What Is the Difference Between Drywood and Subterranean Termites?

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Termites are one of the main culprits of property and structural damages in homes. They come up from the soil in the ground and can crawl their way inside homes through cracks, wall gaps, and mud tubes without being noticed. Two of the common household pests are drywood and subterranean termites.

But what are the major differences between these two popular termite species? Drywood termites nest inside the wood that they’re infesting with very little need for water, while subterranean termites inhabit soils underground and require moisture for their survival. Another way to tell them apart is through the signs of infestation they leave behind — while frass is left behind by drywood termites, obvious wood damage and mud tubes are evidence of subterranean termites.

Drywood Termites vs. Subterranean Termites 

There are approximately 2,000 unique species of termites. Among them are Formosan termite, dampwood termite, conehead termite, and the most common household pests, the drywood and subterranean termites.

For an average homeowner, it may be hard to tell them apart from each other as they seem to look and act the same. These two varieties actually vary in shape, size, and behavior in termite activity. To help distinguish drywood and subterranean termites from each other, here are their main differences:

1. Drywood Termites 

As implied from its name, drywood termites infest wood habitats and areas with high levels of humidity. They’re largely located in southern states from North Carolina to coastal areas of California. The Southeastern drywood termite is the most common among its species. A swarm of drywood termites typically attacks wood structures, furniture, and even wood flooring. 

  1. Appearance — The average length of a drywood termite ranges between 1/4 inch to 3/8 inch long. They can be white or brown in color and may sometimes appear translucent. They have short legs, a thick waist, and a straight antenna which they use to detect the smell of wood. A drywood termite swarmer has wings that are useful for searching for a nesting location. These winged termites typically shed wings once they find a home.
  2. Nesting habit — One of their differentiating qualities is that they create nests inside the wood that they’re infesting, which in turn causes major damage to the property and structural foundation. Drywood termites don’t need water to survive. 

They eat cellulose which is found in wood which is why they like to build their nests in wooden structures in homes, fences, and trees. They can live with no contact with soil such as in attics, backboards, window frames, and other wooden structures. The peak season for drywood flying termites is usually in late spring and summer. 

  1. Infestation signs — A drywood termite colony may be hard to spot and they can go years of living in their nests in infested wood without being noticed. However, they do leave behind signs of their infestation. When settling into their new home, swarming termites shed their wings near the entry of their new habitat. 

They also like to chew on wood grain, creating and leaving termite droppings or fecal pellets called frass. They’re usually small and roundish in shape with the same color of the wood that the termites are nesting in. One other way to look for evidence of drywood termite infestation is to tap on the structure. When it makes a hollow and dull sound, it usually means that the termites have eaten their way inside and established their colony. 

2. Subterranean Termites 

Subterranean termites are considered one of the most destructive species in the U.S. Their hard, sharp jaws work like cutters and they can bite their way through small fragments of wood — eventually ruining a property’s foundation and causing them to collapse. They’re found in every region except Alaska and can cost millions of dollars in damage each year. 

They can be further classified into several types of termites: Eastern subterranean termite, Formosan subterranean termite, Western subterranean termite, dark Southeastern subterranean termite, light Southeastern subterranean termite, arid land subterranean termite, and the desert subterranean termite. 

  1. Appearance — Generally, subterranean termites can come in 1/8 inch or 3/8 inch in length. Their appearance may vary depending on their subspecies. For example, soldier termites are wingless and white in color with large jaws to defend the subterranean termite colony.

Worker termites have no wings, are cream in color, and are smaller in size as compared to soldiers. Meanwhile, the subterranean termite swarmers (alates) and reproductive termites (kings and queens) are dark brown to black with two pairs of flying wings. 

  1. Nesting habit — Unlike dry wood termites, they prefer dark and moist environments and make their nests underground. They create tunnels, also known as mud tubes, from pieces of mud and wood to allow them to forage safely for a food source. They need moisture for survival and need a nearby source of water from the soil. They may also pass through cracks and holes in concrete walls and hollow blocks.
  2. Infestation signs — Damaged wood such as the formation of a distinct honeycomb pattern or blisters in flooring is a common infestation sign of subterranean species. Swarmer termites may also shed their wings and leave them in piles on windowsills, spider webs, and corners in the home.

The most obvious sign of subterranean termite infestation is the presence of mud tubes which are usually dark and flattened in appearance. It may be difficult to detect them at first, but over time, mud tubes often extend to exposed surfaces and concrete foundations.

