Drywood Termites

Scientific name: Incisitermes app.

DryWood TermiteTermites are known as silent destroyers hiding and flourishing in your baseboards or attic; a classic example of this hidden pest the drywood termite.  Drywood termites are bugs that can survive for years in your home without your knowledge, creeping through galleries in wood that it creates, and living silently doing what they do best – eating away at your home.

Drywood Termites live in hot, dry climates they prefer high temperatures and low humidity.  This insect does not build underground colonies like subterranean termites do, and does not need soil for survival.  They have the ability to live directly in wood and can survive for many years hidden right under your nose.   Due to the cryptic nature of this species, it may be a long time before they are detected in your home, shed or barn.

Drywood colonies are much smaller than the subterranean or dampwood colonies, and at colony maturation, there is only about a few hundred members. It takes years for a colony to mature enough to produce swarmers.  Multiple colonies living in a single piece of wood – working together can undermine structural timber.

The infestation of homes is unlikely by direct contact as the drywood termite likes to live in dead trees and usually gets into your home through a piece of furniture that is already infected.  Yes, the end table you just had to have on your way through Arizona or Florida may bring a colony of drywood termites directly into your home.

Visual Appearance

Reproductive adults are light yellow to dark brown or blackish in color.  Different varieties of drywood termites range in length from 1/3 to 1 inch.  Soldiers are larger and wingless – protectors of the colony.  They have powerful jaws for fighting, with teeth along the inner edge vs. subterranean termites which do not have teeth.

How to Spot them

holes by termitesFinding the nest is the biggest obstacle when dealing with these pests such.  They form small colonies, stay hidden by nature, and can live in your furniture for years without you knowing they are there.  Drywoods cleverly hid their nests and can survive for decades undetected. If you’ve spot unusual holes on baseboards or windowsills, or in the wood around a sliding glass door, it’s wise to think about them. Drywood termites bore small holes in the wood they infest, pushing out discarded waste in the form of pellets (frass) that accumulates under these openings,   Pellets look like tiny pebbles or large granules of sand and are a prime indicator of the presence of drywood termites.  Look at your wood surfaces especially when dusting and polishing.  If there appear to be thin surfaces or weak spots you may have found a nest location.  Check for pellets on the floor, then look above where you see the pellets and inspect the wood for filled in holes.  Tiny holes may be in a furniture leg or underbelly, or in cabinets or even the ceiling.

The kick-out holes will look discolored and will be sealed in by the termites living inside.   If you have a suspected a piece of furniture, inspect it carefully, or if you see pellets on the floor and cannot find the hole – sweep up the pellets and monitor the area.   Below is an example of the holes drywood termites bore in wood, and what the frass pellets look like in relation to a penny, they are very small and may be confused for dirt or sand.

signs of drywood termitesOther detection methods which are commercialized:

  • Dogs
  • Acoustic emission devices
  • Fiber optic devices
  • Movement sensitive – microwave-based devices
  • Odor detectors

heat lose detection methodThe methods above are not used very often – inspection by a licensed termite specialist for evidence of damage by termites remains the #1 industry method.  Visual inspection is still the best way to locate them, and even with this thorough inspection, they may still allude the professionals.Only soldiers and alates are recognized for species identification.  If you should see termites after a swarm in or around your home, collect a few of them in a glass jar.  Bring them to your local termite company or send them in for identification.  Treatment methods are different for drywoods compared to subterranean termites, and treating incorrectly can allow them to live and penetrate deeper into your timbers.

Caused damage and treatment options

Drywood termites are less damaging than their subterranean family members, not only do they live in smaller colonies their feeding or munching is much slower.  It is easier to control them due to the limitations of the colony and damage is usually confined to one piece of furniture or wooden item. You can remove the entire infestation by discarding or treating the damaged timber or item, by removing the culprit the entire infestation will be removed.  Do not ignore an infested item get rid of it or treat it as soon as you suspect an infestation.  In time termites can do some serious damage to furniture or the structural integrity of your home. Elimination methods for drywood termites are very different from subterranean elimination.  Heat treatment, chemical treatment, freezing and microwaving are the options for spot treatment, but there are downsides. Mostly it may cause damage to home and effectiveness of those treatments are limited.

Localized or spot treatment is recommended for furniture or small groups of boards.  Keep in mind if the colony is mature there are likely to be more infestations or multiple colonies present.But if there is a major infestation than be prepared for gas fumigation treatment as it might be the only way to get rid from them.

