Drywood termites differ from subterranean termites in size, appearance, and type of wood they infest. Drywood termites are generally larger, more cylindrical in appearance (due to broader segments behind the head), and infest wood with low moisture content. The West Indian drywood termite, Cryptotermes brevis, is among the most economically important of the drywood termites. Although this species can now be found in Hawaii and along the southern coast of the United States, imported furniture may arrive infested and unknowingly be shipped and sold to customers in any part of the world.
Homeowners are often only aware of a drywood termite infestation after finding piles of pellets beneath wooden objects. These pellets are dry fecal material. While most animals have bodily systems that conserve water loss, drywood termites take it to the next level. Each termite has six rectal pads which reabsorb nearly every bit of water from their waste, resulting in a characteristic, barrel-shaped, six-sided pellet. An infestation can be confirmed from the pellets alone.
Drywood termites have a slightly different caste system compared to other termites. While most other termites are divided into workers, soldiers, and reproductives, drywood termites do not have a true worker class. Instead, they have pseudergates, soldiers, and reproductives. Only the reproductives have eyes; the pseudergates and soldiers are completely blind.
The pseudergates (“false workers”) are an immature stage which perform the same role as workers in other termite species, but they eventually develop into soldiers or winged reproductives (swarmers). As such, they only provide worker-like services until they mature into their final form. Their job includes foraging for wood and sharing this food with the colony.
The soldiers can vary in their appearance depending on the species, but their role is to protect the colony from predators and invaders. Some drywood termite soldiers have elongated mandibles for biting, but some others (like Cryptotermes brevis) have hardened, wrinkled, blocky heads with short mandibles. They use their heads as living plugs to keep unwanted guests from entering into tunnels or openings.
The winged reproductives, or swarmers, arise from pseudergates. They disperse from their colony between dusk and dawn during the warmer months and are highly attracted to lights. Males and females pair up, break off their wings, and search together, on foot, for a suitable wooden home. The founding female and male are called the queen and king, respectively.
Colonies are fairly slow-growing, especially for Cryptotermes brevis. For this species, it may take as long as six months to hatch the first brood. Soldiers may not appear until the second or third year. A colony reaches maturity at around five years but can survive for over ten years. A mature colony can house over a thousand members. Compare this to subterranean termites, which can have tens to hundreds of thousands of workers, and Formosan subterranean termites can have millions.
University of Florida, Featured Creature: West Indian Powderpost Termite. Website: http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/urban/termites/west_indian_drywood_termite.htm. Accessed February 2018.
University of Florida, Featured Creature: Cryptotermes cavifrons, A Drywood Termite. Website: http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/urban/termites/c_cavifrons.htm. Accessed February 2018.
University of Florida, Featured Creature: Formosan Subterranean Termite. Website: http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/urban/termites/formosan_termite.htm. Accessed February 2018.