Arizona termites can be divided into four sub groups:Desert termites
Arizona desert termites are the most common subterranean termite found in Arizona.
Arizona desert termites are usually found on or around desert plants including cactus, Palm trees and wood fences in subdivisions. While desert termites don’t normally invade homes they are often found in crawl spaces of manufactured homes. Left unchecked Desert termites can cause severe structural damage and are known for damaging wood utility poles.
Identification of Swarmers and Soldiers: The Desert subterranean is a pale yellowish brown and a fontanelle (front gland pore) is indistinct or absent.
The wings have two prominent hardened veins in the front portion. The wing membrane is translucent, almost colorless, with a few barely visible hairs. The front wing is larger than the hind wing.
The head of the Arizona desert termite soldier is rectangular in shape, the length about twice the width. It also has a fontanelle (front gland pore) on the forehead. The body (pronotum) is flat and almost as wide as the head.
The Desert termite soldiers have long powerful pointed jaws (mandibles) that are slender, fairly straight but slightly curved inward at the tip. This contrasts with the mandibles of other Phoenix area termites that are thick and curved.
Identification of wood damage: Arizona desert termites prefer to eat the springwood in timbers, generally avoiding the lignin in summerwood. Damaged timber appears honeycombed, with soil in the galleries.
The Arizona desert termite is less dependent on moisture and decay than other Phoenix area termites. It will readily attack dry, sound wood. A typical sign of infestation is the presence of “drop tubes” coming from the ceiling rafters and sheetrock/plasterboard and/or holes in the sheetrock plugged with feces.
Arizona desert termites prefer to forage in shaded soil or areas made wet by irrigation.
They will readily construct mud shelter tubes up, over or around solid objects in order to reach a timber food source. These mud-tubes are slender, solidly built and pale yellow to tan in color.
The mud-tubes are more circular in cross section than those of other Phoenix area subterranean termites whose mud-tubes are flattened in cross section and dirty light brown in color.
Arizona desert termites most often swarm at night during the rainy season, from July to September, usually after during our monsoon season or after rainfalls. The moist soil provides the nuptial Desert termite swarmers with the best chance of surviving and developing a new colony. The male and female pair off and enter the soil where they excavate a cavity or cell.
A well-developed mature colony of Arizona desert termites may contain more than 300,000 termites, including a large number of secondary reproductive’s (queens) that can readily break off from the primary colony to form separate colonies. Arizona desert termites commonly have a foraging territory of up to almost an acre. An acre of land in the Phoenix area can hold 15-20 different colonies.
Arizona desert termites require only a tiny gap, about 1/32", in concrete flooring or mortar joints in brick walls to gain access to the wall, roofing and other structural timbers in a building.
The Arizona desert termite can penetrate cracks in concrete and masonry that are too narrow for foragers of other Phoenix area termite species to enter.
Arizona desert termites often build their mud-shelter tubes as free standing tubes that "drop down" from rafters, ceilings and subfloor areas under buildings.
It is by far the most common and destructive termite in Arizona.
In Arizona locations below 4,000 feet the Desert termite can swarm between January and August. Above 4,000 feet, they usually swarm in June and July.
The swarmers are about 1/3” long with wings, and 1/5” long without wings. Their wings are almost whitish, with brown veins in the fore area. They are dark brown to black in color. The soldiers are 1/4" long, with jaws that are nearly straight. They resemble the jaws of the desert termite but are slightly thicker.
Biology and Habits: The Arizona desert termite has been found living in sand dunes, as well as at altitudes above 7,000 feet along the Mogollon Rim.
It is also found in moist river low lands and along streams and canyons, but essentially it is a desert or prairie species. Arizona desert termites naturally occur in deserts where they attack creosote and greasewood bushes as well as buildings and other timber structures.Subterranean termites
Subterranean termites in Arizona (Reticulitermes) is our native species and are the most destructive of all Phoenix area termites. They cause millions of dollars in damage each year across Arizona and have a negative impact on a family's most valuable possession - the home.
