Termites live in colonies, which means they live and work together to gather food and raise their young (larvae). And in the same way that children and parents have different roles and responsibilities in their homes, termites have different jobs in their colonies. These jobs determine when and why certain termites leave the nest to start new colonies. Where these termites form a colony depends on the individual termite species and its ability to survive in drier or cooler climates.
Subterranean termites live in the soil underground.
This termite species prefers to eat soft, spring wood fiber, which means wood damaged by subterranean termites has a honeycombed appearance, with only the grain left behind.
Subterranean termites are found in every state in the U.S., except Alaska. Subterranean termite infestations are most common in warmer climates, particularly in southern and southeastern states.
Just as the name suggests, drywood termites live in dry wood. Unlike many other termite species, they do not need contact with the soil to survive. This termite species can tolerate dry conditions for long periods of time, since it receives all of the moisture it needs from the wood it consumes and the metabolism it uses to digest the wood.
Drywood termites commonly target the wood in your home’s structural timbers, framing, furniture and hardwood flooring. Wood consumed by drywood termites appears very clean and smooth – as if the wood had been smoothed by sand paper.
Drywood termites can infest several different areas in your home, forming separate colonies in your basement, attic or porch. They are usually found in warmer climates that do not reach freezing temperatures in the winter. However, this species of termite can survive in northern climates in homes with air conditioning.
Formosan termites are the most destructive species of subterranean termite in the United States. Formosan termites may be distinguished from other subterranean termite species by their slightly larger size and yellowish brown bodies. While subterranean termites typically require soil contact to receive the moisture they need to survive, Formosan termites have the ability to form cartons (nests inside the colony made of chewed wood, soil and undigested cellulose) to retain water for the colony until they can find a more permanent water source.
Formosan termite colonies are typically larger than subterranean colonies, numbering up to hundreds of thousands of members. It is this size difference – not the speed of Formosan termites’ eating habits – that allows them to cause significantly more severe damage than other species of termites.
This species of subterranean termite can be found across the southern United States, from California to Louisiana to Florida and Georgia.
Dampwood termites live only in wood with high moisture content. Most dampwood termite species do not require contact with the soil to survive. Dampwood termites are often found in moist or decaying wood in logs, stumps and dead trees. They may infest buildings, utility poles and wood piles if these structures have wood-to-ground contact or areas moistened by water leaks – however, infestations in structures are rare. Dampwood termites leave few external signs of wood damage, with the amount and pattern of damage depending on the degree of wood decay. Dampwood termites are visibly larger than other termite species. There are several species of dampwood termites in the United States, the majority of which live in the Pacific coast and Southwest regions, and from central to southern Florida.