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How Homeowners Can Determine If The Termites Found Eating Plant Roots, Or Swarming Within Or Near Homes Are Pests That Will Attack Structural Wood

More than 3,000 termite species have been documented worldwide, and all of these species belong to one of three groups. These three groups are known as subterranean, drywood and dampwood termites. Many species from each of these groups can be found in the US, some of which are pests that infest and damage structural wood within homes and other types of woodwork. Subterranean termites live in colonies below the ground where workers regularly leave the nest to gather food sources. Mature subterranean termite colonies contain tens of thousands to a little more than one million individual termites. Unlike subterranean termites, drywood and dampwood termites live in much smaller colonies that are contained entirely within single above-ground wood items, such as logs, fallen branches, and of course, woodwork. In other words, drywood and dampwood termites constantly inhabit their food source, and only swarming alates leave the nest to establish new colonies, sometimes within homes.

Paraneotermes simplicicornis is the only dampwood termite species that is considered a structural pest in Arizona, but this species, like most dampwood termites, does not inflict much damage to homes. This is because dampwood termites can only feed on excessively moist wood sources like decaying logs. Most structural wood in homes are not nearly moist enough to sustain a dampwood termite colony, but they sometimes find sufficiently moist wood to infest within old homes, or homes where plumbing or rainwater leaks have dampened structural wood. P. simplicornis, or the “desert dampwood termite,” as it is more commonly known, is technically a drywood species, but they exhibit behaviors that are also similar to those of subterranean termites. For example, desert dampwood termites build their nests in shallow soil where they retain moisture by feeding on sap that they extract from the roots of living or partially living shrubs and citrus trees. Naturally, finding termite-damaged trees or shrubs often gives homeowners that impression that their house is next on the menu. If possible, the nymphs (akin to workers) should be extracted from damaged tree roots and identified. If they have distinctly spotted abdomens, then they are desert dampwood termites that will likely not cause damage to homes. These termites swarm between May and September in Arizona, particularly one day after heavy rainfall. When swarms occur within or near homes, the dead alates that collect on the ground should be identified. If alates are more than an inch long and are dark brown, they are likely desert dampwood termite alates that should not be feared.

Have you ever found termite damaged landscape plants in your yard?

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