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What do termites look like?


Knowing how to identify termites can mean homeowners can stop a termite infestation quickly before it becomes expensive for repairs.

Where do termites live? How can you decide if you have a termite infestation? We have put together in our article some tips to help you identify termites and a possible termite infestation and which termite species is causing an infestation.

Let’s get started!

Termites vary in size from a quarter of an inch to an inch long. Termites range in color from white/translucent to brown or black.

During the swarming season, termites are often confused with flying ants because both reproductive species have wings and straight antennae.

How to tell the difference between Termites and Ants

All termite species have two sets of wings that are the same length on their bodies. Termites have three body segments which are not as apparent as an ant’s body segments. Termites have straight antennae.

Ants have two sets of wings on their bodies, like termites. However, the front wings are longer than the rear wings. An ant’s body is more clearly segmented and has bent antennae.

What color is a termite?

Sometimes you see insects and bugs in the home and think, Is that a termite? You might also think about what color termites are. Termites vary in color and appearance depending on the species of termites and whether they have the role of worker termites, soldier termites, or reproductive termites within the colony.

Termite colonies have a few castes and include:

Soldier Termites: They defend the colony and go with the workers when they are foraging to protect them from ants and other species of termites.

Worker termites: There are more of these termites in a colony than in any other caste. Workers take care of the eggs, forage for food, and maintain the colony.

Reproductive termites: Also known as swarmers or Alates, fly from mature colonies to mate and create new colonies.

Queen: The queen has the role of continuously laying eggs.

The color of a termite is a characteristic that helps determine the species of termites, which allows for correct pest control measures. Unfortunately, workers from all the termite species are very similar in appearance.

What do common termites look like?

Below we have put together some helpful ways to identify the most common types of termites to be found in the United States:

How to identify Subterranean termites

There are some main differences between the three types of termites; habitats vary, the kind of wood they like to eat, and the signs of their presence.

Let’s start with Subterranean termites’

Subterranean termites range in color according to their caste. The colors vary from pale cream to dark brown or black.

These termites are the most abundant in the United States. They are in every State except Alaska. This species of termite prefer to live under the ground. Eastern Subterranean termites build mud tubes to travel along from their nests in the soil to a wood structure where the termites eat wood and can cause significant termite damage.

The mud tubes signify termite activity and possible infestation in your home.

What do Eastern subterranean termites look like?

Workers: Workers have a soft body that is pale and cream-colored. Workers do not have eyes or wings. Workers use scent and touch to forage.

Soldiers: Termite soldiers are similar in color to workers and do not have eyes or wings like workers. However, their heads are enlarged and orange/ amber in color, with mandibles used to defend the colony.

Reproductives: Swarming termites or winged termites are a darker brown or black color. They have four wings that are the same in size.

Subterranean termite Queen

The Subterranean termite queens have a dark brown head and thorax; the abdomen is whitish and enlarged. A human coming across a Subterranean termite queen would be very rare as she is deep in the underground colony.

How to identify Formosan termites

Formosan Subterranean termites are similar in appearance to the Subterranean termite and drywood worker termites. They are cream/ white to brown and are around half an inch long. They are common in the Southeast of the United States and Hawaii.

Formosan termites are more aggressive than Subterranean termites when feeding on wooden structures. They are known as the most destructive termite species. This is probably down to the fact that Formosan termites have enormous colonies containing millions of termites.

Workers: Formosan workers are pale/ cream like other termite species of workers.

Soldiers: Termite soldiers have whitish bodies and Orangie-brown heads.

Reproductives: Formosan termite swarmers are a pale yellowish-brown color.

Formosan termite Queens

A Formosan termite queen can live for fifteen years; in that time, she can lay 2,000 eggs in a day. A mature colony will have millions of termites in the nest. Like the Subterranean termite, they build mud tubes.

How to identify Southeastern drywood termites

Drywood termites, unlike other types, do not need moist conditions or soil to survive. Drywood termites are usually pale brown. However, their color can be yellow/tan or dark brown.

Drywood termites are usually found in humid coastal areas. The drywood termite lives inside wood structures and gets the moisture needed from the wood and humidity in the air.

Drywood termites create kick-out holes in their infested wood to push out feces and debris.

Drywood termites eat across the grain in the wood.

Drywood termites have much smaller colonies than Subterranean termites. A mature colony, about four years old, will have a few hundred to a few thousand dry wood termites. Like other species of termites, winged termites (termite swarmers) will mate and create new termite colonies in other wooden structures.

As well as the presence of swarmer termites, drywood termites leave piles of frass, basically termite droppings that look like sawdust, which can be found around windowsills and doors. A drywood termite does not nest in soil. Therefore, mud tubes are not a sign of a dry wood termite presence.