Reproductive termite males and females can be winged (primary) or wingless (secondary or tertiary). Females of each can lay eggs and produce offspring. The bodies of winged primary reproductive are, also called swarmers or alates, vary by species from coal black to pale yellow-brown. Wings may be pale or smoky gray to brown and have distinct vein patterns used in identification. Arizona Reticulitermes swarmer termites are about 1/4 to 3/8 inch long.
Secondary and tertiary reproductive’s live within the colony and are white to cream-colored. These termites form a backup for the primary queen and may replace her if she is injured or dies. Arizona termites mate within the colony and lay viable eggs. If supplementary reproductive’s and worker termites become isolated from the main colony, they can establish a new sub-colony.
Termite workers (psuedergates) make up the largest number of individuals within a colony and do all the work. They are wingless, white to creamy white and 1/4 to 3/8 inch long. They forage for food, feed the other castes, groom the queen and maintain and build tunnels and shelter tubes. Their mouthparts are very hard and adapted for chewing through wood or other cellulose materials. The worker caste is responsible for the damage that makes termites an economically important problem.
Soldiers resemble workers in color and general appearance, except they have well-developed brownish heads with strong mandibles or jaws. Soldiers defend the colony against invaders, primarily ants and other termites. They cannot forage for food or feed themselves, and they depend on the workers to care for them.
Phoenix area ants and termites often swarm at about the same time of year but control measures for each differ greatly. It is therefore, important to be able to distinguish between swarming termites and ants.
After 2 to 4 years a subterranean termite colony is mature and produces "swarmers" (winged primary reproductives). Arizona termite swarmers typically leave their colony in large numbers during the Arizona monsoon season. Environmental factors such as heat, light, and moisture trigger the emergence of swarmers, with each species having its own set of requirements. The number of swarmers produced is proportional to the age and size of the colony.
Both male and female swarmers fly from the colony and travel short distances. Termites are weak fliers and must rely on wind currents to carry them to new habitats. Only a small percentage of swarmers survive to develop colonies; most fall prey to birds, toads, insects and other predators, and many die from dehydration or injury.
Eggs are not deposited continuously. In fact, only a few hundred are deposited during the first year. As the young queen grows larger, she lays more eggs. The king and queen care for the young larvae that hatch from the eggs because they cannot care for themselves. The larvae then molt into pseudergate workers, which in turn, can, molt into pre soldiers or brachypterous nymphs (with wing pads). These nymphs will eventually molt to become primary reproductives. The colony stabilizes when the queen reaches her maximum egg production. If the queen dies, supplemental reproductive’s take over the queen's duties.
The maximum size of a termite colony depends on location, food availability and environmental conditions, especially temperature and moisture. Some colonies remain small; others contain up to several thousand individuals. New colonies form when groups of termites become isolated from the main colony and establish sub-colonies. This is called "colony splitting" or "budding." These sub-colonies may exist independently or reunite with the main colony.
Arizona subterranean termites get their nutrition from wood and other material containing cellulose. Paper, cotton, burlap or other plant products often are actively consumed by termites. Sometimes termites will even tunnel into the dead heartwood or pith of living plants. Most species of subterranean termites cannot digest cellulose directly and depend on single celled protozoans and bacteria living in their hindguts to help digest the cellulose. Digested cellulose is then shared with the developing larvae, other workers, soldiers and reproductives.
Termites are attracted to certain odors of wood-decaying fungi that make the wood more palatable and easier to penetrate. In some instances, the fungi provide a source of nitrogen in the termite diet.
Moisture is important to subterranean termites as they have very little resistance to dehydration. To survive, termites must maintain contact with the soil (their primary source of moisture) or other above-ground moisture sources, such as defective plumbing, leaky roofs, leaks from air conditioning condensers or poorly maintained gutters.
Arizona subterranean termites also must protect themselves from temperature extremes and attack by ants and other insects. Termites that forage for food above ground protect themselves with shelter tubes or "mud tubes". Worker termites build shelter tubes from particles of soil or wood and bits of debris held together by salivary and fecal secretions. Mud tubes may be thinly constructed or can be large with thick walls to accommodate many termites moving vertically between the soil and their food source.
