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Not all termites are the same. In fact Arizona is home to at least 17 different species. Arizona desert termites are the most common subterranean termite found in Arizona.
Arizona desert termites are usually found on or around desert plants including cactus, Palm trees and wood fences in subdivisions. While desert termites don’t normally invade homes they are often found in crawl spaces of manufactured homes. Left unchecked Desert termites can cause severe structural damage and are known for damaging wood utility poles.
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Identification of Swarmers and Soldiers: The Desert subterranean is a pale yellowish brown and a fontanelle (front gland pore) is indistinct or absent.
The head of the Arizona desert termite soldier is rectangular in shape, the length about twice the width. It also has a fontanelle (front gland pore) on the forehead. The body (pronotum) is flat and almost as wide as the head.
The Desert termite soldiers have long powerful pointed jaws (mandibles) that are slender, fairly straight but slightly curved inward at the tip. This contrasts with the mandibles of other Phoenix area termites that are thick and curved.
The small size of Arizona desert termites and their ability to forage under dry conditions allows them to occupy a niche not exploited by other Arizona termite species.
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Identification of wood damage: Arizona desert termites prefer to eat the springwood in timbers, generally avoiding the lignin in summerwood. Damaged timber appears honeycombed, with soil in the galleries.
The Arizona desert termite is less dependent on moisture and decay than other Phoenix area termites. It will readily attack dry, sound wood. A typical sign of an infestation is the presence of drop tubes coming from the ceiling rafters and sheetrock/plasterboard and/or holes in the sheetrock plugged with feces.
Arizona desert termites prefer to forage in shaded soil or areas made wet by irrigation.
They will readily construct mud shelter tubes up, over, or around solid objects in order to reach a timber food source. These mud-tubes are slender, solidly built, and pale yellow to tan in color.
The mud-tubes are more circular in cross-section than those of other Phoenix area subterranean termites whose mud-tubes are flattened in cross-section and dirty light brown in color.
Arizona desert termites most often swarm at night during the rainy season, from July to September, usually after during our monsoon season or after rainfalls. The moist soil provides the nuptial Desert termite swarmers with the best chance of surviving and developing a new colony. The male and female pair off and enter the soil where they excavate a cavity or cell.
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A well-developed mature colony of Arizona desert termites may contain more than 300,000 termites, including a large number of secondary reproductive’s (queens) that can readily break off from the primary colony to form separate colonies. Arizona desert termites commonly have a foraging territory of up to almost an acre. An acre of land in the Phoenix area can hold 15-20 different colonies.
Arizona desert termites require only a tiny gap, about 1/32″, in concrete flooring or mortar joints in brick walls to gain access to the wall, roofing, and other structural timbers in a building.
The Arizona desert termite can penetrate cracks in concrete and masonry that are too narrow for foragers of other Phoenix area termite species to enter.
Arizona desert termites often build their mud-shelter tubes as free-standing tubes that “drop down” from rafters, ceilings, and subfloor areas under buildings.
It is by far the most common and destructive termite in Arizona.
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The swarmers are about 1/3″ long with wings, and 1/5″ long without wings. Their wings are almost whitish, with brown veins in the fore area. They are dark brown to black in color. The soldiers are 1/4″ long, with jaws that are nearly straight. They resemble the jaws of the desert termite but are slightly thicker.
Biology and Habits: The Arizona desert termite has been found living in sand dunes, as well as at altitudes above 7,000 feet along the Mogollon Rim.
It is also found in moist river low lands and along streams and canyons, but essentially it is a desert or prairie species. Arizona desert termites naturally occur in deserts where they attack creosote and greasewood bushes as well as buildings and other timber structures.