Termite society is anything but democratic. Termites are born into one of three castes that will determine their appearance and their job within the colony. Each little termite larvae will eventually develop into a worker, soldier or alates.
Workers perform much of the labor for the colony, including digging tunnels. They’re also the servants of the colony, feeding and grooming the members of the other castes. Soldiers are in charge of security. They have large heads and usually large mandibles. The mandibles make them fearsome warriors but also get in the way of eating, which is why the worker termites must feed them. The smallest caste is the alates, who are dark in color and will eventually grow wings so that they can travel and eventually start their own colonies.
At the top of the termite period is the queen, who lays all the eggs that will eventually become workers, soldiers and alates. While worker and soldier termites live usually only live up to two years, a queen can live for a decade or more.
When alates mature, they grow wings and engage in mating. This usually happens in the springtime for subterranean termites and from August to November for drywood termites. Once the mating is complete, alates “swarm”. They fly away from the colony and search out a new place to start their own colonies. Once a couple finds a nice new feeding ground, they shed their wings and become the king and queen of the colony. The queen will lay eggs, which will be the start of a new colony. The swarm is the primary mechanism for the spread of termite infestations.
Subterranean termites live underground, building large and elaborate systems of mud tunnels through which they come to the surface and find food sources. They can tolerate cold well and are found throughout the United States, including the chilly northern states. They especially like wet or moist conditions.
Subterranean termites tend to be the most active and “swarm” in the spring, but they can also become active after a rain. The magic formula for subterranean termites is wood plus moisture plus contact with the ground. They tend to be found near air conditioning units, in woodpiles, crawlspaces, or in areas of your wooden deck where water collects. Subterranean termites can also get inside your home. If you notice mud tunnels, that is almost a sure sign of a subterranean termite infestation.
Drywood termites like warm climates, which limits them to the southern part of the United States. They are prevalent throughout California, including San Diego County, Riverside County and Orange County. Drywood termites prefer to live inside the wood they consume. They are likely to take up residence within walls or furniture. Drywood termites tend to swarm between August and November.
Drywood termite infestations may be detected if you notice “frass”, which looks like a loose pile of pellets near where the termites are feeding. By the time you notice evidence of drywood termites, it is likely that the infestation is widespread. In most instances, you will need to call in a professional extermination company to eliminate the infestation.
As you might have guessed from their name, dampwood termites have a particular fondness for damp conditions. Unlike subterranean termites, they don’t have to stay underground or in contact with soil. Dampwood termites are often found near water leaks, and in moist, decaying wood. If you have damp or rotting wooden furniture or flooring in your home, these items could be fair game for dampwood termites. Though dampwood termites are typically larger than other termites species, they are less common and tend to cause less damage than drywood and subterranean termites.
It is important for an extermination company to correctly identify the type of termite infesting a property. Subterranean and drywood termites have different nesting behaviors and moisture requirements, which can affect how best to get rid of them.