Types of Termites in Massachusetts and Beyond
Property owners — including renters, homeowners and business owners — spend more than $2 billion treating termites each year. Damage is often extensive because many termite species are skilled evaders and hiders, living some or most of their lives away from the human eye. This concealment gives them all the space they need to eat away at your home and landscaping.
Effective termite control begins with understanding the warning signs of an infestation and recognizing which type of termite you might be dealing with. Five main types of termites include Subterranean, Formosan, Dampwood, Drywood and Conehead. Learn more about each of these property invaders and get helpful tips for protecting your home or business.
Table of Contents:
- Subterranean Termites
- Formosan Termites
- Dampwood Termites
- Drywood Termites
- Conehead Termites
- How to Prevent Termite Damage
- Contact Cape Cod Pest Pros for Termite Relief
Subterranean termites are the most common type of termites in MA and the United States. Unfortunately, they are also one of the most challenging to detect. These pests live their lives underground, beneath the soil or in tunnels they create. You will find them in places like fallen, decaying tree stumps or near structures with potentially decaying wood. They usually invade homes and businesses from soil-to-structure or soil-to-wood contact.
The Subterranean termite’s scientific name is Reticulitermes. The eastern variation is Reticulitermes flavipes, while western Subterranean termites are Reticulitermes hesperus. Mature colonies contain hundreds of thousands of termites — including winged reproductives and wingless soldiers and workers — which often create more subcolonies. Reproductive Subterranean termites are dark brown, sometimes near-blackish, with taupe or brown-gray wings. Soldiers are a light caramel shade. Swarmers are darker and thicker and the only members of the colony with functioning wings and eyes. Workers are about 1/8″ long.
Swarming takes place during warm, wet days. These termites need moist environments, which is why you won’t often find them in dry lands. They commute to and from food sources exclusively through tunnels. Their tunnels extend up to 60 feet between wood and soil to keep their thin skins from drying out.
Subterranean termites eat anything that contains cellulose, which their body converts into nutrition. Cellulose is in wood and paper products, fabrics made from plant fibers and similar materials. They prefer to eat only spring woods, often leaving the wood’s exterior intact.
Because these termites live under the soil and create massive colonies, they are usually hard to find until the damage becomes apparent — and expensive. They get inside through cracks in your home’s or business’ foundation and sometimes through improperly installed utility or plumbing lines. The most noticeable indicator of an infestation is mud tubes, which create a safe traveling environment to and from the ground or food source. They are flat and muddy-looking, often hidden along baseboards and wall trims. Other times, they are visually apparent, present on walls and across floors.
Other signs of a Subterranean termite infestation include:
- Visible swarmers with wings near light fixtures, windows, vents, utility lines, in attics, plumbing lines, on porches, etc.
- Discarded termite wings in windowsills or corners.
- Damaged wood structures, flooring or walls with visible blistering or darkened areas.
- Wood that may not look damaged, but sounds hollow when you tap on it.
- Bubbling or blistered paint or wallpaper.
- Small piles of feces, which may look like sawdust and be present near other signs of infestation or possible entry points.
Look behind furniture — including wooden bookcases, shelving, dressers, etc. — and behind walls when inspecting for Subterranean termites. Check crawl spaces or areas where the building comes into direct contact with soil. Homes with previous pest infestations are more vulnerable to new ones, since some tunnels or entry points may still exist.
Risks and Damage
The worst part about these termites is that they can cause thousands of dollars worth of property and structural damage before you find them, including to your insulation. Damaged insulation may cause a spike in your utility bill and waste energy resources. It also creates an uncomfortable environment.
They may also damage wooden floors, walls, furniture, wallpaper and paint jobs. They create large colonies with subcolonies, so infestations can quickly get out of hand and dominate your property.
Formosan termites — known scientifically as Coptotermes formosanus — are a type of invasive Subterranean termite. They are not native to the United States, but are now prevalent in various regions around the country. These termites are among the most destructive home invaders. After a few years of survival, their colonies reach several million strong. They also forage up to 300 feet into the soil, creating extensive connected galleries that often expand into or near homes and businesses for food. These large colonies can quickly overwhelm a property before the owner even notices they’re there, making prevention crucial.
Formosan termite colonies have three castes — reproductives, soldiers and workers. Reproductives may or may not have wings. When soldiers — which are orange-brown with oval heads and white bodies — feel threatened, they excrete a white fluid from their heads. Swarmers, also known as alates, are reproductive. They are the easiest way to identify this termite type because they are yellow-brown and reach about a half-inch in length. They have small hairs on their wings. They begin their swarm around dusk on calm, humid nights and are very attracted to light — look for them near lampposts, outdoor light fixtures, windowsills, indoor overhead lighting and similar places.
These pests share a similar diet with other Subterranean termites, consuming items with cellulose. Unlike many Subterranean termites, you may sometimes find Formosan colonies above ground.
Formosan termites enter homes and businesses from above the ground, creeping through cracks, holes, gaps and direct wood-to-ground contact. They form telltale nests in wooden crevices, which may contain saliva, soil, chewed wood and feces. You should inspect for:
- Abnormally hollow wood — including furniture, fencing, posts, landscaping, etc. — with paper-thin surfaces.