Common items infested by drywood termites in addition to furniture are items containing cellulose:

  • Bookbindings
  • Piano keys
  • Wood cases
  • Cabinets
  • Coat hangers
  • Mantle clocks
  • Picture frames
  • Wood dust brushes
  • Trunks
  • Toy blocks


When alates or reproductives become adults, they grow wings and can fly. They swarm at night and are attracted by lights, when lights are on, and shining through closed windows; alates will congregate on window sills.  Drywood termites are not the best flyers and usually stay close to the original colony.  But during outdoor flights, termites can be carried by the wind dispersing them further and giving infestations a wider range.

They make their way across the country living in furniture that the unsuspecting home owners transfer from one dwelling to another.  Before you bring an antique piece of furniture into your home, inspect it carefully.  Tap on it and look for falling frass – it looks like sand – pellets, and inspect it for discolorations in the wood.  Drywood termite variety has not become established in northern localities. Washington D. C. is on the borderline of their reach, besides being transported in furniture and lumber originating in infested areas.

Tropical Rough-headed Drywood Termite

Scientific name: Cryptotermes brevis

The tropical rough-headed drywood termites are also known as the West Indian Drywood Termite or Powderpost termite. They are found in Florida and Southeast coastal areas, on the Texas coast, and in Hawaii.  Living in coastal areas termites get the moisture needed for survival from the wood it inhabits.

The rough-head swarmer is about 3/8” long including its wings and is brown in color.  The colony soldiers are 1/5” long and have black or extremely dark heads which are wrinkled; hence the name rough-head, soldiers’ mandibles face downward. Tropical rough-headed drywood termites’ swarm at night in the spring and early summer between the months of April and July, this flight usually occurs right after dusk or before sunrise.  Termites will fly directly into structures, buildings, and homes, when swarming they search for cracks in eaves, windows or door frames, attics or trim work.

Inspectors in the termite business call these pests ‘lazy’ because of their unwillingness to make their own entry; instead, they fly into man-made cracks in exposed wood, and usually, re-infest the same site.  This makes it easy for them to start new colonies without having to dig out their own holes – just find an opening and move in.

If you are planning a construction project whether it is a repair or new construction, this is the time perfect time for a timber infestation.  It only takes one pair of termites to start a new colony deep inside a crack in a piece of nice new wood.  Make sure you fill in any cracks or holes in wood and siding – these voids are an excellent opportunity for them to gain entry into your home.

Tropical rough-headed drywood termites like all drywood termites eat wood by cutting across the grain and excavating broad chambers, or pockets, connected by tunnels.  The tunnels are the size of the termite’s body, and they have the ability to munch on both softer spring wood and the harder summer growth.

This termite is prevalent in Florida’s Key West region and is responsible for practically all the damage caused by termites in that area.  Being in the northern hemisphere the United States gets it share of termites with some being native to the US, but our climate is cooler compared to countries in the southern hemisphere closer to the equator.

Tropical Smooth-headed Drywood Termites

Scientific name:Cryptotermes cavifrons

The smooth-headed drywood termite is found only in the Florida.  The tropical nature of the state allows for swarming to occur any time of year, although peak swarming season for the smooth-headed termite occurs between March and May.

Florida has the perfect climate for these munching pests by being hot and humid almost year round there is no ‘die off’ season when it gets cold enough for nature itself to exterminate the termite.

Good news for homeowners!  Homes are built with drier or pressure treated wood, making them unappetizing for these blighters.  Like the other drywood species, an infestation of your home usually occurs by an infested piece of furniture brought into the home.  The tropical smooth-head likes to infest trees and logs and enjoys a bit of moisture in timber.

Alates are light brown in color and grow to 2/5” long.  Soldiers have brownish yellow bodies and reddish black heads – they are 1/5” in length.  The species is named smooth-head due to the smooth head of the soldier termites.

Swarmers usually fly at night, and their swarms consist of hundreds of termites.  They fly into buildings and houses, making their homes in existing holes in wood and timber.  Exposed wood in attics, eaves, trim work, door or window frames is prime living space for this insect.

Wood these pests infect is dry, low moisture timber that is not in contact with soil or water, getting needed moisture directly from the timber in which they reside.  This species is also found in tropical areas or humid coastal locations of Florida.

Multiple colonies can live nearby causing quite a bit of destruction to the wood in your home.  Each colony lives in their galleries – just like people living in an apartment building – but they are munching on the wood making their apartments larger and larger until eventually the structural integrity is compromised making the timbers sag or collapse.