Workers: Drywood termite workers are similar in appearance to Subterranean termites with a creamy white color.

Soldiers: The soldier drywood termite has opaque bodies and darker orange, brownish heads.

Reproductives: Drywood termite swarmers are dark brown, and their wings are a smoky gray color.

How to identify Pacific dampwood termites

Dampwood termites are usually found in Florida, Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, and Nevada. They prefer decaying wood, stumps, dead trees, water-damaged wood, and wood with high moisture content. Dampwood termites can often be found infesting dying, fallen trees. Dampwood termites do not live or build a termite colony in the soil.

Workers: These termites are creamy white/ brown and are up to half an inch long.

Dampwood termites have some immature termites that have a role as workers; they are not sterile and can develop into Alates (swarmer termites) and will leave to mate and create new colonies if needed.

Soldiers: A Dampwood soldier termite looks reddish-brown with a large flat head. The soldiers have black mandibles and two teeth that can be seen. They are larger than soldiers of other termite species at about three-quarters of an inch.

Reproductives: These termite swarmers are around half an inch long in Florida. They can be larger by up to an inch. Their color ranges from yellow/brown to medium brown.

How to identify Conehead termites

Conehead termites look dark brown with dark wings. Conehead termites do not live underground; they are found above ground. Their nests look like balls of chewed wood. They forage on the ground like ants, enabling them to spread quickly.

Workers: Conehead termite workers come in two sizes, around a ninth to half an inch long. The larger workers are female, and the more minor workers are male.

Soldiers: Conehead termite soldiers are a similar size to the workers. Their heads are dark brown and have a cone-shaped snout called Nasus that can spray a chemical as a defense.

Reproductives: These termite swarmers are large in comparison to other termite species. They are often up to three-quarters of an inch long. The termite swarmers have dark brown bodies with dark wings.

How to identify a queen termite

A termite queen looks different from termite workers and soldiers in a colony. A queen has a swollen stomach full of eggs and hardly looks like an insect. As the queen ages, so does her ability to lay more eggs. How many eggs depend on the termite queen’s species; it could be hundreds of eggs laid a day or thousands. Queens have a long life that can last up to thirty years.

What other insects look like termites?

Carpenter ants can be mistaken for termites, and both damage wood. Reproductive termites and flying ants have wings during the mating season. Some flying termites are a similar color to flying ants which makes it difficult to identify them. If you know what they look like, it can be easy to identify them.

Termites have soft bodies and are broad, and ants, on the other hand, have narrowly pinched in waists.

A termite’s wings are all one length, whereas an ant has two pairs of wings. The front is longer than the back wings. Termites have straight antennae; ants have bent antennae.

Where do termites live?

The most abundant termites in the United States are the native Subterranean termites. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the other types in the United States are Formosan termites and Drywood termites.

Termites are social and live in colonies with many other termites. Termites prefer moist, humid environments.

Do all termites eat wood?

It is only worker termites that eat the wood. They feed on the wood for cellulose which their digestive system can remove from the wood they have eaten. The workers then provide the cellulose to the others in the colony. This is why termites enter a house and devour and damage the wood.

How do I identify a termite infestation?

  • If you tap on some wood that sounds hollow, there is a good chance of a termite infestation inside.

  • Most termites cause building damage; you might see frass or holes in wood.

  • Mud tubes appearing near wood structures and walls are a sign of a termite infestation.

  • Piles of discarded wings left by swarmers. Termite wings are discarded after mating.

  • Cracked or bubbling paint on wood is a sign that termites have allowed moisture into the wood.

  • A swarm of flying termites near your property may be an indication of an infestation nearby.

How did I get termites in my home?

  • Porches and decks that are in direct contact with the ground will attract termites.

  • Logs piled up against the house attract a termite colony.

  • If the soil near your house is damp due to leaking gutters, faucets, or downspouts, it will attract termite damage.

  • Shrubs and trees should not be planted near the building.

  • Above ground locations in a property that remain damp enough to support termites without them having to return to moist conditions found in the soil.

Termite prevention

Arrange an annual termite inspection (to see if you have a termite colony or termite infestation) with a pest control company.

They will complete a termite inspection and offer a termite control treatment plan if there is termite activity.

A pest control company will remove dead wood from the yard and treat the soil with pesticides. They will also decide if termite damage to wooden items needs to be treated, repaired, or replaced.

And finally,

In this article, ‘What do termites look like?’ we discussed what termites look like, where termites live, and how to identify them and termite infestations. We hope you have found it helpful.

Good luck!

Ronald has 25 years of pest control experience under his belt. He scrutinizes each control method, product and process to prevent infestations effectively. 

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