- Wooden walls or flooring with peeling or blisters.
- Nests between walls, under sinks or in damp basements and crawl spaces.
- Visible tubes running from soil to your home’s foundation.
- Unexplained piles of soil near dead trees or damaged wooden structures.
Risks and Damage
Because these colonies multiply quickly, they can damage more property in a shorter amount of time than other pests, which is why Formosan termites cost consumers an average of $1 billion per year on damages and repairs.
In addition to natural and structural wood, Formosan termites feed on:
- Live plants, including citrus plants and willow, cedar and white oak trees.
- Thin sheet metal, including lead and copper.
- Asphalt roads and foundations.
- Rubber, plaster and plastic structures.
Zootermopsis angusticollis — the pest more commonly known as Dampwood termites — earned their name because of their need for moist living conditions and their ravenous appetite for wood with high moisture content. Their colonies grow slowly — after a few years of survival, soldiers emerge, then continue to populate into larger colonies with hundreds of termites per location. Colonies are always in moist environments, and these pests will start to dry out and die without a moisture source. They thrive in dead wood, logs, utility poles, fencing, tree holes and other wet areas, where they establish a series of connected tunnels with smooth walls.
Like other termites, Dampwood termite colonies have three castes, including reproductives, soldiers and pseudergates, or workers. Nymphs, a type of worker, have visible wings once they molt into alates. These wings are equal in size and shape, located at the front and back of the termite. They have five large veins on them, critical for identification. Dampwood termites are strong fliers that disperse in spring and summer and take flight in fall and winter, usually at night. During their flight, alates may create multiple subcolonies along the way. These swarmers are about half an inch long.
These pests produce unique fecal matter because they have so much moisture in their digestive systems. What starts as a shaped fecal pellet loses its distinguished shape upon excretion. That characteristic makes it easier to identify Dampwood termites from those with similar appearances.
Fortunately, Dampwood termites don’t prefer living inside homes and businesses unless there is an extensive source of moisture and damp wood to feed on. They move indoors from trees, and some colonies may be born inside if there is a constant food source nearby. They don’t create indoor tube systems like other termites, though they may form galleries inside dying wood. They patch these tunnels with their fecal matter to make a better hiding place and avoid detection.
If you’ve recently dealt with flooding or plumbing leaks, check your home or business for things like:
- Hollow or abnormally soft wood.
- Shapeless fecal matter near wet or wooden structures or dying trees.
- Abandoned termite wings.
- Visible swarmers near light or wood.
- Damaged wooden furniture or structures with smooth interiors.
- Termite chew marks that go across the natural wood grain pattern.
Risks and Damage
Dampwood termites are challenging to detect, so colonies have a better chance of growing and thriving — especially since they swarm year-round. The most significant concern with these termites is that their presence may indicate a more severe issue, like dead wood or a leak on the property. Once they eat vulnerable trees, they may open that tree up to secondary disease or fungal growth. They thrive in wet wooden mailboxes, posts, fencing and structures with improper drainage and may damage these items beyond repair.
Unlike Dampwood termites, Drywood termites — or Kalotermitidae — do not need constant contact with moisture. Drywoods are a species of termites that create small colonies and live their entire lives in dry, above-ground wood. They produce their water internally and supplement their dietary needs with moisture drawn from the wood they live in or feed on.
These termites form small colonies, rarely exceeding 10,000 once established, and it takes them a long time to grow. Their colonies are usually devoid of any structured caste system, though they have standard reproductive and swarming members. Young termites build the nest while soldiers protect it. Swarmers are about 1/3″ long and usually swarm at night, but some may during the day. There are several different species of Drywood termites. The most common is the light yellow incisitermes snyderi, which reaches 7/16″ in length and finds light sources attractive. Reproductive Drywood termites range from dark brown to light tan and have wings, but secondary reproductives do not. Soldiers have large, yellow or brown heads and armored jaws. Immature types are white.
Drywood termites are not strong fliers, so they often fall prey to predators like birds, toads, reptiles and other insects. They eat anything containing cellulose, including both hard and soft woods.
Outdoor Drywood colonies nest under siding and shingles. They may also move into a building’s structural wood. They get inside through cracks and overlapping pieces of structural wood and prey on wood with exposed end grains because of the ease of entry. One of the quickest ways to determine whether you’re dealing with a Drywood termite is to check its fecal matter, which consists of dry pellets with one pointed and one blunt end. The pellets take on the color of the dominant wood in that termite’s diet.
These pests do not create mud tubes, so spotting them may be a challenge. Check for:
- Visible winged termites, especially near wood surfaces.
- Dead wings inside your home or in windowsills.
- Subtle wooden damage with smooth interiors.
- Tunnels with “kick holes,” which Drywoods use to move fecal pellets.
- Fecal pellets near light sources or windowsills.
- Termite markings that move across the wood’s natural grain pattern.