Tropical smooth-headed drywood termites bore out galleries in wood and timber, and eat both with, and across the grain, weakening the wood until collapse.  Termites are known to cause limbs or entire trees to fall or become so weakened they die.

Drywood termites consume anything that contains cellulose, building their nests in wood, plants, wallpaper, plastic and fabrics made from plant materials.  You can take precautions to head off infestation by removing all scrap and firewood from around your home.

Western Drywood Termite

Scientific name: Incisitermes minor

Western drywood termites are native to the United States and have been here for millions of years.  They are most prevalent along the Pacific coastal region extending into the Southern California desert and central valley regions.  The western drywood termite is found in the southwestern states of Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and California.  This pest is also present in the Gulf Coast region of Florida.

Being of the Drywood family variety – termites can thrive in timber with a low moisture content, but living in high summer temperatures with low precipitation poses challenges for this species.  This species gets the water needed for survival through the wood they consume, producing it themselves through oxidative metabolism, and another trick – reabsorbing water from feces through special glands.

Drywood termites are sometimes confused with dampwood termites which are common to the same regions.  The difference is dampwood termites need wood with a high moisture content that is often in contact with the damp or wet soil as a source of moisture.

Swarmers or alates which are male and female are the only ones that leave the colony during dispersal flights, and if mating is successful, the pairs become the kings and queens of a new colony.  The western drywood termite has a dark brown abdomen with an orange-brown head, swarmers are less than a half of inch in length, and their wings are translucent dark to light brown.  Soldiers have a reddish-brown head with black mandibles, including visible teeth on the inside left of the mandibles.


These munchers are very creative in finding entry or access points into buildings and homes.

  • They fly right into attics that are accessible due to poor ventilation
  • Cracks in drying plaster or stucco when it pulls away from door and window frames
  • Landing on your home and crawling down to a crevice or crack
  • Entering through a foundation vent
  • Crawling under or through wood shingles

Galleries of the western drywood termite are very irregular excavations which extend throughout the wood.  The western drywood’s main habitat is in trees, and their favorite foos is the sapwood of trees which is active in water conduction.

Signs of infestation are much the same as for other drywood species, piles of pellets that most homeowners mistake for sawdust on the floor or ground.  The pellets are frass pushed out through ‘kick out’ holes in wood or timber; these tiny holes will be visible to the naked eye and are usually filled in with a plug of wet feces.  Look directly above where the pellets collect, and there will be a small hole.

This species invades rose and oleander bushes, and trees such as alder, almond, apricot, ash, avocado, carob, cherry, citrus, elderberry, mulberry, ornamental pear, peach, plum, and walnut.

They also invade man-made structures and nest in furniture and other wooden items.  In Arizona and California, they keep termite control companies very busy.  These companies state 55% of all inspections are for wood-destroying organisms that torment homeowners.

Southeastern Drywood Termites

Scientific name: Incisitermes snyderi

This species of termite is the most widely distributed its range covers from Florida to South Carolina and west to Texas.  The southeastern drywood gets around from state to state transported in infested furniture – just like most of its species.

One major difference is the southeastern drywood termite infests and consumes sound wood.  That is wood or timber that is not decaying and has a moisture content of roughly 12%.  These insects prefer dry wood and get the water they need through their environments or the metabolism of wood.

Identification of the southeastern drywood termite:  It is approximately 7/16” long; its body is yellowish to light brown, with translucent wings that have a yellowish tint.  They swarm at dusk from May to July. 

Southeastern drywood termites live in galleries they bore in wood and are distributed throughout the infestation area.  The colony is not confined to a single gallery or chamber.  The drywood termites seal all openings (kick holes) with a dark brown substance which they secrete.  The substance then hardens into a cement-like plug that is paper thin.

They will cover openings made by beetles and other bugs, or exit holes opened for the colonizing flight.  Other entrances they will use are holes excavated to keep temperature and humidity beneficial for colony life, termite air conditioning.

Drywood termites grow in three stages – eggs, immature, and adults.  Each colony consists of an original male and female that mate and so begins the propagation of a new settlement, but only a few swarmers will survive to develop new colonies.   The majority of drywood termite swarmers fall prey to birds, reptiles, frogs, ants, and other predators. Many will also perish from injury or dehydration.  A few live to mate when they find a crack or hole in timber that affords them shelter.

Very little moisture is required – about 3% wood moisture content on the low side of the scale, up to 10 percent or more on the high side.  Infestation usually occurs in dead wood accumulating along buildings and homes.  Termites are then able to swarm into your home through open doors and windows and take root.

