The 3 Most Common Northern California Termites


When a homeowner finds termites in and around their homes, it can be a very challenging and unnerving experience. Since termite infestations can be the end of a solid foundation and the beginning of major damage to a home, no one likes to see them at any point in their life. Identifying termites may be easy in some cases. However, it is important to note that there are different types of termites that people may or may not recognize.

That said, here are three of the most common California termites.


Formosan Subterranean Termites

The Formosan subterranean termite is known as an invasive species of termite. In fact, they are dubbed the “super termite” because they build large colonies and eat wood at a fast rate. 

How to Identify Formosan Subterranean Termites

Each type of subterranean termite can be identified differently.

  • Worker termites, who cause the damage and more commonly seen, are about 1/8 of an inch long and translucent in color. While they are born with wings, they fall off as they begin searching for a new nest.
  • Soldier termites are orange and have pinchers in order to defend their queen. 
  • Swarmer/reproductive termites are about 3/8 of an inch, and they do have wings. Their body is dark brown.
  • The subterranean queen termite is brown with an enormous egg sack attached to her. 

When Do Formosan Subterranean Termites Swarm?

Formosan subterranean termites are most likely to be seen during their mating season, typically in the spring and following a rainstorm. They do their most damage after swarming.

Facts About Formosan Subterranean Termites

  • Formosan termites is a sub-species of subterranean termites.
  • Formosan subterranean termites require direct contact with soil in order to live.
  • A colony can contain millions of termites.
  • The queens have the ability to make as much as 2,000 eggs per day.
  • Formosan subterranean termites can consume up to 13 ounces of wood in a single day.
  • They can damage a house or building in just three months.
  • They can invade and seriously damage healthy trees.
  • They don't just destroy wooden materials—they also eat through plastic, asphalt, and metals.
  • They create nests called cartons within wall structures using saliva, waste, wood, and soil.

How to Prevent Formosan Subterranean Termites

  • Reduce humidity in attics, basements, and crawl spaces.
  • Ensure gutters are clear and clean.
  • Divert water from the home’s foundation.
  • Store firewood at least 20 feet away from the home.

Drywood Termites

Drywood termites are found in coastal areas but can be transported via infected wood to other regions. Unlike subterranean termites, drywood termites can thrive in decaying wood even with very little moisture present.

How to Identify Drywood Termites

Similar to other termites, drywood termites have straight antennae, protruding mouth parts, and tarsal claws. Drywood termites are more cylindrical and generally larger than their subterranean counterparts. They have shorter legs and move slower as well. Apart from the reproductive caste, all others are blind.

Their sizes are different according to their caste: 

  • Workers are about 1/4 of an inch long and more khaki-translucent in color.
  • Soldiers are 3/8 of an inch long with a slight orange tint on their head. 
  • Reproductive drywood termites can measure about one-half of an inch in length. They are more easily identifiable by their long wings and brown or black body color.

When Do Drywood Termites Swarm?

The swarming season for drywood termites normally occurs during the months of September and October. They swarm mostly at night, searching for mates and setting up new colonies. 

Drywood Termite Facts

  • They need very little moisture and only eat dry wood.
  • The pests leave pellet piles outside tiny holes as they tunnel through the wood.
  • Cedar is deadly to the termites.
  • It takes about 4 years for a drywood termite colony to grow to maturity, meaning it can discharge hundreds of swarms that can also reproduce.
  • The queen has an average lifespan of 25 years, while others are 12-24 months.

How to Prevent Drywood Termites

  • Use pressure-treated wood. 
  • Declare chemical warfare and use wood that has been surface-treated with chemical preservatives, and use paint to cover any cracks or holes.
  • Drilling into the wood and injecting insecticides may help with getting rid of individual colonies as they are found.
  • Keep wood at least 20 feet from the home (ex: firewood).
  • Seal any small cracks in the foundation.

Pacific Dampwood Termites 

Pacific dampwood termites are typically found at least 6,000 feet above sea level, meaning these insects can set up infestations easily in both cool and humid areas of the coast. They are very tolerant of moist areas and the associated conditions, such as softer spring wood. Homeowners may see evidence of Pacific dampwood termites via trails that these pests leave back as they tunnel through the woods.

How to Identify Pacific Dampwood Termites

The Pacific dampwood termite can be described as one of the biggest and the most damage-causing dampwood termites that can be found in the United States. 

  • Reproductive Pacific dampwood termites are about one-inch long, usually a yellow-ish brown color. They have wings.
  • Soldiers are brown with dark brown or black jaws and a flat head.
  • Nymphs are cream-colored

When Do Pacific Dampwood Termites Swarm?

Pacific dampwood termites most often swarm during the late summer or early fall, typically in the evening after a rainstorm. They thrive in warm and humid climates. Pacific dampwood termite swarms are much smaller than other termite swarms.

Pacific Dampwood Termite Facts

  • Pacific dampwood termites are a subspecies of the dampwood termite.
  • They do not require soil to survive, but they do need wood with a lot of moisture.
  • They can commonly be found on construction sites or fallen trees.
  • They are the hardest species of termites to identify because signs typically present as moisture loss—this is why they cause the most damage.

How to Prevent Pacific Dampwood Termites

The key to avoiding Pacific dampwood termites is by avoiding the possibility of moisture damage. 

  • Always inspect pipes and irrigation systems for damage.
  • Fix any damaged water systems as soon as you notice.
  • Remove shrubbery or wood near your home’s foundation (firewood, tree stumps, etc.).
  • Keep planter boxes at least 4 inches from the house.
  • Do not let soil piles stay on your yard for too long.

According to statistical data, the chances of your home being destroyed by termites is greater than it being destroyed by a fire. Moreover, termites account for more than 5 billion dollars in damages every year. It is also important to note that most insurance companies don't cover termite damage, so it's imperative that if you think you may have any of these three termites to contact your local termite exterminators and schedule an inspection.

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