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Subterranean vs. drywood termites: know the differences

By Nicky Gallagher, Technical Services Manager, Syngenta Professional Pest Management

Whether you’re dealing with subterranean or drywood termites, controlling them often requires more knowledge than just what appears on your termiticide label. It’s important to educate yourself on the differences between these two termite cousins before attempting to control them on your customers’ properties.

There are several key differences between subterranean and drywood termites:

  • Subterranean termites are found in every U.S. state except Alaska. Drywood termites are found mostly along the coastal margin of the U.S., extending from Virginia to Florida, along the Gulf Coast, through the Southwest and along the Pacific Coast from Mexico to northern California.

  • A subterranean termite colony can contain millions of termites, while a drywood termite colony often contains less than a thousand individuals.

  • Subterranean termites need soil contact to establish a colony, while drywood termites do not. Drywood termites have more impermeable cuticles that retain body moisture, so they are well-adapted to drier environments.

  • Subterranean termites only feed on the soft part of wood (spring wood) between the grains. Drywood termites create large galleries as they feed both with the grain and across the grain of wood (spring and summer wood). Subterranean termites fill their galleries with moist soil and feces, while drywood termite galleries are clean and smooth.

  • Unlike subterranean termites, drywood termites do not build shelter tubes. The most common signs of a drywood termite infestation are piles of fecal pellets pushed out of galleries via the “kick-out” holes, which accumulate on horizontal surfaces below kick-out holes.

Altriset: a solution for either problem

Labeled for control of both subterranean and drywood termites, Altriset® termiticide from Syngenta features a fast-acting formulation to quickly control termites in less than three months, and provide long-lasting residual structural protection for as many as nine years.1

  • Altriset for subterranean termites: These termites can be controlled with a pre-construction, post-construction or non-structural termiticide application. Once exposed to Altriset, subterranean termite feeding is halted, but they can still walk, groom and socialize in groups for an extended period of time to enhance exposure among other termite colony members.

  • Altriset for drywood termites: Since drywood termites do not live in soil, a treatment to the soil or the use of in-ground bait stations will not protect a structure from them. However, Altriset can be applied as a liquid or foam treatment to penetrate localized infestations in difficult-to-reach areas. In the study shown below, Altriset achieved 100 percent control of Incisitermes minor drywood termites within one month of application.2

Drywood termite mortality with Altriset


Trials reflect treatment rates commonly recommended in the marketplace.
2 Russ & Wright, University of California, Riverside, 2013.

Staying educated about termite differences and control options will help you provide more effective control for your customers. For more information, visit  or contact your local Syngenta territory manager.


1 USDA-FS Termiticide Report, T. Shelton, T. Wagner & D.Fye. Pest Management. Vol 81 (2), Pgs 36-52.

©2018 Syngenta. Important: Always read and follow label instructions. Some products may not be registered for sale or use in all states or counties. Please check with your local extension service to ensure registration status. Altriset®, For Life Uninterrupted™ and the Syngenta logo are trademarks of a Syngenta Group Company. Syngenta Customer Center: 1-866-SYNGENT(A) (796-4368).

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© Syngenta. Important: Always read and follow label instructions. Some products may not be registered for sale or use in all states or counties and/or may have state-specific use requirements. Please check with your local extension service to ensure registration and proper use. The trademarks displayed or otherwise used herein are trademarks or service marks of a Syngenta Group Company or third parties. Syngenta Customer Center: 1-866-SYNGENT(A) (796-4368).