When you discover termites in your home, a good starting point is to have your home inspected to find out the extent of the infestation.  Most professional termite companies will treat localized areas that infestations are based, but most times the best way to treat it is by removing the item from your home.  Termites might be confined to a piece of furniture, or a door jam, or piece of trim – just remove and destroy the infected pieces.

If removal of the infected wood is not an option, the timber must be treated with insecticide injections.  Freezing is another way to destroy a colony in a piece of furniture. 

Cone Head Termites

Scientific name: Nasutitermes corniger

Conehead termites are relatively new on the scene they were discovered in the United States in 2001.  This termite is classified under the ‘drywood’ category because it does not live under the ground like the subterranean termite.  This invasive species was introduced into Florida and now lives in the southern part of the state.  Coneheads are native to the Caribbean and Central American tropical countries.


The conehead termite is named for the cone shape of their soldiers head, and soldiers make up 20-30% of the colony – which is a very large percentage – compared to 1 or 2 percent of subterranean or other drywood species.

The Conehead Termite forages on the ground like an ant and builds freestanding nests in trees, or on the ground, or shelters in mud tubes that it has built.  Soldiers who are used for species identification have a dark brown head with a yellowish body.  A distinctive cone or tear-drop shape head on the soldier caste will clearly identify them.  The alates of this species develop wings and become the future kings and queens of the colony.

Why Do Conehead Termite Soldiers Have Cone-Shaped Heads?

The head of conehead soldiers functions as a clever and highly effective squirt gun! Powerful muscles inside the head squeeze a gland that “shoots” a sticky spray from the tip of the soldiers’ pointed “nozzle” (formally termed the rostrum).

Soldier coneheads are blind, but their sophisticated chemical senses enable them to detect and precisely aim at termite enemies such as ants, lizards or even termites from another colony. They can spray their gummy goo (chemically very close to pine sap) further than an inch. The soldiers’ spray is not poisonous, just sticky, causing ant antennae and legs to cling together and thereby incapacitates recipients of the viscous splash. The smell of the compound recruits other soldiers to the scene of the battle; if the provocation continues, they deploy their squirt guns to further cover the surface of their opponent.

In addition to their key defensive role in a colony, conehead soldiers also serve as the lead “advance team” of scouts and organizers in their colony’s search for new food and foraging tunnel locations.

Coneheads are very small termites and grow to only 1/8” in length.  The swarmers have shiny black wings and take to flight after the first heavy spring rain in May, and swarms in great numbers.  One nest can release tens of thousand, and when in flight there are clouds of shiny black wings.

Conehead Termite vs Other Drywood Termites:

  • Distinct shape of the head
  • Wider and more extensive mud tunnels
  • Nests are built in the open – nests are large brown bumpy balls, most times attached to trees
  • More aggressive

The conehead termite munches on trees, shrubs, structural timber, paper products, fence posts, and rails – anything that contains cellulose.  If you should see a nest outside your home or the broad tunnels that the conehead makes you have an infestation.   The mud tunnels usually stretch from the nest to the feeding locations – which may be a pile of wood near your home or a dead or dying tree.

Inspecting your home and grounds will help prevent all manner of termites from infesting your property.  These are a few preventative measures you can take:

  • Keeping shrubs and trees trimmed at least 3-5 feet away from your home
  • Not using mulch around the foundation
  • Keeping firewood, scrap lumber, cardboard or any other cellulose-based materials as far as possible from your home.
  • Ensuring that gutters and downspouts direct water well away from home.

This new termite has invaded parts of Florida.  In the past, the USDA had categorized this bug as a pest and intercepted it at our ports, but the conehead termite has become established in Florida.

It is an aggressive insect and has a tremendous potential for survival.  Stopping these pests in their track is essential. If the conehead is allowed to survive it will cost homeowners a lot of money in property damage.

“There is a sense of urgency to act now to halt and hopefully eradicate this exotic species because if it spreads further and becomes irreversibly established in the United States, it could become a powerfully damaging, expensive, obnoxious and permanent pest. Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is leading this effort, with support from local governments and residents; pest management professionals, trade associations and manufacturers; and scientists.” – source.

When buying a home, it is your responsibility as the home purchaser to have it inspected for termites.  The seller of the home is not required to furnish a ‘termite letter’ from a termite control company.  Once the inspection is complete, and there is evidence of termites – it becomes the seller’s responsibility to have the home treated.  The FHA and VA are the only two lending institutions that require a ‘termite letter’ included in the closing documents.