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What Do Termites Look Like?

Termites. What do they look like? Avid nature documentary lovers may have seen African termite mounds, giant structures taller than any of us, but those termites aren’t here, and we certainly don’t see any car-sized mounds. In this article, we will tell you exactly how to identify a termite without a shadow of a doubt and a few of the signs your home could be infested with the little critters and in need of termite control.

What is a termite? 

Termites are a complicated thing to describe as there are over 2,750 species of termites, most located in the rainforests of the world but have spread to every corner of the globe. Humans are actually responsible for taking them to new places as they hitch rides burrowed in the wooden furniture we transport. They come to a new place and settle in wherever they can. In fact, termite colonies have been found well established in American buildings as they can use leaks for a water source and survive quite happily on the wood in the buildings.

A termite’s main food source is cellulose which is found in grass and woods. They can be a hazard to humans as those transported termites tend to look for man-made structures to live in as they aren’t used to the environment. Because of this, they invade our homes. Termites, like ants, also live in colonies which can make things very hazardous for humans. It’s one thing to have a mouse infestation, but it’s another to have thousands upon thousands of termites living in your walls. In fact, a queen termite can actually produce over 36,000 eggs a day for decades to come. Since they eat the wood, they can cause a bit of structural damage to a home. It’s detrimental to know what they look like in order to stop them.

What do they look like exactly?

Termites don’t have one look. They are colony insects, and their looks tend to reflect their status. They have some basic things that unite them as a group, like the typical insect build. Termites have three body segments, the head, thorax, and abdomen. Although they have three segments, it may only look like they have the head and abdomen, but they have a thorax. It’s just incredibly small. They each have six legs, three on each side with hairs too small for most to see. They aren’t very big either; at least the workers and soldiers aren’t, and most range between ⅛ and ⅜ of an inch in length. Most termites are either light brown to dark brown or even black, depending on the species, but most will be some shade of light brown. They also all sport similar antennae, straight and bead-like with no club at the end, a little different from other insects.

Worker termites

The smallest and palest of the bunch is the worker termite. These are also the most abundant in the colony, which is why they are the most recognizable. Worker termites are infertile and aren’t usually seen outside the colony as they’re the ones who work on it. They lack a strong mandible that the soldier ants do, but without it, they can eat, unlike soldier ants. With a specialized organ, they break down cellulose for the soldier ants and the other members of the colony to eat, providing them with food as well as building up the main structures of the colony.

Soldier termites

Soldier termites are slightly larger than worker termites and have a slightly darker color. As previously mentioned, they have larger mandibles used for crushing and can actually spray acid to kill enemy ants that may enter a colony. They are actually blind, the same as the workers. They use scent, pheromones, and touch to tell who is an enemy, what is food, and whatever other information they may need. These make up the second large group of the colony.

Alates

The next group is the alates or the reproductives. They are the only fertile members of the colony. A king or queen rules every colony. These alates are future kings and queens, but they lack a colony and a mate thus, they have wings. These wings are equal in size, so they look like they’re wearing a cape when flying which separates them from most insects. These tend to be darker in color than their paler counterparts. Despite making up an extremely small portion of the colony, the alates and their mates are the ones you’re most likely to see in the wild. They swarm outside a few times a year to find a mate and then go off and make a brand new colony elsewhere, which is why they are the only ones ever seen.

King and Queen

The rarest and hardest to find are the king and queen of a colony, as there is only one of each. You can only find these if you break down the colony and find them in the center of the royal cell in either the main chamber or a side one. The queen is the easiest to spot as she is far bigger than any termite, usually appearing as a white blob of fat up to four inches long. The king only gets to be about half an inch long, but that’s still much bigger than the rest. They can also live upwards of to 60 to 70 years, while their workers are lucky to make it two. 

There are technically secondary queens in some more mature colonies, but she only gains her massive size after she begins breeding, so beforehand, she just looks like a paler version of the king. She still has eyes and is fully functioning, and can be ready to breed very quickly if the queen passes.

Signs of a Termite invasion

Swarming

The time you are most likely to see them out of the nest is during the swarming season, which is about spring or summer. During this time, usually lasting a couple of days, the winged adults of the colony fly out to find a mate and start their own colony. They tend to “swarm” around each other as the season is called. Once they find a mate, they shed their wings, which tend to pile near doors and windows. This occurs most commonly in the daytime, so you may actually see them if you pay close attention. If you don’t see them, and instead notice a bunch of tiny teardrop-shaped wings that also may be theirs. 