Drywood TermitesSubterranean Termites 
Appearance Can be white or brown in color with short legs, a thick waist, and an antenna Vary depending on their subspecies but are typically 1/8 inch to 3/8 inch in length and either white or dark brown in color 
Nesting habits Typically build their nests in dry wood structures Thrive in moisture-rich environments
Infestation signs Shedding of wings, presence of frass just outside their habitat, and a hollow sound when tapping atop structures Presence of mud tubes, obvious wood damage, and shedding of wings 

How to Get Rid of Termites 

The first step for termite control is to identify the reasons why they stay and breed inside homes. Like most pests, they’re constantly on the search for things necessary for their survival such as food, shelter (dark spaces), and water.

There are many popular commercial ways to help manage termite swarms at home. Two of the common termite treatment methods to eliminate them are termite bait stations and liquid termiticides.

1. Termite bait stations

Termite baiting, or termite traps, employs the use of food baits like wood, paper, or cellulose and is mixed with a toxic insecticide substance that kills termites. They’re strategically placed in areas with termite colony infestation, mostly below the ground. Some of the active ingredients in bait stations and most insecticides are diflubenzuron, hexaflumuron, hydramethylnon, lufenuron, and noviflumuron.

It attracts worker termites who are usually tasked to look for food for the entire colony. When they pick up food from the bait station, there’s a high chance that they’ll share it with the royal termites and soldiers until eventually all of them are poisoned. Bait stations are slow-acting and require to be monitored all year round.

2. Liquid treatments 

Liquid termiticide treatments are a type of barrier that prevents termites from entering indoors. It makes use of a long-lasting liquid chemical made of fipronil (an active insecticide belonging to the phenylpyrazole family) and is spread under the soil and around a property’s perimeter to block the entry of termites. Foraging termites who attempt to penetrate this will be repelled or killed instantly. They may also share the liquid with other members of the colony when they retreat, resulting in the complete elimination of the swarm. 

This type of termiticide may last for up to five years. It requires a special and trained termite killer to set up a trench around the perimeter of the home and apply the liquid treatment in it. To maintain its effectiveness, annual termite inspections help to ensure that no termites pass through the barrier.

3. Tent fumigation 

Termite tenting is a pest control technique that releases a fumigant or chemical gas (sulfuryl fluoride) over structures to kill termites. It’s usually performed by a team of pest management professionals to ensure effectiveness.

This process usually requires the house to be covered with a tent or tarps before the team releases the gas throughout the structure. The fumigant will seep through the cracks between the structures and reach inside the wood where termites usually reside. When the termites inhale the fumigant, it will affect their nervous system and exhaust their oxygen to cause their death.

Learn more: Termite Bait Stations Vs. Liquid Treatment: Which One Should You Choose?

Tips to Prevent Termites at Home 

As always, it pays to be prepared and set up preventive measures to avoid termite infestations from spiraling out of control. Here are some tips on how to better protect the home from termite damage:

Have annual termite inspections — Consult experts for regular checking for the presence of termites in small cracks and holes in the house. Early detection can help in mitigating termite activity. In some circumstances, these gaps where termites pass through may need to be sealed immediately to avoid further damage.

Investigate for leaks and unwanted moisture — Subterranean termites thrive in moist areas, and leaks in the home could create damp spots that can attract them. Regularly wipe or place sheets in crawl spaces and gaps or use a dehumidifier to control the temperature indoors.

Avoid storing wood — Drywood termites live inside wood. So as much as possible, keep firewood piles or mulch away from indoor spaces or the foundation. Check also wooden furniture or objects stored inside the home for signs of infestation. 

Learn more: How Do Termites Get Into Your House?

Protect Your Home From Termite Infestation With Pinnacle Pest Control 

Drywood and subterranean termites are two sources of termite problems in many households. While they mostly differ in their appearance and habits, it goes without saying that they both cause property and structural damage when left unmanaged at homes. Fortunately, the usage of treatments such as bait stations and liquid termiticides can solve these infestations easily. 

What also helps to look after termite breakouts is to have a dedicated team of pest control professionals. At Pinnacle Pest Control, we guarantee the safe and effective elimination of home termites. We use the most advanced tools and technology to control pest problems and guarantee that they’re removed for good. Call us now to inquire about our services and know how we can help you with your termite problem.

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