Updated Jan 12, 2023
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Do you think your home has a termite infestation? It is important to know what kind of termites you are dealing with in order to know how to get rid of them. Keep reading for an overview of the various types of termites and their unique characteristics.
Subterranean termites are sleek bugs that measure around ¼ to ½ inches in length and have wings with a few barely visible hairs. Workers and soldiers, unlike swarmers, do not have wings and measure about ¼ inches or less in length. Subterranean termites have small jaws that enable them to chew through wood and other materials.
The color of subterranean termites ranges from creamy white to darker shades of brown. Workers are usually more of a creamy color than the swarmers.
This species of termites can be found in every state except Alaska. Subterranean termites like moist and warm climates and tend to shy away from the colder temperatures in the north. Although they typically swarm across the United States in the spring, it is common to see swarms in the winter in Florida.
They live in colonies underground that can contain up to 2 million members. Using “mud tubes,” subterranean termite colonies gain access to food sources and protect themselves from the open air.
Subterranean termite colonies may only produce a few eggs in the first year but can produce between 5,000 and 10,000 eggs per year once the colony’s queen matures. After several years, the colony reaches maturity and contains at least 60,000 and up to 2 million termites. Subterranean termites have scissor-like jaws that allow them to eat wood 24 hours per day, seven days a week. They also feed on products containing cellulose, like other termite species.
Subterranean termites can cause lots of damage to your home. Their hard, saw-toothed jaws can bite off extremely small wood fragments almost indefinitely. While this may not sound threatening, these creatures can eat ⅕ ounces of wood each day, which is enough to completely consume 2.3 feet of 2×4 wood boards in one year. If left for long enough, subterranean termites can cause entire buildings to collapse, causing significant financial ruin for homeowners. What’s more, it can be very hard to detect infestations, so subterranean termites can work away for years without you even knowing.
As their name suggests, conehead termites have cone-shaped heads with long, narrow bodies, six legs, and two long antennae. Conehead termites measure between 0.1 and 0.15 inches in length. Although soldiers only make up about 2% of subterranean and dry wood termite colonies, 20 to 30% of conehead colonies are made up of soldiers.
Soldier conehead termites have dark brown heads and cream-colored bodies, and the rest of the colony has cream-colored bodies with less distinctively-colored heads.
Conehead termites are found in the southern part of Florida, but they are native to the Caribbean and Central American countries like Panama.
A large conehead termite colony will have between 800,000 and 1.2 million termites. When colonies reach 50,000 workers and soldiers, it will send out reproductives to begin establishing new colonies.
Conehead termites have nests and tunnels, which appear above ground in the grass, trees, and bushes. This is notable because other termite species maintain nests and tunnels below the ground. Conehead termite nests look like balls of chewed wood, and they have tunnels made out of the mud.
Conehead termites are very aggressive and known for causing lots of damage in short periods of time. They will eat through anything containing cellulose, which includes trees, shrubs, wooden furniture, and lumber. Conehead termites can spread and cause millions of dollars in damage if infestations go unnoticed.
Although conehead termites don’t threaten human health, they are not easy to get rid of and can expose problems in your house that actually cause health problems. These pests also reproduce at extremely high rates, making it very important to begin the removal process as soon as they are identified.
Florida damp wood termites measure between ¾ of an inch and one inch in length. They have six legs, antennae, and swarmers have wings.
Swarmers and soldiers range from a light brown to a reddish-brown color.
In the United States, Florida damp wood termites are only found in Florida. They are additionally found across the Caribbean.
Damp wood termites tend to have very small colony sizes, and Florida damp wood termites are no exception. These termites will have colonies with a few thousand individuals.
Florida damp wood termites love woodlands, mangroves, and some urban environments. They typically only infest wood with high moisture content and will accordingly infest buildings prone to high moisture content from plumbing and drainage issues. Using a series of champers in wood connected by tunnels with smooth walls, these termites will work their way through your home or structure.
Like other termite species, damp wood termites can bite but rarely due. The primary danger caused by these termites is the damage they can create on your property.
Desert damp wood termites are one of the larger species of North American termites, with some soldiers measuring 0.8 inches in length. Reproducing termites can reach lengths of over an inch.
