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  • Michael Kesecker
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Fall is here and Dampwood Termites are swarming and visible inside and outside structures. Off all the varieties of Termites indigenous to the United States, the Dampwood Termite (Zootermopsis Angusticollis) of the Hodotermitidae family, is the biggest and most visible termite. With a bright orange-redish color, light brown see-through wings over ¾ of an inch long and a body almost a ½ inch long, these termites appear huge at over 1 inch in length. They are indigenous to California and we often see them in Marin and Sonoma Counties from early September to late November, depending on the warmth and moisture of the Indian summer.

Where do Dampwood Termites Come From? Termites are indigenous to California and were feeding on wood long before the dinosaurs ever walked the earth. As their name indicates, dampwood termites only thrive in a damp or wet environment. They are often seen in the forest by brooks, swamps, lakes, fallen trees and tree stumps with moisture. We can find them in houses around leaking toilets or stall showers, at damp earthwood contacts or planter beds built-up against the exterior wood siding. Sometimes we will find them in damp stumps or roots near or under structures with seepage, a leak or another water source from landscaping, a fountain or drainage. Termites carve galleries within wood members and produce damp fecal pellets that clump together. Most often the wood will be so wet that lichen, fungus and dry rot is also visible. Beware of the soldier’s big mandibles, they can pinch!

What Are Termite Swarms? From early to late fall, some colony members grow sexual organs and wings. Known as Alates, or swarmers, these winged reproductives wait for the right weather to fly and mate. Most will succumb to predators (birds, insects, reptiles), others will never find a mate and die of exhaustion. Their chance of survival is rather small, which is why they swarm in large numbers. We often see them or their wings caught in spider webs or trapped by windows and skylights. Dampwood termites swarm around sunset and are irresistibly attracted to lights, which is why we see them by porches, patios and large windows. Though they may enter structures, they will not establish a colony unless they find damp wood members around a bathroom, laundry room, kitchen or a planter with a water source.

What treatment is needed? The best is to remove the moisture source, make repairs needed and dry out the area with ventilation, proper flashings and sealing. Often the moisture that attracted the dampwood termites will also lead to other infestations and deterioration such as fungi infestation, wood decay damage (dry rot), wood boring beetles and even subterranean termites, which may then require repairs and treatment.

Can I Prevent Drywood Termite Infestations? Since termites are indigenous to California, the best is to keep homes well sealed and painted and have a licensed professional periodically inspect your home. We recommend inspections every 3 to 5 years. It is long enough for a trained professional to detect visible signs of infestations and not too long for them to cause substantial structural damage.