All termites consume cellulose-based plant materials. Unfortunately, all homes can provide cellulose food for termite infestation. They feed on wood in the soil, house foundations, furniture, shelves and even books.
Termites are detritivores, or detritus feeders. They feed on dead plants and trees as well as dead parts of living trees, including wood and wood in the soil. Termite workers only measure approximately 1 cm to a few millimeters in length.
Subterranean termite homes are usually formed in soil. Within these mounds, termites build elaborate tunnel systems and mud tunnels through which they access above-ground food sources. Drywood termites live within the wood they consume and often times infest walls and furniture.
When a colony has matured, winged, swarming termites can be seen around windows and doors. Winged termites are highly attracted to sources of light and are most active in springtime. After mating, these termites locate a new breeding site and create another colony, spreading infestations throughout multiple locations.
Subterranean termites, which live underground in the soil, are the most widespread and destructive group of termites in the U.S. They are most common in the South and Southeast. There are several species of subterranean termites that are of economic importance to U.S. homeowners, including:
The Eastern Subterranean Termite: This species is the dominant termite species in the Eastern half of the country, and is the most economically important termite in the U.S.
The Dark Southeastern Subterranean Termite: Related to the Eastern Subterranean Termite, this species is found principally in the Eastern and Southeastern parts of the country.
The Light Southeastern Subterranean Termite: This species is similar in distribution and importance to the Dark Southeastern Subterranean Termite.
The Formosan Subterranean Termite: Native to China, this is the most destructive termite species in the U.S. The Formosan termite is found occasionally in most Southeastern states and southern California, and is the only species of subterranean termite found in Hawaii.
The Western Subterranean Termite: While this termite species is the most abundant subterranean termite species in the West, it can also be found as far east as Idaho and Nevada.
The Arid Land Subterranean Termite: Found primarily in arid regions (prairies) of the Rocky Mountain states, the Arid Land Subterranean Termite is the most common subterranean termite in Arizona.
The Desert Subterranean Termite: This species is a major structural pest in areas where it exists, mainly in southern Arizona and parts of California.
Before purchasing real estate or buying a home it is important to get a termite inspection. Termite damage far exceeds damage caused to homes by tornadoes, hurricanes and flooding and is rarely covered by homeowner insurance policies. Often times there will be no visible indication that the home is infested. Termite infestations can go undetected for years, hidden behind walls, floor coverings, insulation, and other obstructions. Confirmation of infestation often requires the keen eye of an experienced termite inspector.