Subterranean termites also transport moist soil into the structures they infest. The presence of shelter tubes and mud within galleries is used to identify termite damaged wood. Shelter tubes are often used to bridge across masonry or other objects, allowing termites access to a food source (wood) above ground. Inspecting of structures for termite damage may identify these tubes which indicate an ongoing infestation.
Dead trees and brush provide a natural food source for foraging Arizona subterranean termites. When natural vegetation is cleared and houses are built, termites often switch to feeding on wooden structures. Termites enter buildings through wood that is in direct contact with the soil and by building shelter tubes over or through cracks in foundations. Any cellulose material in direct contact with the soil, such as trees, vines or plumbing fixtures, can serve as an avenue of infestation.
Active termite infestations can be difficult to detect. To find out if a home is infested, the structure should be inspected for evidence of swarmers (including wings or dead termites in windows), mud tubes or damaged wood inside or around a structure
Swarmers: Generally, the first sign of infestation homeowners notice is swarming reproductives on windowsills or near indoor lights. Swarming termites inside the house usually indicate an active infestation in the structure. Termite wings may be found on window sills or stuck to cobwebs indoors. Though swarmers outdoors are a natural phenomenon, they indicate that termites are present and may be attacking nearby structures.
Mud tubes: Mud shelter tubes on crawl space piers, utility penetrations or on foundation walls and slabs are a sign of termite infestation. Termite shelter tubes can blend in well with the soil or concrete, making them difficult to see. To make inspecting the home for termites easier, prune vegetation away from the house walls. The soil line should be several inches below the top of slabs or foundation walls. An inspector should look for mud tubes carefully along cracks, in corners or where the top of the foundation is close to the ground. A screwdriver is useful to break open suspected termite tubes and detect live termites.
Wood damage often is not found initially, but is positive indication of a current or past termite infestation. Wherever wood comes in contact with the soil there is a high risk for termite entry. Carefully examine any wood that thuds or sounds dull when struck by a screwdriver or hammer. Probing suspected areas with sharp instrument such as a screwdriver or an ice pick will often disclose termite galleries or damage.
Arizona subterranean termite damage is usually confined to the soft, spring-growth of wood. Termite tunnels and galleries tend to follow the wood grain and are lined with mud or may have a pale, spotted appearance resulting from soft fecal material plastered on tunnel surfaces. Moisture sources may cause wood decay and can encourage subterranean termite infestation. Deterioration caused by wood-destroying fungi can be confused with termite damage.
The Western drywood termite accounts for most of the drywood termite damage in Arizona.
Drywood termites are often distributed by human activity, commonly by transporting infested furniture, picture frames, and wood to new areas. It has failed to become established in such areas outside its normal southern and mostly coastal range.
Identification of Swarmers and Soldiers: Swarmers are about 1/2" long including wings their wings are 3/8" long. The head and pronotum of the swarmer is an orange brown and its abdomen is dark brown. The front wing has 3 dark, heavily hardened veins in the front portion.
The forehead of the soldier slopes down gradually from top of head, head flattened to slightly rounded in side view, and head orange to reddish brown with the eye spot whitish. Soldiers have mandibles with unequal number of teeth on each member of pair, and antenna with the third segment greatly enlarged and club-like.
Identification of Timber Damage: Although the colony development is slow, severe structural damage may still be caused by the presence of multiple-colonies. Drywood termites eat across the wood grain and create chambers, or galleries connected by tunnels.
Their gallery and tunnel walls are velvety smooth, and no soil is present. Generally, there are fecal pellets present. They are hard, less than 1/32" long, elongate-oval with rounded ends. One of the unusual distinctive signs of their fecal pellets is that they have 6 concave sides.
Evidence of infestation include swarmers, shed wings, piles of pellets, termite plugs that seal all openings in infested wood, and surface blisters caused by older, enlarged galleries very close to the wood surface.
Biology and Habits: Drywood termites are considered non-subterranean termites, as they do not live in the ground, require no ground contact, and do not build mud shelter tubes.
