Western Subterranean Termite (Scientific name = Reticulitermes hesperus)
This is the most common termite. In addition to being the most common, the Western Subterranean Termite is the most destructive, and the most advanced termite that we find in California, including Alameda County, Contra Costa County and Solano County.
Signs of a Subterranean Termite Infestation
Swarms of small, winged creatures following rains (particularly in the early winter or late fall seasons, though swarms can sometimes happen with late spring rains) are a common sign of a subterranean termite infestation.
Assessing the termite damage, or suspected termite damage can also provide insight into whether you have a subterranean termite infestation. Because the Western Subterranean Termite feeds on soft parts of wood, you typically will not see any damage to harder grain woods from this type of termite.
Subterranean termite tunnels are moist, so wood that is darkened or blistered is often associated with a subterranean termite infestation. Wood damaged by subterranean termites is usually thin and can be poked through easily with a screwdriver or kitchen knife.
With some basic knowledge about subterranean termite types and their physical characteristics, it becomes easier to recognize a subterranean termite swarm and to differentiate it from other swarms, like a winged ant swarm.
Subterranean Termite vs. Winged Ant – Visual Cues
Subterranean termites: hindwings nearly as long as forewings
Winged ants: relatively short hindwings
Subterranean termites: abdomen joined to thorax
Winged ants: thin waist joins abdomen to the thorax.
How do you spot Western Subterranean Termites?
Worker Subterranean Termites are wingless termites. They are small (a bit smaller than this species’ reproductive termites) with a short head (more so than the soldier) with whitish bodies and light yellow heads.
Soldier Subterranean Termites have no eyes. Their coloring is similar to workers. A soldier termite’s head is narrow, long, and large, relative to its body size.
Reproductive Winged Subterranean Termites are brownish-black, or a dark brown color. They have wings that are brown/gray in color. Not counting the wings, the reproductive winged subterranean termite measures between 3/16 of an inch to a quarter of an inch long.
Where are Subterranean Termites found?
Subterranean termites are found in moist environments where they nest in the soil. By building and using tunnels or tubes through wood, subterranean termites stay connected to the soil and the moisture that they need.
What kinds of shelter tubes do subterranean termites make?
The subterranean termite forms the following four kinds of tubes: working tubes, suspended tubes (also called “drop tubes”), migratory tubes (also called “exploratory tubes”) and swarming tubes.
Made out of soil bound with liquid fecal material and a substance that resembles glue, working tubes connect the termite soil nests to wood substructures. These tubes allow worker termites to travel safely back and forth, particularly during dry periods, when the worker termites must access the moisture found in the soil nests to stay alive.
Coming from wood substructures and traveling down into the soil nests, suspended tubes are constructed of wood particles. They are more lightly colored than other migratory tubes and working tubes. Drop tubes (another term for suspended tubes) allow worker termites more routes to get back to the moist soil and the nests where they need to replenish their moisture.
Migratory tubes, though they come from the soil, do not typically attach to wood structures like the other tubes do. Likely, migratory tubes are abandoned worker tubes, subterranean termite tubes that were left when the termites were not able to reach the food they were searching for.
Understood best as tubes used for shelter, reproductive subterranean termites use swarming tubes, which come from the soil, to exit the nest during swarming flights. Swarming tubes can be large, climbing their way through a large wood structure.
Why does the Western Subterranean Termite cause so much damage?
Western subterranean termites cause severe damage because they collect in a home’s foundation and in the wood that serves as structural support. The termite colonies are vast and complex, made up of worker termites, soldiers and reproductive termites that nest in the soil, making the colony difficult both to detect and to control.