Types of termites (A guide to different kinds of termites)


There are over 40 different termite species and there are three main types of termites found in the United States.

Each termite species has unique behaviors that impact what part of the country they live in, where they build their colonies and the damage they cause to buildings, utility poles, fences, boats, and many other objects. Every termite species in the U.S. falls into one of the three main types–dampwood, drywood, or subterranean.

Video explaining the three main types of termites that damage homes
Contents show

Dampwood Termites

Dampwood termites live in wood with high moisture content. Most dampwood termites do not require contact with the soil.

Video showing several dampwood worker termites and a dampwood soldier termite traversing their gallery.

Desert dampwood termites

Located in the southwestern United States, from western Texas to southern California, these can be found as far north as Las Vegas.

Desert dampwood termite behavior

Surprisingly, this desert termite – which is found mainly in arid climates – prefers to eat damp wood. It targets wood that is below ground, including shrub or tree roots, fence posts and door frames. This termite even feeds on live trees, which have moisture content in the form of sap.Desert dampwood termite colonies are small. There are usually less than 1,500 termites in each colony.

Desert dampwood termite damage

The desert dampwood termite is rarely found in homes. However, it can cause damage to homes when it finds wet wood, which is typically associated with a leak or improper grading around a home’s foundation.

Florida dampwood termites

Florida Dampwood termites are located in the southern half of Florida and in the Florida Keys.

Florida dampwood termite behavior

Florida dampwood termites require high humidity and access to water. They tend to nest in damp logs and untreated posts. However, some also can find suitable conditions and plentiful food in live trees.

Florida dampwood termite damage

These termites rarely damage homes because homes often do not provide adequate moisture. However, Florida dampwood termites may infest homes that offer regular access to water, such as through roof leaks or sprinkler systems.

If these Florida termites infest a home, the colony can usually be controlled by removing the water source. If the moisture problem cannot be corrected, targeted treatment may be required to ensure effective control.

Nevada dampwood termites

The Nevada dampwood termite is found in the mountains of northern Nevada, Idaho, and Montana, as well as the Sierra Nevada region, the north coast of California, Oregon, and Washington.

Nevada dampwood termite behavior

There are three Zootermopsis species of termites, and they are sometimes called rotten wood termites because they attack wood with very high moisture content. These termites often nest in buried wood, but soil contact is not required.

Nevada dampwood termites behave similarly to Pacific dampwood termites and even live in many of the same places.

Nevada dampwood termite damage

Occasionally, Nevada Dampwood termites infest homes and can cause significant damage. Experts typically find infestations near fence posts, wood siding in contact with the ground and leaks close to the ground (such as downspouts). However, the moisture content of housing structures is usually too low to interest this termite. Also, these Nevada termites are not common in highly populated areas.

When they do infest homes, moisture control should be your priority. Targeted treatments can be used to control a colony more quickly or if the moisture issue cannot be resolved adequately.

Pacific dampwood termites

The Pacific dampwood termite is found in California, Oregon, and Washington. These are most common in damp, coastal areas and are the largest, most destructive dampwoodtermites.

Pacific dampwood termite behavior

As part of the Hodotermitidae family, the Pacific dampwood termite is sometimes referred to as a rottenwood termite because it attacks very moist wood.

Pacific dampwood termite damage

Dampwood termites can cause significant damage. They rarely infest sound wood. However, once a Pacific dampwood termite colony has infested wood with high moisture content, it can move into adjoining areas of dry wood.

This Pacific termite does not require soil contact. However, wood-to-ground contact in a home’s construction often leads to dampwood infestations. Homes built over or near water, or with wood buried in the ground, are more likely to be infested.

Drywood Termites

Drywood termites typically live in wood, such as dead trees, structural timbers or hardwood floors. Drywood termites do not require contact with soil. Some drywoodspecies can cause significant damage to homes.

Video showing how to identify drywood termites

Southeastern drywood termites

Mostly in the southeastern states of the United States, these termites live in relatively drywood compared to their subterranean counterparts.

Southeastern drywood termites are typically found from South Carolina to Texas and south. They are also found on the islands east of the United States, such as the Bahamas. While southeastern drywood termites are more commonly found in these areas, they can be easily transported in infested furniture including picture frames. Drywood termites have even been found in New England after a move from Florida.

Tropical rough-headed drywood termites

Tropical rough-headed drywood termites are found in Hawaii, Florida and the coastal areas of the Southeast, as well as parts of Texas.

Tropical rough-headed drywood termite behavior

Colonies can contain more than 1,000 termites. It takes approximately five years for a colony to mature, and a single colony can exist for more than ten years. Colonies have been found living in close proximity to each other – with multiple colonies supported by a single door or wall frame.

As a drywood termite, they do not require soil contact. They can remain completely hidden in the wood they infest, except for swarming alates.

Tropical rough-headed drywood termite damage

They are known to infest homes, buildings, boxes and wooden furniture items.

Tropical smooth-headed drywood termites

The smooth-headed drywood termite is found only in the Florida peninsula.

Tropical smooth-headed drywood behavior

Their fecal pellets are very small and these little mounds of termite droppings may be the only sign of a termite infestation.

Tropical smooth-headed drywood damage

The tropical smooth-headed drywood termite typically inhabits dead trees and logs. As with most drywood termites, it does not require soil contact. Although it is a drywood termite, this tropical termite requires some moisture content in the wood. Therefore, it rarely attacks homes or buildings, which typically have drier wood.

