Termites in California: Types, Risks, and How to Prevent Them

Written by Alyssa Shea
Published: October 16, 2023
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Termites can be found all across California. These little bugs enjoy munching on many homes and businesses across the state! Most of the structures here are prone to termite damage, so residents must learn about the potential damage they can cause. It’s also possible to eliminate these pests before they cause an issue. It can be hard to find termite damage, as it can take three to five years for a termite colony’s damage to become visible. Let’s learn more about the different species of termites and how to avoid falling prey to their associated risks.

Termites in California

Did you know termites cause over $5 billion in damage across California annually? These annoying bugs can consume up to 3% of their body weight daily! They never sleep, either, which means they can spend the entire day eating anything that contains cellulose. The unique enzymes, protozoa, and bacteria in their guts allow them to break down and digest the cellulose.

Worker termites are wingless and soft-bodied and care for the eggs and immature termites. They also search for food, help maintain tunnels, and sometimes aid in protecting the colony. Soldiers vary in size and color, but they spend the entirety of their lives in defense of the colony, guarding it against predators. The reproductives are the sexual adults of the colony and make new colonies after their swarming flight and subsequent shedding of their wings. The queen will always be the largest. Her primary duty is laying eggs, and the king, or male reproductive, spends his days beside her.

In California, you can find 3 different species.

1. Subterranean Termites

The subterranean termite is the most common type of termite you will find across the United States. They prefer wet soil but will chow down on any wood they come across while tunneling underground. This means you might see them in fallen trees, old lumber, or in the bones of your home. These are California’s most destructive and invasive variety of termites and can be found throughout the state.

The most common way to get rid of them is through liquid applications of pesticides, though pest control companies might also use soil barriers and fumigation. The best way to deter subterranean termites is by ensuring that all substructural wood beneath the building should be kept at least 12 inches above the soil. Reduce humidity in crawl spaces or attics, address leaks, and properly divert water away from your home through downspouts.

Formosan Subterranean Termites

You can find this species making mud tubes across your yard.


2. Drywood Termites

While dry-wood termites are usually found in southern California and the Central Valley, they can also be found in other spots across the state. Keep an eye out for them in coastal areas, including the Bay Area and other coastal locations. These are the second-most common types of termites to be found in the state and can be just as destructive as subterranean termites. They tend to infest dead wood along rivers, also feeding on cellulose, though they avoid soft or moist wood.

Boric acid or borate treatments are common ways to rid yourself of these pests. You can also use sulfuryl fluoride or monitored fumigation. The best way to prevent an infestation is by sealing off cracks on any openings in the wood of your home. Also, make sure you dispose of any piles of decaying wood and store firewood away from your home.

Close up macro Drywood termites. They feed on any piece of wood found around home.

These termites live entirely within the wood they infest and can go undetected for years.


3. Dampwood Termites

Did you know that the dampwood termites are much larger than the subterranean termites and have large pincers? They tend to hang out in humid areas along the California coast. You can locate them in decayed wood or other wooden structures that tend to be perpetually wet. You can tell if a piece of wood has dampwood termites if it’s soft or squishy to the touch and sounds hollow when tapped.

Borax or borate treatments are an excellent way to eliminate these pests. It’s rare to require fumigation efforts, though. A good way to avoid these insects altogether is by repairing roof leaks, removing sources of excess water in the home, fixing leaky gutters, and having proper water drainage.

Animals That Spit Acid

Termites have been around for over 100 million years.


The photo featured at the top of this post is © Chaikom/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

I'm a 36-year-old mother of 2 and military wife. I have 2 dogs and a cat that I'm thoroughly obsessed with. When I'm not writing for work, I'm writing as a hobby. You can find me knee deep in a pile of books or way too invested in a video game.

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