Termites are small white, tan, or black insects that can cause severe destruction to wooden buildings. Over 2,300 species of termites, most of them tropical, have been described by entomologists. In the U.S., we have only four groups of termites of economic importance: Subterranean, Dry wood, Damp wood, and Powderpost Termites. The Subterranean and Dry wood are the two types of termites that cause damage to buildings in Southern California.
What are Termites?
Termites are social insects that live in highly organized colonies. Like many insects, termites have an egg stage, an immature stage, and an adult stage. There are three main types of adults colony members: reproductives, workers, and soldiers. When the colony is several years old and relatively large, it may produce another form of an adult termite called a “swarmer.” Swarmers are the termite’s way of sending out new kings and queens to start colonies.
Swarmers are the most visible form of termites. These termites can be confused with ants that also swarm in the spring. Swarming ants, in contrast, have elbowed antennae, a narrow waist, and front wings that are longer than the back wings. Swarming termites have straight antennae, a thick waist, and wings that are the same length.
Signs of Termites
If you see these signs in your house, you may have termites:
- Sawdust-like piles near wood surfaces or elongated, pellet-shaped droppings.
- Dirt or mud-like tubes or trails on outside walls, wooden beams or in
crawl spaces. The mud tubes are typically about the diameter of a pencil, but sometimes can be thicker.
- Darkening or blistering of wooden structural members (like windowsills). Wood in damaged areas is typically thin, may sound hollow, and easily punctured with a knife or screwdriver.
- Swarming winged insects inside the structure, especially in the spring or fall. Swarms of termites emerging from trees stumps, woodpiles, and other locations in the yard do not necessarily mean the house is infested. However, if winged termites are seen emerging from the base of a foundation wall or adjoining porches and patios, there’s a good chance the house is also infested.
- People often confuse winged termites with ants which may swarm at the same time of year. Termites have straight antennae, uniform waists and wings of equal size. Ants have elbowed antennae, constricted waists and forewings that are longer than the hind wings.