The kings and queens of this species have a dark brown color, soldiers tend to be brown or yellowish in color, and nymphs maintain spotted abdomens.
Desert damp wood termites are found in arid and semi-arid regions of the southwestern United States like Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and southern California.
Like other species of damp wood termites, desert damp wood termite colonies only have a few thousand individuals.
Instead of burrowing in soil or creating mud tunnels, desert damp wood termites generally live in wood materials. They also hide their nests very well to minimize moisture loss. For desert damp wood termites, the nymphs are the caretakers of the colony and feed the kings, queens, and soldiers. While they primarily eat damp wood that is below ground, some will consume shrubs, tree roots, fence posts, and doorframes.
This species of termites cause far less economic damage than subterranean or other damp wood species. Desert damp wood termites rarely infest homes, but if they do, you are likely to find them in wet wood kept damp by water leaks. For these reasons, ensuring your gutters and downspouts are working properly is important.
Nevada damp wood termites can measure up to ¾ of an inch in length and have very large mouthparts that they use to defend their colonies from predators.
The reproductives have dark brown wings and dark brown bodies, nymphs have cream-colored bodies, and soldiers have brown heads.
This species of termites can be found in the mountains of northern Nevada, Idaho, Montana, the Sierra Nevada region, and the northern coastal areas of California. You may also find Nevada damp wood termites in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and Washington, where they infest timber around the coastal regions of these states.
Like other species of damp wood termites, Nevada damp wood termite colonies only have a few thousand individuals. At most, they may have up to 4,000 termites in one colony.
Nevada damp wood termites begin their reproductive process when alates swarm, mate, and look for damp wood to begin new colonies. In areas at higher elevations, these termites will swarm in the spring months, and in lower coastal areas, they swarm during the summer and fall. Nevada damp wood termites feed on nearly wood that is in contact with the soil or in structures built near areas of tidal flooding. They have also been known to infest cabins at higher altitudes.
Although they can cause a lot of property damage, most homes don’t have enough moisture to attract Nevada damp wood termites, especially in heavily-populated areas. You are more likely to find this species in places with less human habitation, where a lack of daily attention can cause structures to develop moisture problems.
Desert termites are nearly ½ inches in length.
These termites have light-brown bodies and wings.
Desert termites can be found in parts of southern Arizona and southern California.
Desert termite colonies range in size from tens of thousands of termites to hundreds of thousands of termites.
Desert termites build moisture-retaining tubes out of carton — a mix of soil and feces glued together with termite saliva — to minimize moisture loss in their habitats. Through tunnels in the soil, desert termites increase the porousness of the soil to enable more rainfall and improve plant growth nearby. Plant growth is important for desert termites as they feed on living, dead, and decomposing plant material. These termites swarm at sunset after a summer rain.
This species of termites generally doesn’t pose a threat to humans because they don’t invade homes, tunnel through wood, or eat wooden structures. Unlike other subterranean termites, desert termites like plant materials, which usually means they won’t infest your house.
Southeastern drywood termites have a very similar appearance to other drywood termites. These termites have wings with three thickened veins that run parallel to each other, running from the wing’s base to its tip.
Southeastern drywood termites are yellow to yellowish-brown and have wings that are usually a pale color.
Southeastern drywood termites can be found in states from Texas to the east coast. They are also common in South Carolina and Florida.
Unlike some subterranean termites that have over a million members in their colonies, drywood termite colonies only have several thousand members.
Southeastern drywood termites don’t have a true worker caste. Nymphs tend to perform the labor and all eventually grow to become soldiers or alates. These termites typically swarm during the evening or at mid-day, though only a dozen or so alates will swarm.
This species of termites prefer much dryer wood than other types of termites. They construct galleries inside infested wood and produce small fecal pellets out through the holes located in the infested wood.
These termites do less damage to homes than other types of termites because they eat across the grain of wood instead of eating with the grain of the wood. Nevertheless, they can still pose a threat to your house or wooden structures on your property if an infestation is left for too long.
Western drywood termites are the most common type of drywood termite found in the United States. They have ½-inch long bodies and two large mouthparts that look like teeth extending beyond their heads.
These termites are dark brown with smoky-black wings and brown heads.
