What Do Termites Look Like? Solved! (Home-owner’s Information)

What Do Termites Look Like? Solved! (Home-owner’s Information)

Photo: istockphoto.com

Q: I notice some insects that look like ants in my house. However, they have different properties and I wonder if they might be termites. What do termites look like so I can better identify them?

A: There are at least 2,000 different species of termites worldwide, many of which live in soil colonies. Thousands could be around any house at this moment. About 40 species are active in the United States.

Termites can cause extreme property damage when they set foot in a home or business. Known as termite infestation, this phenomenon occurs when termites infiltrate a property and feed on cellulosic-based material such as wood.

Termites can look like carpenter ants because reproductive termites can have similar wings and body structures. This is what termites look like and how to tell them apart from other insects.

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Termites are typically between ¼ and ½ inch long.

What do termites look like?

Photo: istockphoto.com

There are several different termites, but the most common are typically between ¼ and ½ inches long. Common in the United States, underground termites are smaller than other termite species, only growing to ¼ inch. However, they have larger colonies than other termite species.

Drywood termites typically live in warm, tropical climates like California, Florida, and Hawaii. These termites are between ⅜ and ½ inch long. Formosan termites are primarily found in the southeastern United States and Hawaii. They easily exceed the colony size of any other termite species in North America, with millions of termites in a colony. Formosa termites are typically ½ to ⅗ inches long.

Termites have soft bodies and straight antennae.

There are some differences between ants and termites in the body of the insect. Termites have soft bodies with a distinct, hard head region with powerful mandibles (the appendages attached to the insect’s jaw). Their heads are attached with straight antennae, usually with beads attached. Flying ants, on the other hand, have curved antennae.

While termite bodies are thick, ants have a more pronounced waistline between the chest and abdomen. Termites also have a blunt end on their abdomens, while ants can have a sharp end that they use to defend themselves. The wings of termites are also the same length and are usually white or transparent in color. Flying ants have longer wings at the front and shorter wings at the back.

What do termites look like?  Three different castes

Photo: istockphoto.com

Their color ranges from cream to reddish brown.

The color of a termite depends on its species and caste. Underground workers and soldiers have pale or cream colored bodies; However, workers have a larger head, which can be orange or amber in color. Subterranean reproductive termites have dark colored bodies.

Drywood worker termites also have whitish bodies. Drywood soldier termites have opaque bodies and a larger orange or brown head. Drywood reproductive termites have gray wings with dark brown bodies and amber heads.

Formosan worker termites are the same whitish color as underground and drywood worker termites. Formosan soldier termites also resemble underground termites, with white bodies and large orange heads. Their reproductive termites range in color from pale to yellowish brown.

There are three different castes: workers, soldiers and alates.

Termites have three different castes in their colony, each with its own purpose. The alates are reproductive termites that leave the colony to mate and look for a new nesting site. The male and female reproductive termites leave the colony in each pair, usually during the rainy season. After finding a new place, they shed their wings and either burrow in the ground (underground termites) or use wood to build a nest (drywood termites). They then form new colonies within these areas.

Workers make up the majority of termites in a colony. If you expose infested wood, these are the termites you will see. They have soft bodies with no wings or eyes. Since they do not belong to the reproductive caste, they are sterile. The younger workers tend to the young while the older workers build and excavate the nest, tunnel and search for food.

Soldier termites primarily protect the colony and attack predators. How they defend themselves and what their bodies and mandibles look like depends on the species. They rely on the workers for their food sources. The soldier caste is typically smaller than the other castes.

What do termites look like?  Termites eat wood

Photo: istockphoto.com

Termites eat wood, so they won’t be after your food.

While ants are notorious for getting into homes and eating protein sources, candy, and leftover food, termites are only interested in cellulosic sources, including plants, wood, and paper. However, this also means that termites can create nests in the walls of a house where they can do a lot of damage. They mainly enter through these structural points of the house, looking for building materials, insulation and furniture for food.

If you suspect termite damage, come up with a plan to address the problem.

There are a few ways to determine if there is termite damage within a property. Termites often make a clicking sound that can be heard through walls, or homeowners may find loose wings. There may also be termite droppings, called frass, which are pushed into the open area to clean the nests.

By knocking on the walls, homeowners can also see if there is a hollow sound, meaning termites may have already eaten a large portion of the wall’s interior.

If any of the above apply to your situation, you may have a termite infestation. It’s important to contact and hire a professional as soon as possible to stop the infestation and mitigate damage already done to the home.

Get professional advice

Find licensed termite experts in your area and get free, no-obligation estimates for your project.

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