Country Home Inspection & TERMITE, Inc.
250 Main Street #805, Ben Lomond, CA 95005
PH: (831) 609-6017 Fax: (831) 609 - 6037
Termites are small, white, tan, or black insects that can cause severe destruction to
Although many people think termites have only negative impacts, in nature they make
many positive contributions to the world's ecosystems. Their greatest contribution is the
role they play in recycling wood and plant material. Their tunneling efforts also help to
ensure that soils are porous, contain nutrients, and are healthy enough to support plant
growth. Termites are very important in the Sahara Desert where their activity helps to
reclaim soils damaged by drying heat and wind and the overgrazing by livestock.
Termites become a problem when they consume structural lumber. Each year thousands
of housing units in the United States require treatment for the control of termites.
Termites may also damage utility poles and other wooden structures. Termite pests in
California include drywood, dampwood, and subterranean species. These pests cause
serious damage to wooden structures and posts and may also attack stored food,
books, and household furniture.
Termites are social and can form large nests or colonies, consisting of very different
looking individuals (castes). Physically the largest individual is the queen. Her function is
to lay eggs, sometimes thousands in a single day. A king is always by her side. Other
individuals have large heads with powerful jaws, or a bulb-like head that squirts liquid.
These individuals are called soldiers. But the largest group of termites in a colony is the
workers. They toil long hours tending the queen, building the nest, or gathering food.
While other species of social insects have workers, termites are unique among insects in
that workers can be male or female. Surprisingly, termites can be long-lived: queens and
kings can live for decades while individual workers can survive for several years.
Signs of termite infestation include swarming of winged forms in fall and spring and
evidence of tunneling in wood. Darkening or blistering of wooden structural members is
another indication of an infestation; wood in damaged areas is typically thin and easily
punctured with a knife or screwdriver.
There are more than 2,500 different types of termites in the world and at least 17
different types of termites in California. However, most of this diversity can be lumped
into four distinct groups: dampwood, drywood, subterranean, and mound builders.
Mound builders do not occur in North America, but the other three species do.
Dampwood termites are very limited in their distribution: most species are found only in
California and the Pacific Northwest. Dampwood termites derive their name from the fact
that they live and feed in very moist wood, especially in stumps and fallen trees on the
forest floor. Drywood termites are common on most continents and can survive in very
dry conditions, even in dead wood in deserts. They do not require contact with moisture
or soil. Subterranean termites are very numerous in many parts of the world and live and
breed in soil, sometimes many feet deep. Lastly, the mound builders are capable of
building earthen towers 25 feet or more in height. Mounds may be located either in the
soil or in trees, and where they occur in Africa, Australia, Southeast Asia, and parts of
South America, they are very noticeable and remarkable.
Termites are sometimes confused with winged forms of ants, which also leave their
underground nests in large numbers to establish new colonies and swarm in a manner
similar to that of reproductive stages of termites. However, ants and termites can be
distinguished by checking three features: antennae, wings, and waist.
Dampwood termites are fairly common in central and northern coastal areas in
California. They nest in wood buried in the ground, although contact with the ground is
not necessary when infested wood is high in moisture. Because of their high moisture
requirements, dampwood termites most often are found in cool, humid areas along the
coast and are typical pests of beach houses. Winged reproductives typically swarm
between July and October, but it is not unusual to see them at other times of the year.
Dampwood termite winged reproductives (sometimes called swarmers) are attracted to
Dampwood termites produce distinctive fecal pellets that are rounded at both ends,
elongate, and lack the clear longitudinal ridges common to drywood termite pellets. Final
confirmation of pellet identification may require help from an expert.
Drywood termites infest dry, undecayed wood, including structural lumber as well as
dead limbs of native trees and shade and orchard trees, utility poles, posts, and lumber
in storage. From these areas, winged reproductives seasonally migrate to nearby
buildings and other structures usually on sunny days during fall months. Drywood
termites are most prevalent in southern California (including the desert areas), but also
occur along most coastal regions and in the Central Valley.
Drywood termites have a low moisture requirement and can tolerate dry conditions for
prolonged periods. They remain entirely above ground and do not connect their nests to
the soil. Piles of their fecal pellets, which are distinctive in appearance, may be a clue to
their presence. The fecal pellets are elongate (about 3/100 inch long) with rounded
ends and have six flattened or roundly depressed surfaces separated by six longitudinal
ridges. They vary considerably in color, but appear granular and salt and pepperlike in
color and appearance.
Winged adults of western drywood termites are dark brown with smoky black wings and
have a reddish brown head and thorax; wing veins are black. These insects are
noticeably larger than subterranean termites.
Subterranean termites require moist environments. To satisfy this need, they usually
nest in or near the soil and maintain some connection with the soil through tunnels in
wood or through shelter tubes they construct. These shelter tubes are made of soil with
bits of wood or even plasterboard (drywall). Much of the damage they cause occurs in
foundation and structural support wood. Because of the moisture requirements of
subterranean termites, they are often found in wood that has wood rot.
The western subterranean termite, Reticulitermes hesperus, is the most destructive
termite found in California. Reproductive winged forms of subterranean termites are dark
brown to brownish black, with brownish gray wings. On warm, sunny days following fall or
sometimes spring rains, swarms of reproductives may be seen. Soldiers are wingless
with white bodies and pale yellow heads. Their long, narrow heads have no eyes.
Workers are slightly smaller than reproductives, wingless, and have a shorter head than
soldiers; their color is similar to that of soldiers. In the desert areas of California,
Heterotermes aureus, is the most destructive species of subterranean termites. Another
destructive species in this group, the Formosan subterranean termite, Coptotermes
formosanus, is now in California but restricted to a small area near San Diego. Unlike the
western subterranean termite, Formosan subterranean termites swarm at dusk and are
attracted to lights.