DAMPWOOD TERMITE IDENTIFICATION
Several species of dampwood termites, sometimes called “rotten wood” termites, occur in the United States. Those of greatest significance are found in the Pacific Coast states, northern Nevada, Idaho and Montana. The economic hazard from this group is less than that of subterranean or drywood termites, however, dampwood termites can cause serious damage, especially in association with decayed wood.
Dampwood termites are noticeably larger than subterranean termites and live in damp and rotting wood and mulch. The nymphs and soldiers may be 1/2 to 3/4 inches in length, and the alates or swarmers up to 1 inch long including their wings. The soldiers are fierce-looking insects with large flattened brown reddish heads and elongated black mandibles. Nymphs are white to cream-colored, with a darker abdomen.
DAMPWOOD TERMITE LIFE STAGES
Although swarming may occur throughout the year, dampwood termites most often swarm during the summer. Colonies of dampwood termites consist of three primary casts: the reproductives (king, queen, and unmated winged forms called alates), soldiers and false workers.
Upon landing and pairing, the reproductives evacuate a chamber in the wood. The opening is then closed and cemented with liquid feces. The king and queen mate within two weeks and 14-18 days later, small bean-shaped eggs are laid. The queen lays 6-22 eggs with a second batch laid the following spring. Colonies are generally small, numbering only 50-60 individuals from a single colony.
DAMPWOOD TERMITE THREATS
Although they are not known to bite humans, dampwood termites and other termite species cause a collective $5 billion in property damage each year. Entirely wood-dwelling, requiring zero contact with soil, dampwood termites do not create shelter tubes like subterranean termites. Instead, these termites infest wood with high moisture content and eat across the grain of wood, leaving wood looking smooth and clean.
Because of their moisture requirements, infestations of dampwood termites are associated with sources of free water. These include wood-to-soil contact, wood exposed to roof or plumbing leaks, wooden siding and shrubs exposed to rainfall or sprinkler irrigation, and wet firewood or wooden furniture brought into the home. Once established, dampwood termite activity expands into sound wood and relatively dry wood. They prefer to work upwards, infesting homes from the foundation to the roof rafters.
DAMPWOD TERMITE EXTERMINATION AND CONTROL
Dampwood termites hide themselves to prevent moisture loss, and are difficult to detect. The most obvious sign of termite activity in the home is the presence of winged termite swarmers, which look like flying ants. Swarmers are usually active on warm evenings in summer or fall, especially after a rain.
Follow these tips to prevent dampwood termites from infesting your property:
- All lumber, especially second-hand lumber, should be carefully inspected for an infestation before being used for construction purposes.
- Make construction adjustments to minimize contact with wood and soil.
- Eliminate sources of moisture by diverting water away from the home’s foundation.
- Repair leaking faucets, water pipes, damaged sprinkler heads and AC units on the outside of the home as dampwood termites are often drawn to these areas.
- Keep firewood raised and off the ground and stored at least 20 feet away from the house.
- To prevent dampwood termites indoors, reduce humidity by properly ventilating crawl spaces, attics and basements.
Removal of the infested wood or furniture is the quickest and easiest way to handle a localized infestation. Small pieces of wood containing live termites can be soaked in soapy water to kill the insects. Larger pieces can be taken to a landfill or natural area where the decomposing abilities of the termites are helpful.