There are several species of Termite in the United States of America, but Western Washington is home to only two: the Western Subterranean Termite and the Dampwood Termite. Both of these Termites serve the purpose of advancing the decay of dead wood to maintain a balanced ecosystem.
Termites in general are unique in the insect world. They are capable of surviving solely on the nutrients they extract from cellulose. Technically, the Termites only eat the wood, and it is a symbiotic organism in their stomach called a protozoa that extracts the nutrients that keep the Termites alive. What makes things really interesting is that Termites are not born with the protozoa. An adult Termite must feed the newborns part of their own protozoa so that they can survive off of a cellulose only diet.
As the name would indicate, these pests live in damp or moisture-damaged wood. Dampwood Termites need high levels of moisture to live. They can often be found nesting in wood siding under a leaking gutter, behind an improperly sealed porch, or in a rotting tree stump or landscape timbers. Dampwood Termites are rather large, with adults averaging 3/4 of an inch in length, and are cream colored to brownish in appearance.
Because they rarely leave the nest site, Dampwood Termites are most frequently seen during their reproductive swarming season in the late summer months at dusk. Many people confuse their mating flights with that of swarming ants, but there are several distinct differences between termites and ants.
All termites have two pairs of equal-length wings; reproductive ants also have two pairs of wings, but if you look closely you will find that one pair of wings on an ant is longer than the other. Dampwood Termites are usually much larger as well, with two distinct body segments (head and thorax) whereas ants have three distinctive body segments (head, abdomen, and thorax).