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What Does a Termite Look Like? Everything You Need to Know About Termite Identification

Termites are a hidden pest that wreaks havoc in your home.

Not only are they hard to spot, but the queen can lay 30,000 eggs per day!

Are you wondering if you have termites in your home, but you’re not sure how to tell?

This article will be a complete guide on everything you need about termite identification.

Read on to explore the different types of termites and determine if you have a termite problem.

  • What Do Termites Look Like?
  • Termites vs Ants
  • Subterranean Termites
  • Formosan Termites
  • Dampwood Termites
  • Drywood Termites
  • Termite Queen
  • Winged Termite Identification
  • Different Castes
  • Why Is Identification so Difficult?
  • Can You See Termites?
  • Identifying Termite Damage
  • Other Damage to Look For
  • Professional Identification
  • How Can I Prevent a Termite Infestation?
  • Preventing Drywood Termites
  • Preventing Subterranean Termites
  • Different Types of Termite Treatment
  • Chemical Treatments
  • Termite Fast Facts
  • Exploring Termite Identification

What Do Termites Look Like?

You might be wondering what does a termite look like?

First, there are different kinds of termites:

  • Drywood termites
  • Formosan termites
  • Subterranean termites
  • Dampwood termites

Termite size and color can vary depending on the type.

You might also wonder, how big are termites?

They’re normally between 1/4 and 1/2 inch long.

They can range in color from a light brown to white.

Worker termites look lighter while swarming termites tend to be darker.

They have straight antennae and soft bodies.

Western subterranean termite soldiers have yellow-colored heads.

Western dry wood termite soldiers have reddish-brown heads.

Subterranean termites tend to be smaller than dry wood and damp wood termites.

Termites vs Ants

 While identifying termites, it’s common to mistake ants for termites.

Termites:

  • Termites have shorter legs
  • Their wings(when present) will be the same length
  • Thick waist
  • Straight antennae

Ants:

  • Ants have longer legs
  • Their front wings(when present) will be longer than the back
  • Bent or clubbed antennae
  • Noticeable waists

Often times, you can see a termite swarmer in the spring, and think it’s a flying ant.

Winged termites have a straight waist and antennae.

Flying ants have a pinched waist.

Subterranean Termites

Termites cost Americans and Canadians about $5 billion in damages every year.

The only state without termites is Alaska.

The cold winters kill off termite colonies.

Parts of the Alaskan panhandle do have subterranean termites though.

They can be found in Ketchikan and Juneau.

Subterranean termites can be black, dark brown, or creamy white, and 1/8 inch long.

You can find them in moist secluded areas above ground, or in underground colonies.

They build what’s known as mud tubes to protect themselves from the outdoors.

They’re one of the most destructive out of all the termites.

Formosan Termites

Formosan termites have a similar color to the subterranean but are about 1/2 an inch long.

They’re considered one of the most aggressive termite species.

They build mud nests within walls and can have massive colonies.

Once they’re discovered, they’re hard to control since they’re destructive.

If you think you have termites, you’ll want to act fast with a pest control professional.

Waiting too long can cause damage to your home.

Dampwood Termites

You can find Dampwood termites on the pacific coast and bordering states.

You can also find them in Florida, and the southwest.

They’re normally between 1/2 and 5/8 of an inch long.

These termites infest wood that has a high moisture content.

They normally don’t go after structures since they need excessive moisture.

Drywood Termites

Did you know that Christopher Columbus’ ships became so infested with termites, they sank during the final expedition?

Termites didn’t come from Christopher Columbus and were here long before the Europeans came.

You can find evidence of them during the Cretaceous period.

While there are about 10 species in Europe, 50 in North America, and more than 400 in South America.

Drywood termites don’t need to make contact with soil.

They’re normally between 3/8 and 1 inch long.

They often have nests in wooden wall supports or roof materials.

You can also find them in deadwood around the home.

They can be found in southern states and in California. Normally, they swarm on sunny and warm days.

Termite Queen

Termite queens tend to look very different from soldiers or workers.

She normally has a stomach full of eggs which makes her have a different look from other insects.

She has what’s known as a physiographic stomach.

It expands over time, and she can lay more eggs as she ages.

She can lay from hundreds to thousands of eggs each day.

Winged Termite Identification

When you see winged termites in your home, that’s normally the time you realize you have termites.

They can range in size from 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch depending on the species.

They have 4 wings and can be black, dark brown, or light.

When they’re darker in color, this helps them retain moisture, and leave their nest.

Winged termites come from an existing nest in order to form new colonies.

They can be a sign of a large colony whether inside or out.

They eat wooden building components and supports.

You can find they leave the wood’s outer shell.

Termite infestations can last for years without knowledge of one.

They can be the queen, king, or a swarmer of a colony to create a new one.

They have poor vision compared to secondary, soldier, and worker termites.

Winged termites can be easily mistaken for flying ants.

Different Castes

There are 3 different castes when it comes to termites:

  • Flying(alates)
  • Soldiers
  • Workers

Soldiers usually have worker-bodies but hard heads. Their hardheads have large jaws and are dark. Their bodies are soft. 


They’re the protectors of their colony. When they’re fully developed, they develop wings and can leave to start another colony.