Risks and Damage
After Drywood termites enter a home or business through dry brush or after crawling inside attic vents, they may hide underneath wood trim, inside door frames or near windowsills. Though they prefer to wedge themselves in overlapping wood or areas that will be easy to excavate, they can also burrow through flat wooden surfaces.
These termites can cause extensive damage to your interior and exterior walls, siding, flooring, joists, shingles, trim, porches and decks.
Conehead termites, Nasutitermes corniger, take their name from their distinctively cone-shaped heads, which secrete a defensive fluid when threatened. They have adaptable appetites and feed on a wide range of living and dead woods, including structural wood.
You can visually identify a Conehead termite by its head shape, which is brown or black. Soldiers are small — about 0.2″ — and they have six hairs on their head. Winged reproductive adults, known as alates, reach 0.6″ to 0.7″ long. They have dark brown wings with two large veins running along them.
These pests thrive in tropical environments. They are easily noticeable, with visible above-ground nests. You can spot these nests near tree bases, high in tree branches, inside dumpsters or trash cans, under cement blocks and near foundations. Some colonies attempt to hide nests by covering them with debris, leaves, twigs and other vegetation. From these nests, they establish tunneled galleries to connect to various food sources. These galleries are thin and hollow, sometimes resembling straw or tubes. Their tunnel systems can get very complicated, expanding several feet from nests. They protect tunnels with soil and feces to camouflage their location.
Because Conehead termites are skilled hiders, they can be challenging to locate. Look for mud tubes on the ground or near trees, and note any characteristic signs of termite infestations, like damaged wood, piles of sawdust-like shavings, discarded termite wings and visible swarms. Fortunately, once spotted, Coneheads are easy to identify because they almost always travel in groups and have distinctively shaped heads.
Risks and Damage
Conehead termites readily adapt to new environments, so even small colonies are challenging to eradicate. They eat wet and dry wood, including:
- Living and dead trees.
- Discarded tree branches.
- Load-bearing structural wood.
- Interior and exterior trim.
- Wooden posts.
- Gates and fencing.
- Porches and decks.
- Wooden furniture.
How to Prevent Termite Damage
Each year, different types of termites infest an average of 600,000 U.S. homes and cause billions of dollars worth of damage to personal and public property, crops, landscaping and infrastructure. Keep your home safe from infestation with these tips.
Make Smart Property Decisions
Think preventively when making choices around your property. Small changes can go a long way in keeping termites and other invading pests away.
For example, you can:
- Use treated wood on porches and structures and reapply treatment as needed.
- Minimize how much of your home and surrounding structures contact soil, including not installing siding or insulation beneath the dirt.
- Repair cracks, gaps and holes around your home as soon as possible.
- Use only professional utility and plumbing installation services.
- Repair leaks inside and outside your home, including in basements and under sinks, bathtubs and toilets.
- Keep mulch, flowerbeds and other landscaping away from your home’s foundation.
- Keep your property clear of trash, clutter or debris.
- Remove dead wood, stumps, branches and logs from your yard.
- Do not store firewood on your porch or near your house.
- Keep gutters and spouting clean and direct them away from your home’s foundation to ensure sure water flows far from the house.
- Inspect all secondhand furniture before bringing it indoors.
Inspect Your Home Regularly
You should regularly perform two types of home inspections — a do-it-yourself inspection and a scheduled visit with a pest professional. Periodically inspect your home or business to note any changes that could indicate a pest infestation, like damaged wood, new entry points, claw marks, tunnels, feces pellets or smears, dirt marks or unexplained noises in the walls or attic. Do these inspections often, at least quarterly, or after any large-scale construction or renovation projects.
The other must-have inspection is with a professional pest service, which can inspect your home for any vulnerabilities or unusual signs of an infestation and create an action plan before the problem worsens or causes more costly damages.
You may also need a formal termite inspection when selling or refinancing your home, called a wood-destroying insect report or a termite certificate. A professional pest removal service can help you with this.
Seek Treatment Immediately
If you notice any signs of a possible infestation, schedule a treatment appointment as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the more that colony can proliferate and cause extensive damage. Never try to eradicate an infestation on your own — you may scare them into a better hiding place, making them more challenging to find and remove. If you’re a home or business owner, call a professional immediately. If you are a renter, contact your property manager or landlord and tell them as much about the infestation as possible.
One-time pest control treatments are as-needed emergency assistance for homeowners and renters. If you live with pets or children, you can ask the pest service to use green treatment methods when possible.
Have a Pest Prevention Plan
A sound pest prevention plan for your home, business or property is the most effective way to prevent a termite infestation. Annual pest prevention plans address your unique landscaping and structural needs, including replacing old or dead structures, treating vulnerable wood and addressing seasonal pest concerns. Quarterly treatments provide year-round support — contact a representative to learn more.
Contact Cape Cod Pest Pros for Termite Relief
Termites come in all types, shapes, sizes and severities, but one thing is sure — they can and will cause extensive property damage to your home or business. The trained professionals at Cape Cod Pest Pros have years of experience locating, identifying and quickly remediating termite-infested homes. Contact us to learn more about your treatment options or schedule a free pest inspection today.