What Do Termites Look Like?

Termites can look like ants, however, they can be distinguished by their visible wings, straight antennae compared to ants bent antennae, relatively thick waists, hard exoskeletons, and very dark color.

Homes are always exposed to not just weather, but to insects as well. Termites are a major problem for most home, but few people know what they are or what they even look like. Check out this guide to learn all about termites, and to see what they actually look like up close.

I have personal problems like other people have termites. – Alice Hastings Bradley

Fungus-growing termites. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

How To Identify Types Of Termites And What They Look Like

Termites are extremely annoying, and costly, little bugs that can cost you a pretty penny if they infest your house; every year termites cause at least $4 billion dollars worth of property damage.

Termites are actually descendants of cockroaches, way back in the Jurassic period, some cockroaches began evolving into the termites that we know today (that dates them back at least 100 million years). Termites are very similar to bees in that jobs are divided among the soldiers and workers, and that the queens are fertilized by kings to produce more termites.  Termites are incredibly successful insects because they are dispersed quite literally on almost every continent (except Antarctica). Some termite colonies consist of several million insects and some of those termites can live upwards of 50 years.

There are at least 2,000 different species of termites in the world, but these 3 are the most popular species we see:

  • Dampwood termite
  • Drywood termite
  • Formosan termite

It also just so happens that those 3 species also cause the most property damage, so recognizing them is important to save your house (and your wallet). Let’s go over them.

Image source: Flickr

Dampwood Termites

Unlike most termite species, dampwood termites don’t actually create shelter tubes; instead, they live in the wood that they eat. They are also one of the larger species of termites, coming in around an inch long.

As their name suggests, dampwood termites live in damp wood. Oftentimes if your home is infested by dampwood termites that means you have some sort of plumbing leak or your home is soaking up water that is making the wood damp. In order for dampwood termites to survive, they have to be in contact with water and their habitat has to be humid. If it is not, then the termites will die. With that said, dampwood termites don’t often infest homes. They usually stick to stumps, logs, trees, utility posts and even fencing.

Here are some facts about dampwood termites:

  • Size: .5 inch to 1 inch
  • Color: Brownish, can range towards reddish brown as well
  • Colony size: Dampwood typically have small colonies and they do NOT have a worker caste system like most other species have
  • Leg count: 6
  • Do they have wings: Yes
  • Do they have antennas: Yes
  • Diseases carried?: None
  • How to keep them away from your home: Make sure water drains away from your house, make sure no plumbing is leaking, and always replace damp wood

Drywood Termites

Drywood termites are the cousins of dampwood termites and they live in the opposite environment. They thrive in dry wood and can also eat wallpaper, plastics, and even fabrics. Typically drywood termite infestations are a pretty big deal and can be extremely costly to repair. These termites weaken the wood in your home significantly, so more often than not those wooden boards and parts need to be replaced. Another costly expense with drywood termites is that you might have to have your home fumigated, meaning a massive tarp will be put over your home and poison or gas will be pumped in to kill the termite infestation.

Here are some facts about the drywood termite:

  • Size: 3/8 of an inch typically
  • Color: Light brown to almost white/translucent
  • Colony size: can range, but typically have almost 3,000 termites in 1 colony
    • The colony is actually built within the wood that they eat and they do not need any moisture to survive
  • Leg count: 6
  • Do they have wings: yes
  • Do they have antennas: yes
  • Problems posed?: Drywood termites can actually weaken a building so much that it can start to lean or even collapse
  • How to keep them away from your home: Make sure extra wood and firewood is kept away from your home, and keep cracks sealed up tight around the outside of the house

Formosan Termites

These termites are extremely aggressive and damaging. They can eat through wood, siding, wallpaper, and even flooring of buildings. Once these guys infest a building they are extremely difficult to get rid of and can actually destroy wood within a matter of weeks and can even topple buildings within a 7 month period. Formosan termites are so aggressive that they can eat through the covering of telephone lines and even electrical lines and have caused power outages because of this.

You can find Formosan termites typically in the southern states but have also been found in Canada as well, so they are not located in just 1 geographical area. You can easily identify Formosan termites by their white coloring  (like in the picture above). If you suspect your home has Formosan termites call an exterminator immediately since the damage these termites can do is so extreme.

Here are some facts:

  • Size: 1/2 an inch long
  • Color: white to yellowish brown
  • Colony size: underground hives housing (on average) 400,000 termites per colony
    • These nests are underground but they have been known to build nests above ground off of the main hive called a “cartoon nest” if there is a lot of moisture
  • Leg count: 6
  • Do they have wings: Yes
  • Do they have antennas: Yes
  • Problems posed: Can cause substantial building damage and can destroy homes and buildings (and boats) in less than a year if untreated
  • How to keep them away from your home:
    • Keep wood on the outside of your house dry
    • Make sure water drains away from the house
    • Be on the lookout for cartoon nests, termites, and if when you knock on wood make sure it does NOT sound hollow (if it has a hollow sound it might have been eaten by termites)
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