General Information

  • Termites are small insects.

  • Termites are social and live in colonies.

  • Colors are generally white, tan, or black.

  • They can cause severe destruction to wooden structures.

  • Termites have two sets of wings.

  • Termites belong to the insect order Isopteran (Latin term).

  • Isoptera means "equal wing".

  • The front set of wings on a reproductive termite is similar in size and shape to the hind set.

Species of Termites

  • There are more than 2,500 different types of termites in the world.

  • There are approximately 17 different types of termites in California.

  • The most common species are: Drywood, Dampwood and Subterranean.

Drywood Termites

  • Drywood termites may infest dry, undecayed wood, including structural lumber, as well as dead utility poles, posts, and lumber in storage.

  • Winged reproductives generally migrate to nearby buildings and other structures.

  • Migration usually occurs on sunny days during fall months.

  • They do not require contact with moisture or soil.

  • They remain entirely above ground and do not connect their nests to the soil.

  • They leave piles of fecal pellets which are elongate (about 3/100 inch long) with rounded ends and have six flattened or roundly depressed surfaces separated by six longitudinal ridges.

  • Pellets appear granular and are generally salt and pepper like in color and appearance.

  • Drywood termites are most prevalent in southern California (including the desert areas), but also occur along most coastal regions and in the Central Valley.

  • Drywoods are generally dark brown with smoky black wings and have a reddish brown head and thorax; wing veins are black.

  • Drywood termites are noticeably larger than subterranean termites.


Dampwood termites

  • They derive their name from the fact that they live and feed in very moist wood, often in stumps and fallen trees in the forest.

  • 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 lights.

  • Dampwood termites produce distinctive fecal pellets that are rounded at both ends, elongate, and lack the clear longitudinal ridges common to drywood termite pellets.

  • Winged reproductives are dark brown with brown wings.

  • Soldiers have a flattened brown or yellowish brown head with elongated black or dark brown mandibles.

  • Nymphs are cream colored with a characteristic spotted abdominal pattern caused by food in their intestines.

Subterranean Termites

  • They live and breed in soil, sometimes many feet deep.

  • Subterranean termites require moist environments.

  • 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.

  • Swarming often occurs on sunny days following fall or sometimes spring rains.

  • 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.

Castes and Functions

  • Termites have different castes and functions


  • The largest termite in the colony is the queen.

  • The queen's function is to lay eggs (often thousands of eggs in a single day).

  • A queen can live for decades.


  • A king is always with a Queen.

  • A king can live for decades.


  • Soldiers have large heads with powerful jaws,

  • They may have a bulblike head that squirts liquid.


  • Largest group of termites in the colony

  • They work to take care of the queen

  • They build the nest and gather food

  • They can be male or female

  • Lifespan can be several years


  • Termite infestations are most likely to occur in the spring in the fall and spring.

  • Signs of infestations include swarming of winged insects and evidence of tunneling in wood.

  • Darkening or blistering of wood in another indication of infestations.

  • Wood often becomes thin and easily punctured with any sharp metal object.

Life Cycle

  • Most termite species swarm in late summer or fall, although spring swarms are not uncommon for subterranean and drywood termites.

  • New kings and queens are winged during their early adult life but lose their wings after dispersing from their original colony.

  • An infestation begins when a mated pair finds a suitable nesting site near or in wood and constructs a small chamber, which they enter and seal.

  • Soon afterward, the female begins egg laying, and both the king and queen feed the young on predigested food until they are able to feed themselves.

  • Most species of termites have microscopic, one-celled animals called protozoa within their intestines that help in converting wood (cellulose) into food for the colony.

  • Once workers and nymphs are produced, the king and queen are fed by the workers and cease feeding on wood.

  • Termites go through incomplete metamorphosis with egg, nymph, and adult stages.

  • Nymphs resemble adults but are smaller and are the most numerous stage in the colony.

  • They also groom and feed one another and other colony members.

Treatment and Control

  • Treatment and control techniques vary depending on the species causing an infestation.

  • Multiple colonies of the same species of termite or more than one species of termite can infest a building.

  • Subterranean, and less frequently, dampwood termites can have nests at or near ground level, so control methods for these can be similar.

  • Drywood termites nest above ground and require different treatment methods than dampwood and subterranean termites.

  • Control methods include: Excluding termites from the building by physical and chemical means; Using mechanical and chemical methods to destroy existing colonies.


  • Building design may contribute to termite invasion.

  • Keep all sub-structural wood at least 12 inches above the soil beneath the building.

  • Identify and correct other structural deficiencies that attract or promote termite infestations.

  • Stucco siding that reaches the ground promotes termite infestations.

  • Keep attic and foundation areas well ventilated and dry.

  • Use screening over attic vents and seal other openings, such as knotholes and cracks, to discourage the entry of winged drywood termites.

  • Look for and remove tree stumps, stored lumber, untreated fence posts, and buried scrap wood near the structure that may attract termites.

  • Construct sand barriers for subterranean termite control.

  • Sand with particle sizes in the range of 10 to 16 mesh is used to replace soil around the foundation of a building and sometimes in the crawl space.

  • Subterranean termites are unable to construct their tunnels through the sand and therefore cannot invade wooden structures resting on the foundation.

  • Stainless steel screening may also be available soon as a physical barrier for subterranean termites.