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Pest Guide - Termites

Termites are social insects that are often found in damp, rotting wood. Termites have a strict caste system, which consists of worker termites, soldiers, winged reproductive termites, a queen termite, and a king termite.

Workers represent the majority of the colony population and are responsible for caring for eggs, constructing and maintaining tunnels, foraging for food and feeding and grooming of other caste members. They are white and soft bodied.

Soldiers are responsible for defending the colony. They are white, soft bodied with an enlarged, hardened head containing two large jaws, or mandibles, which are used as a weapon against predators.

Winged reproductives produce the offspring in the colony and swarm at certain times of the year. Colonies can have both primary reproductives, and hundreds of secondary reproductives to assist in egg laying and colony growth.

The King termite assists the queen in creating and attending to the colony during its initial formation. He will continue to mate throughout his life to help increase the colony size.

The Queen termite creates the colony by laying eggs and tending to the colony until enough workers and nymphs are produced to care for the colony. She can live for more than ten years and produce hundreds of eggs each year. Colonies can each several million termites with the help of secondary queens who also produce eggs.

Termites have the ability to change from one caste type to another during their immature stages. This allows the colony to change the proportion of different caste members as the need arises.

Subterranean Termites

Subterranean termites live in underground colonies or in moist secluded areas aboveground that can contain up to 2 million members. They build distinctive "mud tubes" to gain access to food sources and to protect themselves from open air. Termite colonies are organized into castes depending on tasks -- workers, soldiers and reproductives. The characteristics of a subterranean termite are dependent on the termite's role in the colony. Cream-colored Worker subterranean termites are 1/8 to 3/8's of an inch in length. Soldier subterranean termites are of a similar body length, but are distinguished by their powerful mandibles. Solider termites have cream-colored bodies and brown heads. Reproductive subterranean termites are approximately one inch long.

Subterranean termites live underground and build tunnels, referred to as mud tubes, to reach food sources. Like other termite species, they feed on products containing cellulose. Subterranean termites swarm in the spring -- groups of reproductive termites go off to start new colonies.

Subterranean termites need contact with the soil to survive and live underground. They can build tunnels through cracks in concrete.

Subterranean termites are by far the most destructive species. They can collapse a building entirely, meaning possible financial ruin for a homeowner. The hard, saw-toothed jaws of termites work like shears and are able to bite off extremely small fragments of wood, one piece at a time.