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Subterranean Termites: Facts, Identification & Control


Subterranean Termites: Facts, Identification & Control

Latin Name

Order Isoptera


Four "castes" of a termite colony: workers are approximately 1/4-inch long, light-colored and wingless; soldiers have elongated heads with mandibles; supplementary reproductives are light-colored and wingless or have very short, nonfunctional wings.


Live in colonies underground, from which they build tunnels in search of food; able to reach food above the ground level by building mud tubes; dependent on moisture for survival.


Wood and other cellulose material.


Different rates of growth from egg stage to adult depending on individual species; one queen per colony, which can lay tens of thousands of eggs in its lifetime, but most eggs are laid by supplementary reproductives in an established colony.

Other Facts

There are over 2,500 described species of termite living today. Many of them are found in tropical and subtropical regions such as deserts and rain forests. However, there are more than 40 species that have been found living in the United States. Collectively, they are responsible for an average of one billion dollars per year in property damages, infesting 350,000 structures.

These numerous species are broken down into subterranean termites, dampwood termites, and drywood termites. The three types differ in colony-building habits and preferred climate. Subterranean termites build large colonies underground, which are composed of elaborate tunnels and chambers. Worker termites then construct protective tunnels made of mud and saliva in order to reach aboveground wood. When subterranean termites eat wood, they fill it with soil to help maintain the humidity. If mud tunnels are visible on the walls or foundation of your home, it is highly likely that you are experiencing a subterranean termite infestation. Subterranean termites are found throughout the United States, but are relatively scarce in the colder states.

Alternatively, drywood termites make their nests within cellulose-based materials such as lumber, siding, and wooden trim. They also attack floors, furniture, and books. Drywood termites can be more difficult to detect, and aren't typically noticeable until small piles of dust or feces collect.

Dampwood termites locate their colonies in wood that is wet and even decaying. Wood that is in contact with the soil or wood that is constantly wet are ideal nesting sites for these termites. They are common in the Southwest and along the Pacific coast. They are also found in Florida. If your home has leaky pipes or other moisture situations, it may be attractive to dampwood termites.

Termites are known for swarming in the spring, summer, and autumn. During the swarm they send out large numbers of winged, reproductive males and females that will mate, shed their wings and develop new colonies. The actual timing of the nuptial flight varies by species and local climate.