Pest Information - West Indian Drywood Termites

West Indian termites were introduced to Hawaii about 100 years ago and are now found state wide. These termites cause millions of dollars in damage to structures in Hawaii every year. Careful identification helps plan a strategy of treatment. Learn about their Appearance, Habitat, Diet, Health Risks, and Reproduction.

Drywood Termite

Drywood Termites

Scientific Name

Cryptotermes brevis
AKA: Powder Post Termites
(not the same as Powder Post Beetles)
because their fecal pellets tend to be somewhat
smaller than those of other drywood termite species.

Appearance

In general the termite does not have the narrow waist and segmented body of the ant. Termites have two pair of equal length wings while ants have two pair of unequal length wings. When swarming, West Indian drywood termites (alates) appear to be brown bodied with translucent wings, are about 1/4th of an inch (6mm) in length, and have a round, red head 1mm wide. Once inside wood, termites lose their wings and become a pale white color. Occasionally soldier termites may be seen. Soldiers are wingless and smaller (about 5mm in length), have white bodies and have a wider, black dimpled head greater than 1mm in width. This species of drywood termite is seldom seen in the open during the day because they swarm at night (breeding flight). Evidence left behind by this type of drywood termite includes discarded wings (9mm long), burns on wood surfaces, piles of sawdust, and tiny dry pellets (termite droppings) known as frass, appearing below small kick-out holes in infested wood. Frass can be white or black in color depending of the color of the wood termites have been eating.

Habitat

West Indian drywood termites usually build colonies above ground in structures or trees and do not need a source of water.  Drywood termites ingest water from wood they eat.  The number of termites in a West Indian colony may number in the thousands, fewer than the number in subterranean Formosan termite colonies.  West Indian drywood termites live in both wet and dry climates and are widespread throughout Hawaii and the rest of the tropics, Florida, and the coastal southeastern United States.  All types of construction lumber, both hard and soft woods, are susceptible to infestation by drywood termites.  West Indian termites are more likely than other pest termite species to feast on smaller pieces of wood such as picture frames, bed head boards, and cabinets.

Diet

Termites feed on anything containing the plant material cellulose.  West Indian drywood swarmer termites fly directly into buildings through doors and windows and often first infest exposed exterior wood trim. Drywood termites seldom enter the ends of exposed wood but prefer tiny gaps between boards as their point of entry.  Human activity can spread termites by moving wood from one location to another. Damage is usually localized, however multiple colonies may exist within a small area, such as when twenty colonies were found in a single wooden door. A ground connection to water is not needed and the colony will build an egg chamber in above ground wood.  Soft woods are very attractive to drywood termites; some nutritionally superior wood treats include pecan, American ash, and red gum trees.

Health Risks

There are no known health risks directly associated with termites, however the massive damage these pests can inflict on a building could cause load bearing walls or beams to become structurally unsafe.

Life Cycle

Once a colony of West Indian drywood termites grows large enough, several hundred alates swarm at night in a breeding flight.  A female and a male will pair up and find a crevice in a piece of wood where they hollow out a chamber. After mating the female lays a batch of eggs. About six months later the eggs hatch and the queen and king feed the emerging larvae until their third instar or development stage. After another two or three years, the first soldier will appear in a batch of eggs. A full sized colony with thousands of termites will take at least five years to develop to the point of producing swarmers (alates). Termites divide labor along caste lines. The king breeds with the queen who lays eggs. Workers build the colony and search for food. Soldiers defend the colony from predators such as ants.

Interesting Facts

Some species of non-pest termites farm fungi because they do not have the microbes in their digestive systems to turn wood into food. The fungi do the work in the place of the missing microbes and as a result, termites hold the Guinness Book of World Records top spot for farming the world’s largest mushroom which was measured to be three feet wide. Furthermore this termite farmed mushroom (Termitomyces) is edible and best served grilled!