Several species and types of termites are grouped together and are generally called drywood termites. They differ from subterranean termites in that they live within the wood in relatively small colonies.
Drywood termites do not require an external source of water, getting all they need from the water trapped in the wood. The wood drywood termites inhabit provides for all their nutrition; the wood is their food and it contains all the water they need. Obviously, they will choose wood that has some residual water in it. They can get by if the moisture content is 2.5% to 3%. However, they prefer wood that is as high as 10% moisture, and they will be attracted to wood near a leaky pipe or water heater.
Each colony begins when a Queen and King, called alates, leave their home nest, perhaps as part of a swarm. Upon landing near a wood source, these alates will lose their wings. The pair will find a break or joint in the wood where they enter and mate. They may even cover their entrance with some feces called “frass.” At first, the colony is small and virtually undetectable. The alates care for the few eggs that represent the beginning of the colony. The eggs hatch into larvae and then with care and feeding, they become tiny workers.
In a given established colony most of the termites will be workers various stages of development and size. After several small batches of eggs hatching and developing, these workers will be taking care of the alates. They will do this by eating their fill of wood, letting the protazoa in their stomachs digest the wood, and then regurgitating the meal for the benefit of the sexual alates. Examination of a maturing colony will reveal that almost all the visible termites are workers. They are white, soft-skinned, and blind.
After some time of maturity, some of the workers will become soldiers, combative termites equipped with strong weapons, their mandibles or jaws, to defend against predators, such as ants. Drywood termites are often distinguished by relatively few soldiers, as compared to other types of termites. After all, they do not have to leave their home to go to work and their exposure is limited. For years, they can remain nearly undetectable by humans, ants or other enemies.
Drywood termites will continue to inhabit the same general piece of wood, or adjacent pieces of wood, where the alates first established themselves. It may be a beam, a stud, a piece of flooring, or an item of furniture. Given a choice they are likely to choose wood with the most inherent water in the wood. In any event, they don’t have to go out to get water. There is no trail to and from the wood where the colony is located.
Drywood termites may spread across the country as furniture is transported from one place to another. Until they have eaten away much of the particular piece of wood that they inhabit, they may be hard to detect. A warped look on the “skin” of the wood may be the first sign of infestation. By the time that observation is made, a large percentage of the wood may have been devoured.
Signs of Drywood Termites
One sign of the presence of drywood termites is a tiny pile of dust. The colony will poke a tiny circular hole in the wall of their home so that they can kick out little termite pellets of the fecal material, called “frass.” This is often the only detectable sign of the presence of the termites.
Hollow Sounding Wood
Wood that has a dull, hollow sound when tapped should be examined closely. Careful probing with something sharp might reveal the presence of tunnels and galleries which the drywood termites have hollowed our as they fed upon the wood.