Dry wood vs. Dampwood vs. Subterranean vs. Formosan: What To Know About These Termite Types

For most homeowners, termites are exactly what it is: elongated insects that munch through the wood. But the fact is that this pest comes in different types that have varying physical features, behavior, and other characteristics. Why does it matter to know what termites look like? Well, every type munches different wood and need a certain treatment approach. The pest control company has to determine what type of termite is gnawing your home before they come up with an extermination plan.

You’re not really the one to diagnose what termites you have at home. Still, it makes a difference to know one at first sight.

DRYWOOD

what termites look like

Physical features

Among the termite types, dry wood is the most common. This has a cylindrical, brown-colored body with compound eyes. This type has a darker abdomen compared to the other types that make it easy to recognize. Drywood termites are the ultimate swarmers and they can spread fast in adjacent areas. They are good flyers and the easiest when it comes to what termites look like.

This type is typically 3/8” to 1” long and has six legs.  Compared to other types, dry wood termites have a smaller and slimmer body.

Colony Behavior

Drywood colonies come with soldiers, nymphs, queens, and kings. Unlike the other types that need sustenance for moisture, this type can survive without the dampness. This explains where the type got its “dry wood” name.

An average colony of dry wood termites is a bit small in number as it can congregate in thousands. They love to swarm during the spring season when the environment is dry but not too hot. This type is a bit sneaky as they fly through houses during the night. They are attracted to light including those shiny windows and glass doors.

Reproduction

Like what’s said earlier, dry wood termites are swarmers. The future kings and queens will mate while they have its wings. Once they find a suitable place to reproduce, they will molt and lay eggs. The good thing about dry wood termites is that they are slow producers than other types. Still, they can inflict serious damage if not discovered early on.

Harborage

This type of termites loves to stay on wood framings, as it’s usually dry and less disturbed. If your window or door frames are producing dust-like frass, there’s high chance that it’s housing dry wood mites. Drywood mites don’t stay or get in touch with the soil as it’s far from their nature. If you’re going to look for a possible infestation of this type, check your elevated wooden beams and furniture. Knowing what termites look like will also be a crucial factor.

Also, dry wood termites harbor on trees, firewood, and other dead wood.

Diet

This termite type can munch through wood, paper, fabric, and plastic that contains plant-based cellulose.  These mites prefer soft springwood and one thing that you can check for confirmation is the damage that follows the wood grain.

Extent of damage

Although dry wood termites only have a small colony, they are one of the most destructive. They don’t create patterns on the wood so it’s harder to notice the damage especially if it’s coated in paint. It will actually take them years to grow but the already present workers will start munching through the available food source.  What’s alarming is that these termites can survive even without the presence of moisture. They can eat through wood even in the heat of the summer.

DAMPWOOD

what termites look like

Physical features

Dampwood mites are the opposite of what termites look like in the dry wood type. They need a continuous supply of moisture to survive, thus explaining its name. They have a larger body than the dry wood type and the color can range from whitish to dark brown. It’s actually the largest termite in North America.

The soldiers could grow up to 3/4 of an inch while the nymphs are smaller at 5/8 of an inch which bears the cream color.

Colony Behavior

The common behavior of dampwood termites is it congregate to food sources with enough dampness. They also swarm during spring but they can survive all throughout the year. They don’t create shelter tubes or mud tubes so it might be a bit challenging to locate them. They can stay within the wood their foraging their whole life as long as it supplies them the needed moisture. The tricky part is they use their frass to seal the harborage and maintain the humidity level.

The bad news is that dampwood termites are very hideous and it can remain undiscovered for years. They also don’t have the worker caste as the nymphs do all the necessary work of supplying the colony of food. These types are easy to recognize in case you’re thinking what termites look like.

Reproduction

Dampwood is also swarmers but they might not be good flyers like how dry wood mites. They usually start building their nest and colony during the month of January to October. This type doesn’t usually harbor in the soil so they would likely reproduce inside the wood they’re infesting.

Harborage

The good thing about damp wood termites is that they don’t infest wood on structures except if it’s always exposed to wetness due to pipe or roof leaks. This termite type isn’t common across the country as they are usually found in places like Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and California among others. Dampwood mites usually love dead tree branches and stumps in your yard.

Some sub-species could be living on dead portions of a living tree so better watch out.

Diet

Basically, dampwood termites eat damp wood and they munch against the wood grain. They can also eat wooden structures near pipes and roofs as these are prone to leaks and dampness. Dampwood mites can produce colored frass depending on the wood they are gnawing. They eat summer and spring wood so it might be easy for you to recognize the type even if you don’t know what termites look like.

