The Difference Between Termites and Ants
If you want to know how to identify termites you’re probably already aware that there are various types of termites and they can often be mistaken for carpenter and fire ants because both of these ant species have winged swarms and swarm usually during spring and occasionally throughout the year. Termites only swarm during spring and fall.
Subterranean termites loose their wings soon after swarming to make their descent easier. You may find piles of wings in various places around your house, though mainly by window sills and other areas of sunlight . Winged ants do not lose their wings and can fly quite well.
This page will help you determine which type of termite you may have in your home so that we can assist you with eliminating these pests that generally swarm between February starting in the south east states until mid June in the northern states.
The termites listed below may be workers, soldiers or swarmers and in most circumstances only swarm 1 to 2 times a year. Unless you can identify and find the location of these termites you will be one of many unlucky residents that are left only to find dead swarmers or wings.
How to Identify Termite Species
The Drywood Termite
This type of termite is common especially here in California. They are also swarmers and differ from subterranean termites mainly by color. Drywood’s are usually red and have blackish wings and can be easily confused with florida carpenter ants. Drywood termites live in low moisture type climates and live or feed and nest in undecayed wood. They do not require contact with soil to live and can cause serious damage to most any wooden object. These types of termites are generally found along the narrow coast line from south Florida to the northern Pacific coast of California.
The nest is chosen and created by a pair of male and female termites. To create and protect the nest the hole in which they enter is sealed off with a brownish cement-like material. This whole on average is about 1/8 of an inch and behind this sealed area that has been plugged off they excavate a chamber for the queen to lay her first eggs. These first eggs once hatched become what are called nymphs. These nymphs become Soldiers and reproductive’s and don’t have a distinct caste system like subterranean termites do.
The swarming season brings nymphs that make round holes 1/16 to 1/8 inch in diameter and the reproductive’s leave the wood and the holes are plugged in the same way as the entrance holes. Small tunnels connect large chambers that cut across the grain of the wood. Small openings in the wood are used for Excreta Aden and other debris to help keep the tunnels used by the colony clean. This Excretal debris known as (frass) are a distinguishing characteristic of non-subterranean termites. Six concave surfaces on the sides make these pellets distinct with their rounded edges as opposed to other pests who leave rounded convex surfaces, such as that of the beetle.
A simple crack in any wood surface can be an entrance for these pests and can be as simple as a space between two pieces of wood even underneath roofing or sheathing paper. Their ability to live in wood without soil allows them to be carried inside of furniture from place to place, even in regions where they are not common.
Wood of all kinds are prey for drywood termites such as; structural timbers, woodwork in buildings, furniture and most any wooden object can be infested and damaged. Though these types of termites are less injurious than subterranean termites which can have colonies as large as 500,00 these drywood termites can and will destroy a home and other wooden objects with a colony as small as 10,000.
The most destructive of these termites is the dark western termite, Incisitermes mino (Hagen). They spread from California to Arizona and Utah and can infest a structure from foundation to roof.
The southern drywood termites or the light western drywood termite, Marginitermes hubbardi, is also found in California to Arizona. Higher pressure and drier conditions are the preferred conditions of the light western drywood termite and have similar habits to the western drywood termite.
The Dampwood Termite
Dampwood termites typically infest damp and decaying timber. This species is commonly found in the Pacific Coast states, such as Montana, Idaho, Northern Nevada, Oregon, Northern California and Washington. Other but less damaging species are found in areas of the Southwest USA and Southern Florida.
Dampwood termites are usually found to infest felled timber, dead trees and stumps. One species may be found in dead limbs of living standing trees. Dampwood termites are not subterranean termites except for the desert dampwood. They do not require contact with damp ground with the exception of the desert dampwood.
Dampwood termites are generally much larger than subterranean termites. The swarmers may be up to 1” in length, including their wings. The soldiers of dampwood termites (left) have a large reddish-brown head and large multi-toothed mandibles (pincers). Dampwood termites contain various species, and are known to “swarm” setting up new nests during the year from January to October.
Dampwood termites do not create shelter tubes as with subterranean termites. The appearance of timber damaged by dampwood termites can be varied but they always eat across the grain, consuming both spring and summerwood. While doing this, they make a series of chambers or galleries connected by tunnels whose walls are smooth as though they are finely ‘sandpapered’.
The Powderpost Termite
Mainly found in the humid coastal areas of the southern states from Virginia to Florida and through the desert of the southwest as well as along the Pacific coast to northern California and Hawaii. These termites are more commonly known as Crytotermes and “furniture” termites due to attacking timber type furniture.
They infest the structural timbers of buildings, furniture and other dry timbers having less than 12% timber moisture content. This termite species require no ground contact and obtain their required moisture intake from the timber they infest. They have many of the same characteristics of Drywood termites though they eat at a smaller rate with a fewer amount of termites in a colony such as a few thousand and have several colonies in the same building.
The Subterranean Termite
There are signs you can look for in the event that you cannot find evidence of swarming. Mud tunneling is the most obvious sign of subterranean termite infestation. They travel through tubes within their mud shelters that connect to the colony and constructed of dirt and an acid substance in which is the workers secret. These shelters protect the termites from predators such as ants, and also provides them with humidity which is the second most important element that subterranean termites need besides the light that these tubes provide for the blind worker and soldier termites. The light from the tubes provides a highway to and from their food sources.
These mud shelter packs are usually very hard packed and only get harder as they get older and larger. The size of these tubes varies from as small as a pen diameter to several inches wide. These tubes are usually found on the sides of the foundation walls and can also emerge from sheetrock walls and even in ceilings. They can even enter through plumbing, around toilets, showers and tubs. Subterranean termites should be taken VERY seriously and if you think you have them you should act quickly they will not just disappear or go away. Your entire home could be destroyed in as little as a year and a half. Seek out termite control and treatment solutions right away if you’re experiencing signs of termites!