Encyclopedia Article

Termites in Iowa

Iowa termite colonies are highly organized societies of several hundred thousand to 1 million or more individuals. Termites found in Iowa live underground within a loose collection of tunnels and chambers, giving them the name “subterranean termites”.

Individual termites have different roles. Workers (1/8-inch, creamy white, wingless, segmented body, bead-like antennae) are the most numerous members of the colony. They build and maintain the nest, care for the immatures, and forage for food to eat and carry back to the nest. Termite food consists of wood and other cellulose products such as paper and cardboard. Reproductives, i.e., queens and kings, produce the new offspring, while soldiers guard the colony from invasion. Swarmers (3/8-inch, straight-sided, black body, silver wings) are male and female adults that emerge from well-established colonies to attempt to establish new colonies.

Subterranean termite workers constantly explore for food by excavating a network of random, pencil-sized tunnels through the soil in the area surrounding their nest. Foraging may occur over considerable distances --- up to 100 meters (330 feet) in some cases. Homes become infested when the termites find a way into the house during their constant and random search for food. A termite infestation in the home is usually not obvious because most activity in concealed.

Signs of a termite problem include the presence of pencil-wide mud foraging tubes on foundation walls, floor joists, etc., the presence of damage inside structural wood, drywall, paneling, molding, paper or cardboard, and emergence of swarmers. Presence of termites in or near a house is reason for inspection of the house and property. There is no need to panic or rush. Take your time to get complete information. If termite activity is confirmed or if treatment is recommended, get at least three opinions and estimates from local, reputable pest control firms.

Drywood Termites

As the name implies, drywood termites establish in dry, sound wood that may have as little as 3 percent moisture content. They are not dependent upon a constant moisture supply as are subterranean termites.

One of the common symptoms of drywood termite attack is the accumulation of tiny, straw-colored fecal pellets inside or beneath infested furniture. These pellets sift from small holes in the surface of infested wood or are pushed out through small round openings maintained by the termites for this purpose. The hard fecal pellets have six distinct, concave surfaces. Presence of pellets does not prove damaged wood is currently infested, as pellets continue to sift from furniture for many years after termites are controlled or die. However, large, consistent accumulations of pellets are a convincing sign the termites are still active.

Treatment Options

For information on available treatment options, please see our article on termite control in Iowa