The western drywood termite can be found across the southwestern states, particularly in Arizona and California. But with travel and commerce serving as a means of transport for these termites, they may also show up throughout the United States.
This species of termites have relatively small colonies, as most mature western drywood termite colonies comprise around 3,000 individual members upon reaching maturity after 10 to 15 years.
Western drywood termites don’t live in the ground and survive well in non-decayed wood that has little moisture content. Unlike other termite colonies, western drywood termite colonies don’t have a worker caste system, so the nymphs perform all tasks usually done by workers.
These termites emerge to swarm and reproduce during the daytime hours of late September and last through November, except in warmer climates. While swarming, winged reproductives emerge from holes in infested wood to go and infest other wood such as window and door frames, trim, eaves, and attics.
Western drywood termites cause damage that looks as if they have eaten across the wood grain and not with the wood grain. Like their southeastern cousins, these termites produce fecal pellets that are excreted from infested wood through kick-out holes.
Formosan termites measure ½ inch in length, and they have translucent wings covered in small hairs. Formosan termite soldiers have rounded heads that are tapered toward the front, and mandibles lack teeth.
These termites have bodies that are pale yellow to brownish yellow.
Formosan termites tend to live in mildly temperate climates. They can be found in Hawaii and many states across the southern United States, such as Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. Sometimes, smaller populations of these termites can be found as far north as the Canadian border.
This species of termites live in large underground colonies with nearly 350,000 workers.
Like their eastern subterranean counterparts, formosan termites invade structures using mud tubes constructed up from the soil to wood. Some formosan termites might also establish carton tests above ground if there is enough moisture available. In these colonies, formosan queens can produce more than 1,000 eggs per day.
Swarming generally occurs in the evening after a warm rain in the spring and summer. During this time, formosan termite colonies may release over 70,000 swarmers.
Formosan termite infestations leave damaged wood that sounds hollow when tapped. The wood also appears to have been eaten way along the grain pattern, as this is the way formosan termites chew through wood. A formosan termite colony will eat though more than an ounce per day — a rate that could enable a colony to consume one foot of 2×4 wood in 25 days. Alongside wood structures, formosan termites will infest trees and shrubs, utility poles, wooden railroad trusses, and even electric cable insulation.
Adult arid land termites are nearly ½ inches in length when winged and close to ⅜ inches long after losing their wings. Soldiers are close to the same size as adults, but they have longer mandibles to help fend off predators.
This species of termites are dark brown to black in color. However, the worker caste resembles light-colored ants.
This species of termites can be found in places with lots of sun and little water. In the United States, they are commonly from west to Indiana and south into Mississippi.
Queens can lay thousands of eggs per day, meaning that their colonies can end up comprising thousands of members.
Arid land termites consume brush, cut wood, dead tree parts, and living trees. The timing of their swarming varies according to where they live. For example, these termites swarm from January until March below 4,000 feet and from June until July above 4,000 feet.
These termites are far less damaging to human structures than eastern subterranean termites. However, arid land termites do tend to attack homes built in areas where their natural wood sources have been removed or reduced.
Dark southeastern subterranean termites are ⅓ of an inch long. Soldiers have rectangular-shaped heads and large mouthparts.
This species has dark-brown or black bodies, though workers look like white or cream-colored ants.
Dark southeastern subterranean termites can be found across the eastern United States from New England, down to Florida, and out to Texas.
This species of termites can lay thousands of eggs per day, meaning that their colonies may end up comprising thousands of members.
These termites construct mud tubes that enable them to travel from the soil to above-ground sources of food. This species eats wood but especially prefers pine and douglas fir lumber and plywood. Dark southeastern termites will swarm during the summer on warm, sunny, and windless afternoons.
Damaged wood and the presence of mud tubes are both signs of an infestation. When dark southeastern termites chew through wood, the wood tends to appear honeycombed, and layered hollow sections are packed with mud and partially digested wood. Like other termites, this species can do serious damage to your home if an infestation is left for too long.
Winged adult desert subterranean termites measure about ½ inches in length. Soldiers have rectangular-shaped heads and big mouthparts
Workers from this species of termites resemble cream-colored ants, and reproductives are pale or yellowish-brown.
In the United States, desert subterranean termites are mainly found throughout southeastern California and the southern parts of Arizona.