Mud tubes

Another sign is finding mud tubes. Mud tubes are built to bridge between the colony and the wood termites consume. They build this to protect themselves from the elements from predators but also to conserve moisture. They are usually made from tiny bits of soil, wood and other material. These appeal pencil thin and you may notice them creeping up your foundation.

Home damage

One more notable sign of an infestation is hollow wood. You may have to check on this by tapping on your walls with a screwdriver and listen for a hollow sound. Since they feed on cellulose from the wood it can affect the lumber of your home, and may leave a honeycomb-shaped pattern inside where they’ve eaten. 

Another thing to look for is damaged paint and wallpaper. Since the termites consume wood they can cause paint and wallpaper to bubble or crack. This is caused by moisture from the infestation’s activities. They usually won’t eat the paint or wallpaper unless it contains cellulose but if you poke at it and find the tell-tale honeycomb patterns, it may mean you have termites. The damage may actually appear more like water damage, so be sure to double-check any water damage you may potentially find. 

Furniture and floor damage

One major sign of termites is damage to furniture and other wooden structures in the walls. If a termite is in your drywall, you may find small, pinpoint-sized holes and some discoloration of the drywall itself. Your wooden or laminate floor boards may buckle and make a creaking sound, if it already creeks the sound will be worse. Your doors and windows may get stuck more easily because of the termites and your tiles may loosen from the moisture of the termites in the ground. You may find your furniture has been munched on as well and wooden chairs are especially susceptible to this.

Termite droppings

Termite droppings are also a good indication for an invasion.  Although they are quite small you can see them because of their mass quantities. They can appear like sawdust, or like salt and pepper, but can be hard to see as termites leave their droppings in the wood they eat so keep a close eye out.

Imposter insects

In the animal kingdom, there are quite a few insects that resemble termites but aren’t. They may be similar in appearance or in the damage they do, but they can be quite disconcerting to see. I will briefly explain the differences between termites and these other household pests so you can feel at ease knowing you don’t have an infestation on your hands.

Carpenter ants

Carpenter ants resemble the alates of the termite colony but with a few key differences. Carpenter ants are pure black in color unlike the termites and have wings of two different sizes with the fore wing being larger than the hind wing. They have a much more defined thorax than the termite and have an elbowed antennae. They also resemble ants rather than a typical insect so if you see an ant with wings, know it’s just an ant with wings.

Flying ants

Like the carpenter ants, flying ants resemble well, ants. They have a much more constricted waist than a termite similar to ants. Although termites and flying ants have similar coloration the flying ant is a bit richer in color. These also sport elbowed antennae like their carpenter ant cousins, making them easier to spot.

Acrobat ants

Acrobat ants may not have wings but they can resemble the soldier termites. They have stronger mandibles than most of the ants on this list and are similar sized. They are a darker color than termites and resemble ants quite closely so just look a little closer to be able to identify them.

Carpenter bees

Carpenter bees look like normal bees but can cause similar damage to wood as termites. Carpenter bees tunnel into wood to form nesting chambers and the damage can be similar to termites but with some exceptions. It won’t be nearly as deep as termites and will lack the honeybee comb pattern of termites. They are also more hollow and larger than that of a termite because they’re larger insects.

Powderpost beetles

Powderpost beetles are the most similar to termites in terms of damage and appearance. Powderpost beetles can burrow into wood and can leave similar pinprick holes. They are much darker shades of brown and have a more square shaped abdomen than termites. They also have elbowed antennae with bulbs on the end unlike termites. They possess a much smaller head than termites, especially compared to soldier termites. Still if you find powderpost beetles in your home you’re about to have a completely different problem and still need to get them exterminated immediately.

How do you get rid of termites?

Alright, so you’ve seen the signs of an infestation, but now what? While termites aren’t malicious insects they can cause serious property damage and thus  have to be taken care of asap. Nobody wants their tiles loosened or to have insects living in your wall, even if they don’t directly harm people. With termite colonies being as massive as they are it can be hard to deal with, which is why you need to call the professionals, professionals like PurePests.

Pure Pest is well seasoned at getting rid of insects, from ants to fleas to just about anything that can get into your home. They have a specialized team of certified technicians with several decades of pest-removing experience. If you make a call today Pure Pest can eliminate your termite infestation or can prevent it if that’s what you so choose. Termites are numerous and versatile despite their small size, so it’s best to leave them to PurePest and be at ease knowing you did the best thing possible to keep your home safe.