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Types of Termites and the Damage They Cause

Which types of termites are likely to infest your home?
Which types of termites are likely to infest your home?

You might not know it, but your home could be under attack. Right now. Even while you sleep. And it's not just one attacker -- it's thousands of tiny terrorists. You can't see them, but they're there. In the walls of your house, in your backyard, maybe even in your furniture. They wreak destruction 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They're termites, and they cause up to $5 billion a year in damages in the United States, according to the National Pest Management Association, chomping through wood in houses, decks, boats, trees and more.

About 2,800 species of termites exist on the planet. However, there are just a few types we humans need to worry about.

Subterranean termites, also known as ground termites, live underground in groups or colonies. Their main source of food is wood, and they'll tunnel underground up to 150 feet (45.7 meters) to find it. This source of wood could be your house. Subterranean termites are found throughout the United States, but are scarce in colder climates. They cause 95 percent of all termite damage in North America. A colony of subterranean termites can have up to 1 million members and can eat up to 15 pounds (6.8 kilograms) of wood per week! These termites can destroy home foundations, support beams, plastic pipes, insulation and more.

Drywood termites live above ground, preferring to make their homes inside wood and trees. They don't need moisture in their nests and instead get it from humidity in the air. You'll find more of them in Southern California and the Southeast United States. Drywood termites live inside wood, eating it from within. They like to make homes in attics, doorframes and window frames. Wood that's infested with drywood termites may look fine from the outside but actually be crumbling from within.

Dampwood termites like to build their colonies in damp, decaying wood, as their name implies. Considered an economic pest along the Pacific coast, they're also sometimes found in the desert of the American Southwest and in southern Florida (but aren't considered as dangerous in those areas). They're attracted to damp wood, so homes with moisture or plumbing issues can be affected. Dampwood termite damage looks smooth and clean inside.

Formosan termites are considered the most destructive of all termite types. These pests arrived in the United States from mainland China via Taiwan, entering the country through various port cities. Interesting tidbit: Scientists believe these termites spread across the U.S. via infested wooden railroad stakes. Most common to Louisiana, Formosan termites may infest up to 30 percent of trees in the state. They're also plentiful in New Mexico, California, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. These termites will infest wood and other cellulose-based goods and will invade boats and live trees.

If you suspect termites have infested your home or property, call a qualified professional as soon as possible. Termites work unbelievably fast and despite their tiny size can cause large amounts of damage.