Desert Subterranean Termites


  • Scientific name: Heterotermes aureus
  • Size: About 3/8th an inch long
  • Color: Pale with darker brown head
  • Shape: The swarmers have two prominate, hardened veins in the front wings; soldiers have rectangular heads, with the length nearly twice the width with a gland on the forehead
  • Found in: Almost entirely found in the Colorado and Gila deserts of southern California and Arizona, Lower Baja California and Houston Texas

What are they?
Desert subterranean termites are a type of termite that are less dependent on moisture and decay than other types of subterranean termites and will readily attack sound, dry woods in a structure. Desert subterranean termites swarm at night during the rainy season in their areas, usually from July to September. Rainfall is important to the breeding pairs of termites as the moist soil provides them with a chance to burrow into the soil and excavate their own burrows. A typical colony can have up to 300, 000 termites, both workers and reproductive capable termites. Smaller colonies including these lesser reproductive capable termites can split off from the main colony and form smaller colonies of their own, making it very important during eradication to make sure that the entire infestation is cleared.
How can you tell you have them?
A good way to tell if you have desert subterranean termites is to check the rafters in your house for “drop-tubes” or structures that are about the width around of a pencil and are used as ventilation/passageways for the termites. These tubes can also be seen on sheetrock and plasterboard. You can also spot holes in the sheetrock or plasterboard that are plugged with feces (or “frass”). The tubes of the desert subterranean termite are more circular than those of the Western subterranean termite. If you spot these indications of infestation, try tapping on the wood nearest. Wood that has been infested with desert subterranean termites will sometimes sound or feel hollow.
What kind of environment do they like?
Desert subterranean termites prefer a more arid environment for their colonies. They are one of the most common subterranean termite species in the state of Arizona. The desert subterranean termite can access a home through the smallest gap, sometimes gaps too small even for other termite species to use. They can use holes that are 1/32nd of an inch, gaps in concrete and masonry joins in walls, roofs and other wood structures in a building.
Eating habits
Like the arid-land subterranean termite, the desert termite traditionally inhabits desert plants such as creosote, dead cactus and greasewood shrubs. Now they are known for the destruction of untreated telephone poles, fence posts and abandoned buildings as well as damage to houses that are currently occupied.
Desert subterranean termites prefer to eat the “springwood” and the lignin in the summerwood of timber (the thicker portion of timber the grows during the non-dormant spring and summer).
What to do?
Because of their propensity to from smaller colonies apart from the main colony, established infestations of desert subterranean termites can cover almost an acre in territory. Therefore it can be very difficult for the average homeowner to take care of the problem on their own. It is a good idea to contact a professional for an estimate of how large the actual population of desert subterranean termites on your property is.

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