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Termites (Various spp.)

Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Termites

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Most colonies of Termites live out of sight, but dread follows signs of their presence in buildings and homes.

Updated: 10/16/2023; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
Termites are valuable decomposers in the natural world. A small protozoan lives inside their gut, allowing them to digest cellulose, the main ingredient in wood. Such a diet helps return nutrients from dead and decaying wood back into the ecosystem. This also means they can threaten the integrity of wood studs in a structure by chewing away at the beams. Signs of infestation indoors could include tunnel-like grooves in wood trim, growth of small mud tubes or mud patches spreading over walls, or the presence of winged adults called alates. A professional exterminator can help with detection and elimination of Termites, and can also install outdoor bait traps around the perimeter of a house or building to head off potential infiltration.

There are a few families of Termites, and they mostly differ in where the species live. Subterranean Termites reside in soil and venture out of the colony to wood sources for feeding. Drywood Termites build colonies completely contained inside wood, such as in living trees or wooden structures. Dampwood Termites can be found nesting in fence posts or in light and power poles. Some species of Higher Termites build colonies in tall mounds, domes, or spires of soil. All types of Termites are social insects, and thousands can be found living in a single colony.

Roles exist in Termite society, much like with ants and bees. Large-headed soldiers have dark brown heads and black pincers. These strong jaws are used to defend the colony from ants and other predators. Workers are cream-colored or white with small white heads. They are responsible for taking care of the queen and younger termites, tending to the nest's construction, and gathering food (cellulose). The queen lays eggs, and her partner, the king is a loyal mate. Usually in spring, mature and well-populated colonies produce swarms of winged termites called alates. These flying adults leave in order to find mates and establish new colonies. The four, long, white wings of alates are all the same length and a wide waist helps differentiate them from winged ants (also called alates in this life stage). A swarm of winged adults looks menacing, but it does not harm people. It is common to find the shed wings laying about, which are broken off once a mating pair has formed. Such a discovery could mean the formation of a new colony nearby.©InsectIdentification.org

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General Characteristics

Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Flying insect icon
Pest insect icon

Taxonomic Hierarchy

Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Isoptera
        Family: Rhinotermitidae
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          Genus: Various
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            Species: spp.

Identifying Information

Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Various spp.
Other Name(s): Subterranean Termites
Category: Termite
Size (Adult; Length): 7mm to 8mm (0.27" to 0.31")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: orange; white; black; brown
Descriptors: big head; pincers; long body; pale; white; wood; mud; pest; damage; flying; brown string hanging from ceiling; stalagmite; stalactite; brown tunnel on wall

Relative Size Comparison

Typical Size Between 7mm (0.3in) and 8mm (0.3in)
Lo: 7mm
Md: 7.5mm
Hi: 8mm

Territorial Map*

U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Termites may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Termites. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.
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