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What Do Wood Termites Look Like

The majority of the 2,200 or so termite species live in the tropics and have been munching on wood for more than 250 million years—long before humans began building houses with lumber.

Termites recycle wood products into the soil by feeding on and breaking down cellulose, the main component of plant cell walls. Subterranean (underground) termites, members of the Rhinotermitidae family, cause the majority of termite damage. The most common structural pests among these ground-dwelling termites are the eastern, western, and Formosan subterranean termites, which will happily eat the framing of your

house starting at the bottom, where moisture has made the wood soft and working its way up.

Drywood termites (Kalotermitidae) and damp-wood termites are two other types of termites that cause structural damage (Termopsidae). Drywood termites enter the roofline, whereas damp-wood termites prefer basements, bathrooms, and other areas prone to water leaks. If you believe you have a termite infestation, the first step is to confirm that the pests are, in fact, termites. So, What do wood termites look like?

Ants or Termites

Winged ants resemble termites in appearance, and as a result, many people confuse the two.

Here's how to tell the difference:

  • Ants and termites have antennae, but termite antennae are straight, whereas ant antennae are bent.

  • Termites have broad waists, whereas ants have narrow waists that make them resemble bees.

  • Termites and flying ants have two pairs of wings, but termite wings are the same size. Ant wings are thicker in the front and thinner in the back.

  • Swarming termites are about 1/4-inch to 3/8-inch long, about the same size as a carpenter ant or a large fire ant. Fire ants range in size from 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch. Subterranean termites are larger than damp-wood and dry-wood termites. Some worker termites are almost clear in color, while others are brown or grey.

Subterranean Termites of the East

Soldiers of the native eastern subterranean termite species are depicted here. Swarmers are approximately 3/8-inch long. Their rectangular-shaped heads can help you tell them apart from other termites. Eastern subterranean termite soldiers defend their colonies with powerful mandibles (brown jaws protruding from their heads). But don’t forget to look for the best termite inspection near me, and A-1 Pest Masters are one of them.

Eastern subterranean termites prefer moist, dark environments. They eat structural wood, consuming the cores of beams and leaving thin shells behind. As a result, these termites can be difficult to detect, and by the time many homeowners become aware of an infestation, the damage has already been done.

Formosan Termites This soldier Formosan subterranean termite is about 1/2-inch long. It has a darker and more oval head, a rounded abdomen, a thick waist, straight antennae, and no eyes. Like eastern subterranean soldiers, Formosan soldiers have powerful jaws to defend their colonies.

Formosan termites were spread through marine commerce and are now one of the most destructive termite species in the United States, causing millions of dollars in structural damage each year in the southeastern United States, California, and Hawaii. They reproduce and demolish wood structures more quickly than other native subterranean species. They do not eat faster than other termites, but their nests are massive and can house millions of termites.

Termites in Drywood

Drywood termites have smaller colonies than subterranean termites. They nest and feed in dry, sound wood, making them a major pest of wood-frame structures. Drywood termites, like most termites, eat structural wood from the inside out, leaving a brittle shell behind. However, unlike other termites, they do not require access to damp conditions. Many dry wood termite species live in the southern half of the United States, ranging from California to North Carolina and southward. The majority are 1/4- to 3/8-inch long.

Examining the waste of dry wood and subterranean termites is one way to tell them apart. Drywood termites excrete dry fecal pellets from their nests through small holes in the wood. The feces of subterranean termites is liquid.

Termites with Eastern Wings

The reproductive termites, known as alates, look nothing like workers or soldiers. When at rest, reproductives have one pair of nearly equal-length wings that lie flat against the termite's back. Alates have functional compound eyes and have darker skin than soldiers or workers.

By looking at their bodies, you can tell reproductive termites apart from reproductive ants, which also have wings. Termite alates have straight antennae, rounded abdomens, and thick waists, whereas ants have elbowed antennae, pronounced waistlines, and slightly pointed abdomens.

Between February and April, eastern subterranean termites typically swarm during the day. Winged queens and kings appear in large numbers, ready to mate and establish new colonies. Their skin is dark brown or black. If you find winged termites inside your home, you most likely have a termite infestation.

Termites with Formosan Winged Wings

In contrast to native subterranean termites, which swarm during the day, Formosan termites swarm from dusk until midnight. They swarm later in the season, usually between April and June than most other termites.

When comparing Formosan alates to the previous image's eastern subterranean reproductives, you'll notice the Formosan termites are a lighter color. They have yellowish-brown bodies and smoky-colored wings. In addition, Formosan termites are noticeably larger than native termites.

Queen Termites

The termite queen does not resemble the workers or soldiers. In fact, with her large stomach full of eggs, she bears no resemblance to an insect. The stomach of termite queens is physogastric. This internal membrane expands as she ages, increasing her egg-laying capacity. Depending on the termite species, the queen can lay hundreds or even thousands of eggs daily. Termite queens have extremely long lifespans. A life expectancy of 15 to 30 years—or more—is not unusual.

Termite Infestation

Termites can cause extensive damage inside walls and floors, often going undetected. Because termites eat wood from the inside out, you won't notice them until your home is infested, and signs of damage are more likely than the bugs themselves. Look for the following:

  • Sawdust or sand-like material near windows and door frames could be dry wood termite droppings. There may also be small holes where sawdust has accumulated.

  • Subterranean termites construct mud tubes to connect their nest to a source of wood. Look for brown, branching structures at the base of your home, where the frame connects to the foundation, and in your crawlspace or basement if you have one. They can also hang from joists, so double-check the floor beams.

  • Look for dry fecal pellet accumulations left by dry-wood termites. Swarmer termite wings or bugs are frequently found near windows or windowsills. Swarmers are drawn to light, so look under outdoor lighting fixtures.

Do you have wood that appears to be water-damaged but has not been exposed to water? Termites could be present.

  • Termites may be present if your painted or varnished wood or drywall is blistering.

  • Termites may be present if you notice damage across the wood grain.

  • Termite Control, Prevention, and Mitigation

If you live in an area where termite infestations are common, you should regularly inspect your home (or have it inspected by a professional) for potential infestation. Early detection of termites can save you money on costly home repairs. If you find termite evidence, you can treat the infestation yourself or contact a local pest control company. If you choose to do it yourself, you'll need to locate the feeding site (the "termite gallery") and treat it aggressively with insecticide. To kill the remaining insects outside, you'll need to set up baiting stations or treat the soil.

Of course, avoiding a termite infestation is preferable to dealing with one. Two prevention methods are digging a trench and spraying an insecticide into the ground to repel them. It's a time-consuming process that, if left alone, can last five to ten years. Bait stations aren't difficult to maintain but must be checked every few months.

They must be dug down 8 to 10 inches and placed at eight to ten-foot intervals. Prebait is first placed in bait stations. When termite activity is detected, the traps are reloaded with poisonous bait. This poisoned bait is brought back to the nest by termites, and it kills the colony. Always contact A-1 Pest Masters for a termite inspection. You can learn more about how you know when you have termites. For more information, you can contact them at (312) 647-2630.

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