plumbing problems in the kitchen or bathroom where water is present.

Florida Dampwood termite colonies have three castes.  King, Queen, and Alates belong to the reproductive caste; then there are soldiers and workers. Their workers or pseudergates are immature termite forms.  Some molt and develop wing buds they are then called nymphs.  Workers and nymphs feed on wood to nourish the colony, in this way they build the galleries. Nymphs with wing buds will grow into alates.  They are also the swarmers of the colony.  Newly hatched termites and termite eggs are called larvae.

Finding these buggers can be a bit tricky.  They do not create mud tubes or holes in wood in wood.  These pests hide deep in the wood to prevent dehydration of their bodies.  They will leave fecal pellets behind stuck to the wood gallery walls or down below the galleries.

Nevada Dampwood Termites

Nevada Dampwood Termites are found primarily in Nevada, Idaho, California, Washington, and Oregon.  This termite dwells in mountain regions and likes the high altitude and dry climate.  This termite is attracted to wooden structures that are in contact with soil and built over or near water.

Even though their preference is a dryer climate, moist conditions are tolerated.  This muncher also assists in the spreading of wood decaying fungi by carrying its spores on their bodies and in their stomachs.

The Nevada Dampwood Termites formal name is Zootermopsis nevadensis, and is sometimes called ‘rotten wood termites.’   Soil contact is not necessary but will nest in fallen wood that has been buried.

Lucky for you these Nevada Dampwood Termites do not like highly populated areas.  But when these critters do infest a home they usually attack wood siding, fence posts, pilings, pond bridges, and downspouts.

Nevada Dampwood Termite swarmers are dark brown with wings, growing up to 3/4″ long.  The soldier termites have long flat heads with straight sides.  Workers have large abdomens and are light brown.  Nymphs are a creamy color with a spot on their stomachs (digesting food).

Occasionally termite control experts will find a home infestation.  It usually occurs in the wood siding of a home where the siding touches the ground, around downspouts, and in fence posts.  They will not normally attack homes because the moisture content is too low.

The Nevada Dampwood Termite swarms in the spring, summer and early fall.  When swarming, they seek out wood with a high moisture content to start new colonies.  The most obvious sign of infestation is discarded wings and alates found in your home or around your property.

Upon inspection of your home, if you find an infestation you can do certain things that will discourage their occupation.

  • Remove wood piles that are around your home
  • Replace infested wood with pressure treated timber
  • Fix any leaks around your home

Some different ways moisture can occur are – a leaky valve on a garden hose, excess water or leaks around pools or hot tubs, house settling may allow excess moisture in through small cracks in the foundation, broken sprinkler head by your home or garden, wooden planters, and broken gutters.  Poor or bad ventilation in your attic may lead to trapped moisture attracting these pests.  These things can be prevented with a little foresight and maintenance.

Pacific Dampwood Termites

pacific dampwood termitePacific Dampwood Termites are the largest of the Dampwood termites and the most formidable.  Found on the west coast of the United States from Washington to California.

Inhabiting coastal areas that are usually more humid with lower temperatures, but are also found at altitudes up to 6000 feet above sea level.  The Pacific Dampwood Termite does not necessitate contact with the soil, but they do need wet, damp, soggy wood.

The swarmers are about an inch long.  Swarming can occur any time of the year, although between August and October is this insect’s main swarming period.  Swarming after it rains in the late evening.

The Zootermopsis angusticollis is the Latin names for this big guy.  They can reach up to 1” in length.  They have long bodies that are roundish and creamy brown in color, redheads with short black mandibles.

The Pacific Dampwood Termite can vary in color according to what they are eating.  They are known to live in small colonies.  Their colonies are burrowed deep within the moist wood.  The wet wood protects them from the dry conditions that they reside in.

This species also carries spores of wood fungi, promoting rotting of timbers.  They consume all kinds of wood and on a large range of timbers.  This species live in piers, boathouses, boats, docks, and beach houses.  And, have been found in timbers subject to tidal flooding.

“Winged adults are about 25 mm long including the wings, which are much longer than the body.  The body is yellow-brown or red-brown.  Wingless adults are creamy-white with brown heads.  Soldiers are about 15 to 20 mm long with a brown head and large mandibles.  There is no worker caste in this species and the immature soldiers and nymphs perform the work of the colony.”

If you suspect wood infestation, poke the wood with your finger.  You will feel a soggy, mushy or spongy feel to the timber.  Usually replacing the damaged wood is suggested.