Dampwood termites distinguish themselves from subterranean termites and drywood termites by being larger and having a greater need for water. Among the dampwood termites there exists a higher percentage of soldiers. All these differences and many others relate to their habitat.
In the United States dampwood termites exist primarily in the forests of the Pacific Coast states (the Pacific Dampwood Termite) and in southern Florida, places where there is a ready supply of permanently soaked wood. Colonies establish themselves in felled timber, dead trees and stumps, and in the dead branches of living trees. Usually these termites do not nest in the ground, but directly in the wood.
World wide, the large dampwood termites may constitute a majority of the total world termite population. Anywhere there is a constant supply of moist wood, such as found in tropical jungles and temperate rain forests, will be a good place for these termites to thrive.
Dampwood Termite Lifecycle
Typically a pair of winged termite alates will shed their wings and choose a crevice in a damp log or some similar place. They seal their “honeymoon cottage” with fecal material, called frass, and in a few weeks the Queen lays her first eggs. When the eggs hatch into larvae the King and Queen take care of them. It may be a matter of years before the successive batches of eggs provide enough individuals to constitute a full-functioning colony with soldiers and workers who take care of food gathering while the alates specialize in reproduction.
Dampwood termites appear not to have separate castes involving a destiny to perform just one role. Eggs hatch to become larvae which need care from the workers. When larvae mature to nymphs, they become workers and remain in that role as they continue to grow and for much of their lives. These nymphs are cream-colored and may grow to be about ½ inch in length. As they mature, these termites become larger and more proficient in their tasks.
As they gain full size a worker dampwood termite may become a soldier. Many soldiers are needed for protection, because in the rain forest there are many ants and other predators to attack the individual termites and the termite colony. Dampwood termite soldiers in the Pacific Northwest may be ¾ inch long with the head and jaws providing about 1/3 of the length. The head is reddish brown to black and the body is cream-colored.
Eventually, the dampwood termites may further develop into alates, winged termites, male and female which can produce eggs. In mid-summer the alates in a colony may swarm and fly away. A pair, male and female, of these alates may then locate a suitable piece of dead wood where they can start a new colony.
Dampwood Termite Moisture Requirements
The moisture requirements of the dampwood termites dictate where they live and how large their colony will become. Dwellings where there are roof leaks are especially vulnerable. Some of their colonies may be found in dead portions of living trees. These termites appear to limit their feeding to the dead xylem tissues while avoiding the living cambium. The galleries created by the termites eating the dead wood often become partially filled with frass. When such galleries are exposed, they often give off a strong fecal odor.
Dampwood Termite Prevention
While the dampwood termites serve a useful purpose in the wild forest, their presence in human structures causes problems. By way of prevention, control of the moisture content of wood is important. Wood-to-soil contact must be prevented in the construction. Leaking pipes can cause a lot of problems. Roof leakage, even minor seepage can be especially bad. Basements and crawl spaces are vulnerable. Chemical treatment of the wood used in construction in rainy areas is advised.
The Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides has summarized prevention strategies as follows:
“To control dampwood termites eliminate the moist wood in which these termites thrive. Repair leaky pipes and roofs, make sure the area under your house is adequately ventilated, and remove scrap wood that is near to your house. In addition, be sure that there is at least a foot between the wood portions of your house and the ground. These steps will keep your house in good repair while they minimize damage from dampwood termites.”