Western smooth-headed drywood termites

The western drywood termite is found primarily in California and Arizona. There are some western drywood termites in the coastal areas of Washington, Oregon, and Florida, with other infestations occasionally located outside these regions. When western drywood termites are occasionally found in areas they are not native to, they are usually traced to shipments of furniture or wood that originated in an area where these termites are common.

Smooth-headed drywood termite behavior

Western drywood termites eat and nest in fences, utility poles, and the dead portions of many types of trees, as well as the structural wood inside homes and pieces of furniture.

Smooth-headed drywood termite damage

In the southwestern U.S., the western drywood termite is the most common termite found in man-made structures. Western drywood termites seem particularly attracted to new homes that are in the process of being framed. They also are a threat to wooden furniture.

Subterranean Termites

Subterranean species live in the soil and build the largest nests of any insect in the United States. These nests are connected via mud tubes to food sources, such as trees, fence posts, and structural timbers in houses. Subterranean termites, which can live in every state except Alaska, are responsible for the majority of termite damage in this country.

Video explaining subterranean termite identification and castes

Arid land subterranean termites

The arid-land subterranean termite is located in sunny, dry areas from the Pacific Coast to Indiana, and from lower California to Texas and Mississippi.

Arid land subterranean termite behavior

The arid-land subterranean termites require soil contact for moisture. They attack a variety of wooden structures, including untreated posts and utility poles, and can damage plants’ root systems.

Arid land subterranean termites damage

Arid-land termites can damage homes and businesses. This species tends to favor areas with open, sunny, drier conditions, which typically are not as densely populated with homes.

When arid-land termites infest buildings, colonies usually focus on areas that are damaged by water. Since most homes have dry, structurally sound timbers, this termite is not considered a major structural pest.

Dark-Southeastern subterranean termites

The dark southeastern subterranean termite is a common termite found mostly in the eastern part of the United States. This smaller termite is found from New England south to Florida and west to Texas. In parts of the south, the dark southeastern subterranean termite is very common and is a significant structural termite pest.

Dark Southeastern subterranean termite behavior

If there is adequate moisture in a structure, this termite may live above ground and have no need to contact the soil. This is especially true when there are roof or plumbing leaks. This is one reason why it is important to properly maintain a structure.

Dark Southeastern subterranean termite damage

These termites are usually found in wood with over 20% moisture so keeping wood dry will reduce the chances of infestation. In areas with high humidity and little air movement, a dehumidifier may help to keep the wood dry.

Treatment to control this termite can be via liquid soil treatment, wood treatment, or via baits. A combination of these methods may also be used depending on the structure, preference of the pest control company, and needs of the customer.

Desert subterranean termites

The desert subterranean termite is found in southeastern California and southern Arizona.

Desert subterranean termite behavior

The desert subterranean termite feeds on many types of wood, including structural timbers in homes, utility poles, dead cactus trees and other desert trees. This insect frequently builds mud tubes, including mud tubes that drop from the ceiling. These tubes are typically yellowish and lighter in color than tubes made by the arid-land subterranean termite, which inhabits the same geographical areas.

Desert subterranean termite damage

Desert subterranean termites are limited to the hottest, driest regions in Arizona and California. This species causes very little damage to homes and buildings.

Eastern Subterranean

Eastern subterranean termites are found in three-quarters of the continental United States. They can be found from Maine to Florida and from Montana to the Gulf Coast in Texas. Despite being called Eastern subterranean termites, they live in the Midwest and western United States too.

Eastern subterranean termite behavior

Eastern subterranean termites live in colonies that range from 60,000 to more than 1 million termites. These termites attack dead wood and occasionally infest living trees or shrubs, though this behavior is more common in Canada than in the U.S.

Damage from Eastern subterranean termites

This eastern subterranean termite can attack man-made structures. Because it is the most widely distributed termite in the United States, it is likely responsible for the greatest amount of damage to homes and businesses.

Because this termite is subterranean in nature, a home is most vulnerable where there is direct wood-to-ground contact (a common entry point) or where moisture problems exist.

Formosan termites

Formosan termites can be found throughout most of the states in the southern part of the United States.

Formosan termite behavior

Although the Formosan termite is a subterranean termite, it does not require constant soil contact. These termites are known to build aboveground nests, called cartons, in locations where there is an optimal temperature and moisture source. These nests can be located in walls and attics.

Formosan termite damage

Formosan termites are the most destructive termite species in the United States, as they form the largest colonies of any species. These colonies can contain millions of termites and can cause extensive damage in relatively short periods of time. In ideal conditions like those found in Hawaii, experts estimate they can cause major structural damage to a home in only six months.

Formosan termite damage can be found in many places, from homes, buildings, and boats to crops, dead trees, and even live trees. Formosan termites also can infest wooden railroad ties and are thought to spread through the transport of recycled railroad ties often used in landscaping. Pest control experts recommend examining wood for signs of termites before using it in home or garden projects.

Western subterranean termites

The western subterranean termite is found in the western third of the United States, from Washington to southern California and into Idaho and Nevada.

Western subterranean termite behavior

Western subterranean termites require soil contact for moisture. Their nests are often located in buried logs, and they frequently attack wooden building materials that offer food and protection from the sometimes brutal heat.

Western subterranean termite damage

Western subterranean termites are known to infest homes and buildings. These western termites are the most destructive termites in California. (The Formosan termite is the most aggressive termite in California, but it is not widespread in the state).

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