Characteristics of a Termite

Termites play a vital role in nature. They break down dead wood and other cellulose materials. This is helpful in the ecosystem and the balance of nature. When termites attack homes, though, they are a pest and cause over $5 billion in damages in the U.S. each year. Termites usually are cryptic, meaning that they don’t come out into the open.

Termites are difficult to detect because of this cryptic nature and are a destructive force when left unchecked. Royalty, workers, soldiers and nonwinged reproductives do not leave the hidden areas. Most of the colony is never seen. Even when visible within the home as flying insects, termites can be mistaken for ants. Some homeowners will dismiss the termites as pesky ants and ignore them with no preventive science-based or extermination methods taken. This allows established termite infestations to grow exponentially.

Flying ants possess many of the same characteristics as flying termites. However, while ants have a distinct pinched waist, the termite is tube shaped. Termites also have four wings of equal size, while the flying ant’s four wings are two distinct sizes. Lastly, ants’ antennae have an elbow or bend, whereas termite antennae are straight.

A further distinguishing characteristic of subterranean termites is the presence of protective tunnels constructed from mud, saliva and fecal matter. These tubes act as entry points for subterranean termites to above-ground food sources. They are most commonly located near the foundation of an infested home. Ants typically do not construct tunnels.

Dry wood termites also enter homes after swarms, usually occurring in the spring. During swarms, an existing termite colony sends out a large number of winged reproductive males and females. These mating swarms may result in several newly fertilized king and queen termites attempting to establish colonies of which many may be within or around a home.

Termites are social insects in that they have an organized structure in a colony with a king, queen and various castes, each of which have a specialized function. Each caste has its own characteristics.

Termite Facts