  • Worker termites are normally lighter.
  • They’re the smallest type of caste.
  • They look more like larvae and are soft-bodied.
  • Alates(flying termites) have hard exoskeletons and wings.
  • They can be dark in color.
  • They have 2 sets of wings that are equal in length.
  • They’re twice the size of their bodies.
  • Flying termites have straight antennae and abdomens, along with 2 body segments.
  • Termites feed on wood even if they reside in the soil.
  • They’re never asleep, so you can always find them munching away on wood.
  • You can find the swarmers come out of their nest in the springtime, and shed their wings when they land.
  • They then mate to start new colonies.

If you find swarmers, that’s a clear sign you have an infestation close by.

Why Is Identification so Difficult?

With all of this information in mind, it’s still hard to identify termites since they’re only about 1/4 inch long.

They’re often hidden in properties for years without owners knowing.

Can You See Termites?

They’re incredibly small but still visible with the human eye.

Swarmers and winged termites are easier to see since they’re larger.

Identifying Termite Damage

Performing a visual identification of damage can help you determine which termite species you have.

Drywood termites tend to go through exposed wood or the roofline.

Take a look at your attic, and see if there’s any damaged wood.

Next, see if there are tiny holes in the wood.

For subterranean termites, they tend to enter a home through the sub-structure.

If you have a crawl space, you’re at an increased risk.

Check your crawl spaces for mud tubes or damaged wood. You can find hollow tunnels (mud tubes) on wood.

Other Damage to Look For

Look for mud tubes which are the structures subterranean termites make.

Mud tubes connect the wood to their nest.

Always check the base of your home outdoors and indoors.

Take a look at where the frame connects to your foundation.

Don’t forget to check your basement or crawlspace for these branching brown structures.

Check floor beams as well.

If you have swarmer termites, you’ll notice they shed their wings on the ground.

You can find them near windowsills or windows themselves.

They like light, so check outdoors as well.

Tap on your wood frames.

If they sound hollow, then you might have termites.

Wood that seems moist but hasn’t been exposed to water, is another potential sign.

Check your drywall or wood for blistering.

Any damage across the wood grain could mean termites as well.

Drywood termites leave fecal pellets where they’ve been.

Keep in mind termites can do serious damage to your wood from the inside out.

Sadly, you might not find them until there’s a problem unless you hire a pest expert.

Professional Identification

While you should always check your home for pest activity, reach out to a pest professional for termite identification.

A pest professional can tell whether you’re experiencing termites or insects in your home. 

How Can I Prevent a Termite Infestation?

If you’re building your home, always have a vented space that’s between the wood and soil.

Have a concrete foundation in place.

If you have wood surfaces, cover them with a metal barrier or sealant.

When construction ends, ensure the foundation and soil stay dry.

Make sure you have proper drainage and grading around your home.

Close any openings you have.

Make sure to fill any cracks in cement foundations.

All vents should be free of blockage.

Shrubs and trees shouldn’t be planted too close to your home or business.

Don’t have them growing against any exposed wood surfaces.

Never store wood next to your home. Inspect your home to ensure no termites are present.

Always have a qualified expert come for regular termite inspections.

Preventing Drywood Termites

Always remove any dead wood, firewood, or dead trees since these are food sources for dry wood termites.

Make sure to seal all joints, crevices, and cracks since that’ll stop them from entering.

You can install bug screens for foundation and attic vents. Another option is to apply paint to seal crevices in wood.

Whenever you use railroad ties or used lumber, always inspect it for termites before use.

If you have wooden shingles, check them for any termites.

Preventing Subterranean Termites

Ensure you don’t have any water that pools around your roof or home.

Fix any moisture in crawlspaces or basements.

If you have any condensation from air conditioners, faulty gutters, or leaky plumbing, fix them immediately.

Any gaps you have around gas lines or water, make sure to fill them, especially around your home.

Reduce any wood-to-ground contact you may have.

Another option is to have termiticide treatment on wood to prevent termites.

If you have wood siding, ensure it’s 6 inches above the ground. Instead of mulch for landscaping, choose cellulose-free alternatives.

To keep mulch in your yard, have it 6 inches from your foundation.

Different Types of Termite Treatment

Your pest control professional will help determine what’s the best treatment for your home and termites.

Some non-chemical treatment options are:

  • Biological control agents such as fungi or nematodes
  • A physical barrier put up during construction
  • Sands or steel mesh as physical barriers

Chemical Treatments

Your pest professional will use a pesticide known as a termiticide to help prevent and treat termites.

Only a professional can use these chemicals.  

Some treatments can include:

  • Wood treatments
  • Termite baits
  • Liquid soil-applied termiticides
  • Building materials that have termiticides

2 treatments that are common to find are termite baits and barrier treatments.

Termite Fast Facts

Did you know that termites were around about 130 million years ago?

They also share a common ancestor with mantids and cockroaches.

While they’re destructive to your home, they’re actually great for the soil.

You can find them breaking down decaying and dead trees into the soil.

They also recycle plant fibers.

They’re vital to forests since they improve the soil.

In most termite species, the soldiers and workers of a colony are blind.

Since they live their lives in dark and damp nests, vision isn’t necessary.

Exploring Termite Identification

Identifying termites in your home can feel overwhelming and time-consuming.

Are you ready to find out once and for all whether you have a pest control problem?

Or, maybe prevent a problem?

Contact us today and we’ll help solve your termite problem whether big or small.

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