Extent of damage

Since dampwood termites are less likely present in structures, it can inflict less damage than the dry wood type. Just beware of the wooden structures aside your house like the pool deck or porch that catches dampness from rain and wind.

SUBTERRANEAN

what termites look like

Physical features

Among all the types, the subterranean ones have the most recognizable physical features. It has a cream color that’s a bit transparent and a pincher mandible for the soldier members of the colony. They also have elongated heads and may come in different sub-species.

The workers from this type have thinner outer skin that’s why it needs to be away from direct light. Meanwhile, the queen termite has a size of more than 20 times the workers and it can live for 25 years and continuously lay eggs during its lifetime.

Colony Behavior

The reason why this type is called subterranean is that the mites used to harbor beneath the soil. They also create mud tubes as a way of protecting their fragile exoskeleton from drying on the sun and low humidity levels.

Another thing is that the colony could have more than one egg-laying female. This means that subterranean termites can expand their colony faster than any other type except Formosan.

Reproduction

Basically, the queen lays the eggs but there are supplementary female members of the colony that can also reproduce. This is alarming as your property might be surrounded by a massive network in no time.

Harborage

Subterranean termites are present under the ground but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to forage on structures. Most of the time, they build a nest outside the yard then construct mud tubes going to the house where the cellulose-rich food source is present. They will munch and bring the food to the colony. At worst cases, the network beneath the soil could be as large as 150 feet in radius. That’s what termites look like when their harborage is undisturbed.

The good thing is that their presence is easier to detect. Mud tubes are the number one sign as well as the mound in your yard.

Diet

Subterranean mites can eat almost anything with cellulose. It can be a pile of paper or the wooden beams in the damp attic or basement. Like dampwood mites, this type relies on moisture so it will be easier for you to exterminate it or starve the colony.

Extent of damage

Since the colony can expand faster than any other type, subterranean types are destructive. They can munch a block of wood in a matter of days given that there are a large number of workers present. Subterranean mites can thrive all year round as long as the harborage has enough security from harsh elements like flooding and too much heat.

FORMOSAN

what termites look like

Physical features

The Formosan type has a big similarity to Subterranean mites and it might be hard to distinguish what termites look like. Formosans have smaller pincher mandibles and a stout body as well. It’s not as elongated as the last type but you shouldn’t underestimate its gnawing abilities.

The swarmers of this type are also smaller and it can only grow as much as half an inch. Most of the colony members have brownish cream color on which the soldiers bear the pincher.

Colony Behavior

The workers count most of the colony members so it means a very alarming scenario on the extent of damage they can incur. These members of the caste are tasked to take care of the eggs and provide the colony enough food supply.

On the other hand, the soldiers act as the first lines of defense against predators. However, they have a soft body that can be easily munched or crushed by a natural enemy.

Reproduction

Like most termites, the swarmers are the first members of the colony responsible for reproduction. But once the colony has been established, there would be hundreds of other supplementary members that will lay eggs. They multiply faster than the subterranean termites and the colony can reach millions of members in a few months. Just imagine what termites look like in that speed of reproduction.

Even if the queen dies, which can live up to 10 years, the other members will keep laying eggs as the king termite will continue mating on its lifetime.

Harborage

Formosans are low maintenance when it comes to harborage. They can thrive on walls, crawlspaces, and other spots that are hidden from the course of daily living. With this, a colony of millions can hide through walls and wood beams without a hint. The good thing, though, is that Formosan termites aren’t always found in all locations. They usually propagate in places like Hawaii, South and North Carolina, and states along the Gulf.

Diet

They eat almost every wood as long as it’s not treated with termiticides. This type is the most dreaded among wood-rich structures, as they will usually target indoor wood materials. They are also fast and hefty eaters!

Extent of damage

Formosans are highly invasive and destructive as it already cost the U.S. billions of dollars in damaged properties. In fact, they can inflict serious structural damage to a house for as fast as six months. One factor that makes this worse is their very large colony that will continue expanding while the present workers munch on the property. The result is exponential termite damage.

What’s worse is that Formosan termites eat the inside of the wood. The damage will only be revealed once the mites reached the wood’s outer surface. It might be too late to salvage the affected area of the property.

The first step in identifying the type is knowing what termites look like. These four common types differ in appearance and behavior. Still, it’s hard to recognize the difference so it would be best to call a pest control company to have a thorough inspection. Are you having problems recognizing the termite type in your house? Let’s discuss it in the comment section below!