These termites have very large colonies, with some mature colonies containing over 300,000 individual members.
Desert subterranean termites live in arid, hot areas and are less reliant on moisture than other species of termites. They generally eat woody-type plants such as cactus, living and dead trees, utility poles, and wooden structures. These termites forage for their food in shaded soil or areas where irrigation helps to maintain moisture in the soil. Through mud tubes, desert subterranean termites travel in search of food. This species of termites swarms at dusk from the July rainy season until September.
Damaged wood, mud tubes, and the appearance of swarmers are all signs of a desert subterranean termite infestation. Wood that is ruined by these termites is soft and honeycombed with layers of mud and partially digested wood packed into hollow sections of the wood. Like other species of termites, these termites can cause extensive damage to human-build structures.
The eastern subterranean termite can measure between ¼ to ⅜ of an inch in length.
The easter subterranean termite workers are cream-colored, while queens and kings are black or brown.
Easter subterranean termites are found across the United States, and especially in all eastern states including Texas.
Colonies of eastern subterranean termites can contain anywhere from 60,000 to almost one million individual members.
This species of termites consumes wood and anything else containing cellulose. For example, book pages and other paper products are favorites of eastern subterranean termites. As these termite workers are foraging for food, they communicate the food source by depositing odors called pheromones along the trails they build. For above-ground foraging, eastern subterranean termites build mud tubes like many other termite species. They often live in humid areas of the home, around the home, and in water-damaged lumber.
Because this species of termites only eats softwood, they leave behind layered pieces of wood with the hardwood remaining. If infestations of eastern subterranean termites are left for too long, they can cause substantial damage to your home and wooden structures.
Western subterranean termites measure around ⅜ of an inch in length, and they have two pairs of wings. The front wings are larger than their hind wings. Soldiers have rectangle heads and large pincher mouthparts, which they use to fight off invaders.
This species of termites look like white or cream-colored ants. But soldiers have orange heads and swarmers have dark brown bodies.
These termites are the most common termite in the western United States. They can be found in Washington, Idaho, California, and certain areas in Nevada.
The size of western subterranean termite colonies can reach hundreds of thousands of individual members.
This species of termites is not picky when it comes to food. They will indulge in fallen trees, stumps, and dead wood, but they are also happy to consume non-decayed wood. Because western subterranean termites are susceptible to dehydration, they must constantly be around moist environments. It is for this reason that termites build mud tubes that extend from the moist soil to above-ground food sources.
Western subterranean termites swarm during the spring, especially after rain has fallen. Healthy termite nests can produce thousands of swarmers that will go on to mate and begin new colonies.
Damaged wood, mud tubes, and swarmers are all signs of an infestation. Like other subterranean termite species, these termites leave behind honeycombed wood containing layered hollow sections of wood. Once again, these termites can infest your home or nearby wooden structures without you ever knowing. Before you know it, they can create thousands of dollars of damage.
The queen begins her job as the “founder” of the colony by finding a suitable nest site, excavating it, and then producing eggs that eventually become workers. As the workers feed the queen, she lays eggs at a steady rate every day. While egg production begins slowly, it increases every year until the queen reaches peak production, which lasts seven to 10 years.
The queen has a long lifespan and is generally the oldest termite in the colony. She can live 25 to 30 years and is usually a bit larger in size than worker termites.
The termite king is the second most important member of the colony after the queen. His job is to mate with the queen and release chemicals that control the way the colony functions. Once the king finds a queen, the pair lose their wings and burrow into the ground. While he spends his whole life mating, the king will also take care of larvae until workers are available for this job. Once the king dies, the absence of the chemicals that direct workers cause these workers to turn into replacement reproductives.
While kings initially look like other termites, their royal status eventually becomes apparent as he darkens in color and obtains superior eyesight. The king doesn’t grow much more than the average worker, however.
The reproductive termite is key to increasing the growth and success of the termite colony. The primary reproductives in a colony are the king and queen. These two start the colony by leaving their old colonies during a swarm and mating in a new location. The two primary reproductives only lay several eggs at first that will hatch and become soldier and worker termites.
