Do I have Termites?

Flying Termites Ocala





Termite damage and control costs in Florida exceed $500 million annually, but that will be reduced by the new Florida Building Code, making builders more responsible for termite protection,” said Phil Koehler, professor of entomology with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. The code becomes effective March 1 2002.

“Florida counties usually require some kind of termite protection on new structures, but the methods vary from county to county. The result has been a hodgepodge of codes that leave many consumers unprotected and confused,” he said.

Even though these codes became effective 10 years ago, many consumers are still confused and even more frustrated than ever when it comes to learning about termites.

In the next few series of blogs we will discuss and try to clarify the differences in the termites that we deal with here in Florida.

First, lets look at the different types of termites. In Florida there are basically three categories of termites: dampwood, subterranean and drywood.

In this blog, we will discuss the Dampwood termite. Dampwood termites are not to be confused with subterranean termites. Dampwood are Neotermes castaneus (Burmeister), Neotermes jouteli (Banks), and Neotermes luykxi Nickle and Collins (Insecta: Isoptera: Kalotermitidae) and are primarily found in the following areas:

Neotermes are the largest termites in the eastern United States. In the eastern U.S., they are found only in Florida, and as you can see, they are found primarily from Orlando and South. Unlike colonies of structure-infesting drywood termites, dampwood termite  colonies (Neotermes) require higher humidity and regular contact with free water, and unlike subterranean termites, they do not forage in the soil. This where the name “dampwood” comes from. Dampwood termites do not build fecal mud tunnels or mud tubes as does the subterranean termite. They do not need to forage to the soil for moisture therefore being found primarily in very moist wood such as a fallen log or wood in a structure that may be leaking. Basically any wood with a high moisture content.


According to The University of Florida IFAS Extension, because of their high moisture requirements, infestations of dampwood termites in structures are associated with sources of free water. These include earth to wood contact, wood exposed to roof leaks, or wooden siding exposed to rainfall or sprinkler irrigation. Because these same conditions are conducive to fungal decay and subterranean termites, it is in the interest of the property owner to correct these moist conditions. Wood that has been pressure-treated with chromated copper arsenate (CCA) is resistant to infestation. Neotermes infestations can extend into sound dry wood several meters away from the moisture source, but once the remote source of moisture is removed, the colony will gradually decline and succumb to desiccation. Like drywood termites, dampwood termites produce fecal pellets, but because of the moist conditions of the gallery system, the pellets loose their distinctive shape and form amorphous clumps or paste. The degree of shape degradation is directly related to moisture content.

Some species of dampwood termites (Neotermes castaneus) prefer to nest in living trees. Colonies are often discovered after pruning or cutting down a live tree or palm and some colonies can live many years in those trees undetected. In one case, alates (flying termites often called swarmers) of N. castaneus were emerging from a Ficus tree in an indoor shopping mall in New Jersey many years after the tree was delivered from Florida. Although the galleries may weaken trunks and branches, the overall health of the tree is usually not directly affected. The termites appear to limit their feeding to the dead xylem tissues while avoiding the cambium. When galleries filled with live N. castaneus are exposed, they exude a characteristic fecal or skatole- like odor.

Pest Status

The limited conditions that support colonization by dampwood termites relegate these termites to minor pest status. Wood damage, however, can be severe after several years if infestations are left alone. Damage to trees and branches may cause weakening but does not appear to harm tree viability although hollowing from galleries might promote secondary fungal intrusion.


For reasons mentioned above, eliminating conditions of moisture can control structural infestations of Neotermes. As with the preventative management of subterranean termites and wood decay, wood-to-ground and wood-to-water contact should be eliminated to prevent colonization by dampwood termites. When untreated wood cannot be removed from a moisture source, chemical treatment may be necessary. Boron-containing salts such as disodium octaborate tetrahydrate (Tim-bor) are water soluble, so they tend to be drawn into dampwood termite-infested wood. Borate treatments can be phytotoxic, however. If desired, galleries in trees or structural members can be injected and drenched with site-specific insecticides. On direct contact, these termites are susceptible to all chemical insecticides.

Selected References

Nagin, R. 1972. Caste determination in Neotermes jouteli (Banks). Insectes Sociaux 19: 39-61.

Nickle, D.A., and M.S. Collins. 1989. Key to the Kalotermitidae of eastern United States with a new Neotermes from Florida. Proc. Entomol. Soc. Washington 91: 269-285.

Miller, E. M. 1949. A handbook on Florida termites. Univ. of Miami Press, Coral Gables. 30 pp.

Scheffrahn, R. H., J. R. Mangold, and N.-Y. Su. 1988. A survey of structure-infesting termites of peninsular Florida. Florida Entomol. 71: 615- 630.

Scheffrahn, R.H. and N.-Y. Su. 1994. Keys to soldier and winged adult termites (Isoptera) of Florida. Florida Entomol. 77: 460-474.

Scheffrahn, R.H. and N.-Y. Su. Key to termite soldiers of Florida. Ft. Lauderdale Research Report 96-2.

Scheffrahn, R.H. and N.-Y. Su. Key to winged termites of Florida. Ft. Lauderdale Research Report 96-3.





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