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The Dampwood Termite Species That Are Sometimes Mistaken For Highly Damaging Subterranean Termite Pests

The subterranean termite species that inhabit the southwest US are markedly different from termite species that can be found in all other regions of the US. This difference is due to the extremely dry climate in the southwest desert regions where the hard, rocky, and largely vegetation-free soil would see most other termite species perish within seconds after being exposed to such conditions. Generally, subterranean termites rely heavily on water in order to survive and develop properly, but subterranean termite species in Arizona have adapted to survive on relatively small amounts of water.

In addition to water, subterranean termites obviously rely on cellulose-rich plant matter that is abundant above and below the soil’s surface in all ecoregions in the US. These dead sources of plant matter include tree roots, tree stumps, dead trees, rotting plant stems, loose sticks and twigs, and of course, structural wood in homes and buildings. While these sources of dead plant matter may not be as abundant in the southwest as they are in other areas of the country, Arizona termite species have no problem locating dead and decaying plant materials in form of brush, dead citrus trees, savannah grass, tumbleweeds, and dead succulents like cacti.

Some termite species in Arizona, particularly the three relatively minor dampwood termite pest species in the state, have been well documented as feeding on the roots of live fruit trees and succulent plants. Although rare, some Arizona homeowners have noticed termite-induced damage to their ornamental landscaping plants, particularly succulent species. For example, the desert dampwood termite feeds on the sap of young citrus trees, grapevines, as well as live and dead shrubs, which provides these termites with the relatively high amounts of water they need to thrive.

Unlike most dampwood termite species, which inhabit single pieces of natural and finished wood sources above the ground, the desert dampwood termite feeds by girdling both living and dead plants below the soil’s surface. Due to this habit, homeowners sometimes mistake desert dampwood termites for subterranean termite species when moist fence posts, baseboards, and door frames sustain termite damage. However, swarming dampwood termite alates are unique for their relatively massive two inch body length, which dwarfs the ¼ to 1 inch long alates from both subterranean and drywood species. Dampwood termite species are not considered economically significant pests in Arizona.

Have you ever encountered a swarm of insects that appeared to be unusually large in size?

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