Termite Frequently Asked Questions

QUESTION 1: Just what is a termite?

Termites are small, pale to brownish black in color, insects that feed on wood. The opening picture of this webpage shows a picture of drywood termites, common to California (see Univ. Toronto link for more on what other termites look like for other areas of the United States). Termites' closest insect relatives are cockroaches! Termites have been in north America for more than 20 million years. There are at least 50 different kinds (species) of termites in North America. However, most can be lumped into one of three ecological groups; dampwood, drywood, and subterranean (see UC Davis Pest Note link for more termite ecological groups). Dampwood termites are common in fallen logs in forests and are uncommon as structural pests. Dampwood termites are our largest species of termite in north America (more half an inch). Subterranean termites are the most common ecological group of termites encountered. They are our smallest ecological group of termite, less than a quarter inch in length. Subterranean termites form large nests in the ground and forage out to attack wood using shelter tubes (also called mudtubes) that they construct. These tubes are constructed from the soil, bits of chewed wood, and excrement from termites. Drywood termites are opposite in their ecology compared to subterranean termites; they do not require soil contact. Drywood termites attack wood above soil level. Drywood termites are larger than subterranean termites but smaller than dampwood termites; about half an inch in size (see Urban Entomology, Washington State, and UC Davis Pest Notes links for more on termite damage).