They are more likely to be in a structure made completely of wood with poor workmanship demonstrated by poorly fitted corner joints. The termites typically inter the ends of wood and seldom enter the sides of the section in question.
Their colonies are located in the wood they eat and are generally small in size when compared to subterranean termite colonies. The colony usually numbers about 3,000 individuals after over 10 to15 years. A distinctive indication is no presence of a worker caste and the nymphs perform all tasks typically done by workers.
After the mating flight, they seek cracks or knotholes in nearby wood and chew a small tunnel which they close then excavating a chamber after which they mate. After 3 year to 4 years the colony may consist of up to 1,000 members.
The first swarmers may be released when the colony is approximately 4 years old. Swarming typically takes place about midday on sunny, warm (80°F) days, with the peak of the swarm occurring shortly after a sudden rise in temperature. It typically occurs during September and October. Swarmers usually number in the dozens, occasionally the hundreds. Night swarmers are attracted to lights.
Swarming drywood termites fly into structures and infest wood directly. When swarming, they often reinfest the same structure. They typically first infest exposed wood such as window/door frames, trim, eaves and attics. They do so by finding a protected crevice or other area, such as the joint between 2 pieces of wood, where shingles/paper overhang timber or molding, etc., and then attack the wood.
The Arizona dampwood termite is the largest and most significant dampwood termite in Arizona. Though not commonly found in dry states like Arizona active infestations of Pacific dampwood termites have been found in areas of Metro Phoenix like the Encanto Park area and the western edges of Mesa. They are more commonly found in the cool and humid coastal areas of California and the east coast.
Termite Swarming may occur throughout the year, but most often from May through August. Termite swarming usually will occur on warm humid evenings just before sunset. The reproductives are strongly attracted to light. Swarmers are up to 1" in length and are light to medium brown with dark brown wings.
Soldiers have a large head armed with long black toothed mandibles. The anterior portion is black generally shading to a dark reddish-brown in the posterior position. The abdomen and thorax are a light caramel color, the abdomen varying according to the stomach contents at the time. The largest termites in the United States, soldiers may be very large, reaching 5/8 to 3/4".
Termite tunnels vary greatly in size and shape and in sound timber may favor the softer springwood. Fecal pellets are found throughout the tunnels, and are hard small, oval and about 1/25 “ long. The color of the pellets may vary according to the type of wood being consumed.
Arizona dampwood termites will attack wood of all types throughout Arizona. Timbers in contact with the soil or structures built near or over water are common targets. This species is known to be very tolerant of moist conditions, even being found in pilings subject to tidal flooding. Colony size varies but may contain as many as 4,000 individuals.
Colony growth is aided by the production of secondary reproductives. Like other termites this species aid in the spreading of wood decay fungi, the spores of which are carried in the gut and on their bodies. A well established colony will produce winged reproductives which may infest nearby timber.
The life history of the Arizona dampwood can be summarized as follows. Both male and female swarmers excavate a chamber, they enter, and the chamber is sealed. They mate and within about 2 weeks, eggs are laid and the colony is founded. The queen lays about 12 eggs. The second batch is laid the next spring.
Termite swarmers of this species are dark brown, swarming during the daytime.
Identification of Termite Damage: Arizona dampwood termites infest wood at or below ground level usually in damp crawl spaces. It sometimes girdles young citrus trees and grapevines below the soil line in desert areas. In the Phoenix area dampwood termites attack living trees and bushes and is a problem for citrus groves. It is a pest of timbers in service, infesting moist timbers that are in contact with the soil including utility poles. Untreated posts, poles, and fences are attacked below ground level.
Biology and Habits: Arizona dampwood termites do not build mud shelter tubes above the ground in order to reach wood.
The colonies extend from the wood into the soil, they sometimes kill living shrubs and trees, frass is cone-shaped rather than cylindrical, and the termites have a pungent odor. They also have directed trail-following behavior, unlike other dampwood termites.
Given the heavy termite pressure in Metro Phoenix it is recommended that every home be inspected at least once a year by a trained professional who has the experience to detect the many different types of termites that call the Phoenix Arizona area home.