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Types of Termite Colonies

The subterranean termite colony is thought by some to function as a "super-organism," which means individual worker and soldier termites or groups of these types work together to ensure the colony's survival. For example, some termites have the responsibility to do general housework and repair. They spend their time removing mold and mildew from tubes or tunnels in the wood, repairing holes in tubes, and shoring up the walls of tunnels in the wood with soil.

Formosan Termite Colony Nest

Formosan Termite Colony Nest

Just like your family, termite colonies need food, water and shelter to survive and they work together to gather these resources. If these conditions are met, termite colonies can mature in two to four years.

Caste System

To make sure all of the work gets done, each colony includes three levels (castes) of termite society:

  • workers

  • soldiers

  • reproductives

Each termite caste is assigned a specific job to keep the colony alive, such as the workers who gather food, soldiers who build shelter and reproductives who produce and tend to the young (larvae).


The colony's king and queen are known as primary reproductives, as they are the original founders of the colony.

Reproductives play a particularly important role in creating new termite colonies. Whether through swarming or budding, reproductives are the reason new colonies of termites move into your home and neighborhood.

Termite Colony Sizes

Life in the termite colony moves at a slow pace in general, certainly for the first two years. The queen is just beginning her seven to ten years of peak egg production, and the number of individuals in the colony is very low. Colonies that were started this spring with a pair of adults (queen and king) contain less than a dozen nymphs - and maybe one soldier.

By this time next year, there may be about 400 individuals (the range can be 51 to 984), and there may be as many as eight soldiers. This percentage (usually two percent) of soldiers in a colony remains in mature colonies.

The body size of the nymphs and soldiers in young colonies is significantly smaller than those in mature colonies. It seems what a young colony needs is numbers of individuals; they may be small, but they get the job done.

Drywood Termite Colonies

Drywood termite colonies are located inside wood and are typically much smaller than subterranean termite colonies. The maximum drywood termite colony size is approximately 4,800 termites.

These colonies live entirely inside the wood and do not make contact with the soil. Unlike subterranean termite colonies, drywood termite colonies do not have a traditional group of worker termites. Instead, immature termites complete the tasks that are usually assigned to the worker termites.

Subterranean Termite Colonies

Subterranean termite colonies are built in the soil below ground. In the U.S., a subterranean termite colony typically contains between 60,000 and 1 million termites.

Subterranean Termite Colony

Subterranean Termite Colony

Subterranean termite colonies (including Formosan subterranean termite colonies) live in a network of small rooms and tunnels used for storing food and raising their young (larvae). Since these colonies are underground, they are often hidden from the naked eye and difficult to locate except by skilled termite specialists.

Subterranean termite colonies grow and expand their foraging territories (below ground) during summer and other seasons of the year. As foraging "boundaries" become indistinct, worker termites from adjacent colonies may intermingle at common food sites. This meeting may occur in natural areas or in urban neighborhoods, where it is likely to have more than one termite colony infesting a house (at one time or different times, particularly in high termite areas like the Southeast).

At these common feeding locations, there are varying degrees of "getting along" between workers of different colonies. Unlike wasps and ants, subterranean termites tend not to distinguish or be upset by nest-mates and non-nestmates mingling at their food sites. The soldiers in these colonies are often found attacking natural predators (typically ants), and not termites from other colonies.

Formosan Termite Colonies

Formosan termites, a species of subterranean termite, can create colonies containing 350,000 to 2 million workers. Formosan termites are extremely destructive, in part because their colony size is much larger than termite species native to the U.S.

Formosan Termite Colony Inside Wood Beam

Formosan Termite Colony Inside Wood Beam

To date, the largest known Formosan termite colony found in the U.S. contained an estimated 70 million termites and weighed 600 pounds. This Formosan termite colony was located in a public library in Algiers, La., near New Orleans.

More Information

Queen Termites

King Termites

Soldier Termites

Termite Alates

Worker Termites

Reproductive Termites

Termite Nests

Think you might have termites in your home? Schedule an appointment to get a free termite inspection.


Dig Deeper on Termite Colonies

Do Termites Have a Queen? | Termite Facts

Subterranean and Above-Ground Termite Nest Facts

What is the Role of Soldier Termites? | Termite Facts

Worker Termites

What is a Reproductive Termite? | Termite Colony Structure

Termite Alates

What are the Different Types of Termite Colonies?

What is the Role of a King Termite? | Termite Colony Facts

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