St. George & Southern Utah Pest Control Experts

411 on the Drywood Termite

By Eric Palmer March 3, 2022
With more than 3,000 known species of termite worldwide, they are among the most successful insects on the planet. Ants and termites make up over 50% of the insect biomass. That’s a staggering number! Termites alone are responsible for over 11% of atmospheric methane

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Termites of southern Utah are called the ‘silent destroyer’ for a good reason.

With more than 3,000 known species of termite worldwide, they are among the most successful insects on the planet. Between them, ants and termites make up over 50% of the insect biomass. That’s a staggering number! And termites alone are responsible for over 11% of atmospheric methane.

If this were not enough to cause concern, termites cost homeowners in the US billions of dollars a year in damage. And much of that financial loss is not covered by standard homeowner insurance.

Make no mistake, termites are a problem in Southern Utah. Termite services and termite protection makes up roughly 15% of Southwest Exterminators' annual revenue year to year. You owe it to yourself to find out more about this ‘silent destroyer’.

Why are Termites a Threat?

Termites are secretive insects. A home may shelter several colonies for five or more years before the homeowner is aware of their existence. A colony might consist of 2,000 to 5,000 individuals before it is discovered. Each of those termites will have been munching day and night on wood inside the house during that time. That can add up to a sizable amount of damage.

The damage can be structural. Beams, walls and floor supports can be dangerously weakened by termite attack.

Selling a house can be a challenge if a pre-sale inspection reveals a termite infestation.

It is worth bearing in mind that termites can be moved to a new location, such as your home, in infested wood without your knowledge. Check any furniture, picture frames or other wooden items before they are brought inside.

Termite Behaviour

Drywood termites are so-called because they get all the moisture they need from the wood they eat. They do not need any water source to thrive. They can live far above ground level, which is why they are often said to be eating a house from the top down.

Drywood termites are superbly adapted for conserving moisture and eating wood. They can reabsorb water in their gut and have developed a symbiotic relationship with various microbes to enable them to survive on the cellulose of wood. Drywood termites are unique among termites in having mouthparts strengthened with zinc to enable them to chomp through the tougher dry wood.

How to detect a Drywood Termite infestation

While it is possible to spot signs of a termite attack, you should be aware that the visible signs often only manifest themselves years after the colony has been established. Annual professional inspections are the only reliable way to detect an infestation.

However, the following should alert you to a possible problem:

Drywood termites typically eject their droppings or frass from small holes in the eating chambers. These droppings will often accumulate in small mounds on the floor below the holes. The frass is quite distinctive and a trained pest controller will identify the termite species from the grass.

The frass of Drywood termites looks like sand or small particles of sawdust. Some anobiid beetles also eject frass as they eat wood, so frass alone is not a completely reliable indicator.

Other signs to look out for are bubbling or peeling paint, or a hollow sound when you tap on a wooden panel or wall. You may even hear the termites eating inside the wall if you have exceptional hearing!

After heavy rains, some termites take to the air to start new colonies. A characteristic of Drywood termites is that they shed their wings when they land. If you find cast-off wings around your home, it is a warning that Drywood termites have landed nearby.

The cast-off wings, as well as being a sign of nearby termites, are part of the complex life cycle that makes termites such a worrying pest.

The lifecycle of a Drywood termite

Drywood termites are members of the Kalotermitid family of insects. This means they are social insects, with a king and queen but it also means they do not go through a complete metamorphosis. They start as eggs, become nymphs, and then adults.

The nymphs will develop certain characteristics as needed by the colony and these can change if the situation demands it. They may become one of three types: a pseudergate (or false worker), a soldier, or a reproductive. How the termite develops is controlled by chemical signals (pheromones) produced by the king or queen.

Unlike other termite species, Drywood termites have a flexible caste system. There isn’t a separate worker class and all the work is done by nymphs. These duties involve caring for eggs, feeding the soldiers and reproductives, as well as maintaining the nest.

The queen produces large quantities of eggs when she fully matures, normally about a year after establishing the colony. She may live as long as 10 years or more and when she dies her place is taken by a replacement queen. Other termites in the colony normally live around 2 years.

Colony Expansion

When the colony is about four years old, the queen will release pheromones to encourage reproductives to become alates or winged swarmers. This marks the expansion phase of the colony.

When the time is right – normally after rains and a rise in temperature – the alates take to the air. They will fly off to start new colonies. As they are not strong flyers, these new colonies may be inside the same house.

Unfortunately, St. George has the ideal climate for Drywood termites. The maintained level of warm-to-hot provides a prolonged swarming season.

What can you do?

There are practical steps you can take to minimize the risk of a termite infestation. These include ensuring that firewood or piles of wood are kept at least 20 feet from your house, painting all exposed wood, and sealing any gaps to prevent termite entry.

However, as mentioned above, termites are known as the ‘silent destroyer’ for a good reason. They can and do survive for years in houses and businesses without detection. During this time, they can cause extensive and expensive damage.

If you see one termite you can be sure there are hundreds, if not thousands, nearby!

The only sure way to keep safe from termites is to use a professional pest assassin.

For more information about termites and inspections, be sure to ask your residential pest assassins at Southwest Exterminators on their next visit.

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