Termites are one of the most destructive pests that homeowners in the Coachella Valley face. These destructive pests feed off cellulose-based material, such as the structural wood support of your home or business. Unfortunately, these pests are often mistaken for ants in appearance, and when an established colony is finally identified, there is likely already substantial structural damage.
There are over 2600 different termite species worldwide, with four main species common in the Coachella Valley. Learning to identify these destructive pests and how they differ from ants can help you identify a potential infestation before too much damage is done.
- While termites are considered destructive pests to homeowners, they can be very beneficial to the environment, feeding and breaking down decaying wood and returning nutrients to the soil.
- Ants are often mistaken for termites. The easiest way to distinguish between the two is that termites have a wide thorax and no defined “waist” area, meaning their entire body is the same width. In addition, termite antennae are straight.
Introduction to termites
Although each termite species has distinct characteristics, they typically measure between ¼ and ½ inches with straight antennae and soft body segments. However, seeing one larger in size often means you have found the termite queen or king of the colony, as they can reach over an inch in length. In addition, when compared to ants in appearance, termites have a thick waist, straight antennae, and shorter legs. When comparing winged termites with winged ants, the pair of wings that termites have are the same size.
When trying to identify a termite, it is important to understand that a termite colony is made up of three distinct types of termite castes: workers, soldiers, and reproductives. Each type of termite has distinct features that include:
- Workers: These termites are wingless and most often lighter brown in color compared to others in the colony. They comprise the greatest segment of a colony and are often the ones identified in infested wood. The workers in the colony are responsible for caring for eggs and immatures, foraging for food, and constructing tubes and shelter.
- Soldiers: Soldiers typically have larger heads and mandibles that are darker in color than the rest of the body.
- Reproductives: Reproductives, also known as termite swarmers and reproductive termites, are the members of the colony able to mate. They typically appear yellow to brown or black in color and, at maturity, have two pairs of wings that are equal in size. They use these wings to swarm and find mates. Once they do, they shed their wings and establish new colonies.
In addition to the three different types of termites you may find in a colony, it is also important to be able to identify nymphs. These juvenile termites are similar in shape to worker termites, but their soft bodies are white to translucent in color. They are less than 1/10 of an inch in size.
Once you identify termites around your home or business, it is important that you call a professional pest control company that specializes in termite treatments immediately to help reduce the damage these destructive pests can cause.
Common termites and what they look like
In the Coachella Valley, we have three common termites that can infest homes and businesses and are considered destructive pests. Learning how to identify each of these unique termites can help you catch a growing infestation before it creates significant damage to your property.
Subterranean termites are common throughout all of California and include multiple different species. These termites require contact with the soil, where they build their nests. They connect their underground colony to their food sources, such as structural wood in your home or business, with mud tubes made from a combination of soil, wood, and termite saliva.
Subterranean termites native to the Coachella Valley are smaller in size than dry wood or damp wood termites, but their colonies can contain hundreds of thousands of individuals. Subterranean termite appearance varies based on their specific species and caste, as mentioned above. Subterranean termite colors can range from pale cream to dark brown or black. They have a long, oval body, with a long head and long pinchers.
An invasive species of subterranean termite native to China but quickly gaining ground in California is the Formosan, subterranean termite, or Coptotermes formosanus. This species has winged members that commonly swarm at dusk around outdoor lights. As for appearance, Formosan termites are translucent orange in color and have longer bodies and shorter heads with two short pinchers.
Dry wood termites
Drywood termites, as the name explains, feed on dry wood most commonly found in structural support beams, wooden fencing or patios, and furniture inside the home. Unlike subterranean termites, dry wood termites do not make nests or need to have contact with the soil, meaning they are always above ground. Their colonies are often smaller in size, but they can do significant damage because they create their nest and colony within the wood they feed on.
In terms of color, drywood termites are often much lighter, ranging from white and cream to smokey gray and light brown. Soldier termites often have opaque bodies with large orange or brown heads.
Dampwood termites are less common in our area as they require lots of moisture. However, they can infest and create colonies in wooden structures where a water leak is present. They live and feed within this wood and can quickly cause structural damage.
In appearance, these termites are much larger in size than their counterparts. Soldiers have large, flattened reddish-brown heads with long black mandibles. In general, damp wood termites are brown in color. However, the nymphs are white to cream with darker abdomens.
What insects are often mistaken for termites?
Termites are most often mistaken for numerous ant species, such as the carpenter ant or flying ants. However, while these two pests may look similar, there are some significant differences when you know what to look for.
Traits of Termites
- Wide thorax
- Straight antennae
- The neck area is the same width as the rest of the body
- Six short legs
- Two pairs of wings that are equal in size and appearance
- Two body parts with a similar thickness throughout
Traits of Ants
- A narrow thorax that is pinched in the center, giving the appearance of a waist
- Bent antennae divided into segments
- Pinched in appearance in the neck area
- Six long legs
- Two pairs of wings with larger and longer front wings than back
- Three distinct body parts that narrow in the area of the neck and waist
Termites are a constant concern for home and business owners in the Coachella Valley. Identifying these destructive pests can help you avoid or stop a large termite infestation before these pests can cause significant structural damage. While they may often be confused with ants, termites have distinctive differences that, once you know, make it much easier to identify these pests.
Keep your home termite-free
If you identify termites in your home or business, it is important that you contact a professional termite control company that specializes in termite treatments, such as Arrest a Pest. Our team of expert technicians understands termites, their behavior, and how to best eliminate them from your home or business.
In addition, our technicians can identify and recommend treatments for any potential termite damage they may have already caused. To learn more, request an appointment today.