When a colony begins to reach maturity, secondary reproductives emerge. These are formerly baby termites that move past the larva stage to become wingless reproductives. Secondary reproductives are more mobile than the queen and will resemble workers in their color and habits.
Winged reproductive termites are secondary reproductives that are also called “alates.” These are the termites that leave their nests during swarms to start new colonies. Because swarming alates are not immediately produced in a colony, it can take years before they emerge. After being nourished by worker and soldier termites, the winged reproductives take flight during swarms that happen at varying times throughout the year. Once a couple is formed and has successfully mated, they lose their wings and begin the hard work of building a new colony.
Worker termites remain in the colony for much of their youth, where they do general repair and maintenance work in the nest and galleries, and they are responsible for caring for the queen and her eggs. Upon reaching maturity, the workers become responsible for foraging for food outside of the nest. Workers also defend the colony from invaders if soldiers are not present.
Workers are wingless and have hardened heads and mouthparts. Their duties in the colony are linked to their size and age.
Soldier termites are primarily responsible for defending the nest from their main enemy — the ant. Soldiers have large heads and mandibles, which enables them to battle insects that attempt to invade their colony. However, in many colonies, soldier termites make up only 2% of the colony’s members, so they can be easily overwhelmed. Soldiers additionally use their heads to plug holes in the mud tubes that extend from the soil to a food source above ground.
Although termites and ants look similar, there are several key differences between the two species. Whereas swarming termites are pale in color, flying ants are black, brown, red, or a mixture of these colors. As well, while termites and ants both have two sets of wings, termites have wings that are equal in size. Termites and ants both have three body segments, but termites do not have the thin waist of an ant. Finally, termites have straight, beaded antennae, and ants have bent antennae.
Termites have wings, unlike maggots. As well, termites have distinct heads, and maggots have heads that are nearly indistinguishable from their bodies. Most importantly, a key difference between termites and maggots is that termites create mounds and maggots do not. Finally, termites have antennae, wings, and legs, and maggots don’t.
First, termites are paler in color than earwigs. Whereas termites range from white to light brown, earwigs are often brown to reddish-brown. Second, unlike termites, earwigs have prominent “cerci” or “pinchers” on their back abdomens and two tentacles that come out of their bellies. Overall, earwigs are much less invasive than termites and tend to cause far less damage to your home.
Gnats are small insects that measure less than ¼ of an inch in length. They can be yellowish, tan, or dark brown in color, and they have distinctive long legs. You can often see giant clouds of swarming gnats at dusk as they go off to mate. Unlike termites, gnats look like flies and lack the three-segment bodies of termites. Gnats are also far less destructive to your home.
Bed bugs measure around 0.02 inches in length on average, but they can grow over ¼ of an inch long. They have a reddish tone and can be found in beds, clothes, cars, and similar places. Unlike termites, bed bugs feed on human blood, as well as cats, dogs, birds, and other animals.
German cockroaches measure less than an inch in length and have tan or brown bodies with two black stripes on their heads. American cockroaches are bigger and can grow over 3 inches in length with reddish-brown bodies and yellow circles on their heads. Termites, on the other hand, look more like ants with two straight antennae, a large head, and a wide midsection. Despite their physical differences, both insects have similar social behavior.
This article has provided an overview of the various types of termites and their unique characteristics. If you ever suspect that you have an infestation, do not hesitate to seek professional help as soon as possible. The longer you wait to deal with your termite problem, the more structural and financial damage they will do to your home.
Termite damage can take numerous forms inside your house. You will notice wooden structures beginning to bend, sag, blister, and crumble under weight that they can no longer bear. Alternatively, you can often see porous-looking wood that appears to have been attacked by hundreds of wood carving knives.
In termite colonies, only swarmer termites have wings. After mating, these termites will shed their wings to become the kings and queens of newly established colonies.
Termites can spend a year or more in your house before any signs of an infestation begin to show. Over time, you may find that doors and windows are harder to open and close, walls look like they are bulging, and floors start to dip. You can also find dead termite swarmers, discarded wings, mud tubes, and droppings around your house when there is a termite infestation.
Once you discover a termite infestation, you should immediately call a professional for assistance. Some of the extermination methods used by professionals include treating the soil around your house with termite insecticide, injecting foam agents into tight spaces, and fumigation.