Variety of naturally occurring: different types of termites

Photo 1Termites (Isoptera) are a special type of insects.

Some time ago termites were also called white ants, though they are not. Their colonies basically consist of three types of termites: swarmers (alates), soldiers and workers.

Termites prefer living in tropics though they are becoming popular in the areas with temperate climate. Termites eat cellulose that wood, grass and leaves contain.

That’s why Isoptera can be harmful for people’s life by causing wood damage. Termites bring harmful consequences for those who live in tropics, temperate climate, southern Canada, central France, Korea, Japan and USA.

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Termites’ distinctive features

There are several features that make termites different from the rest of insects.

  • Grown up termite (imago) evaluates from nymph. So termites miss the stage of case-worm.
  • Only swarmers have wings: they are of the same size; after mating period termites shed them. This is a distinctive feature of male and female alates.
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  • Due to soldiers’ body construction they are adapted for nest protection. The main termites’ enemies are ants. Usually soldiers have big heads with special mandibles (mouthparts), but sometimes they are replaced with a kind of a cone on the head which contains poison (conehead termites). In one colony there can be several types of soldiers.
  • Soldiers and workers consist of male and female termites, but they exist not for reproductive functions.
  • Workers have short mandibles which they use for bringing food and building the nest.
  • Termites were called white ants because of workers’ color which is very pale and close to white.

Building new colony

Termites’ swarmers build new colonies. Usually in tropics mating season starts after raining season. Swarmers fly out of the nest through special channels which were made by workers or nymphs.

After some time alates land, shed their wings and create couples. Female swarmer attracts male partner with a special gland; they find a hole or dig a new one, seal it and start copulation.

Usually after a couple of days queen lays their first eggs. At the beginning swarmers have to feed their nymps; when they grow up, new soldiers and workers may stop taking food from alates. New alates appear when the colony becomes big: generally after 2-3 years.

How many different types of termites are there? Today there are more than 2 thousand known types of termites. These insects are under-explored, so it is likely that a couple of years after scientists may find new termites’ types.

Now let’s speak about what kind of termites are there in more detailes.

Subterranean termites

The first termite type that we will be speaking about is subterranean. Subterranean termites live having a contact with wet ground where they build their colonies. They prefer living with moisture and darkness. Colonies consist of swarmers, soldiers and workers.

The majority of subterranean termites are workers which have grey-white color. They also have mandibles. Their main purpose is to build tunnels and tubes.

Usual subterranean termites’ swarmers are about 0,25-0,5 inch long, have from brown to black color and two pairs of wings. Comparing with other classes of termites, swarmers are bigger in size.

Subterranean termites belong to a special type of termites that becomes a serious threat for houses. The point is that these termites prefer eating wood and other cellulose materials.

They eat timber’s inside that’s why it may look “healthy” even if there is nothing left inside except for cover. Once wooden element was “infected”, the others get “infected” as well.

Also we have interesting articles: signs of subterranean termites, most dangerous species in US – eastern subterranean termites, professional treatment and DIY methods.

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Formosan termites

Formosan termite (Coptotermes formosanus) is believed to be one of the most dangerous types of termites. This type of termites appeared in southern China and Korea. It became spread in Japan, southern Africa and the United States due to goods shipment.

Swarmers are about 12-15 mm long and have yellow-brown color. Workers and soldiers are less than 1 centimeter. One colony may consist of millions of termites which cross up to hundreds of meters while looking for food.

A “grown up” family may eat 0,4 kg of wood per day. Colony’s mother lives about 15 years and lays 2000 eggs per day. One colony may prepare up to 70 000 new swarmers.

Coptotermes formosanus produces special secretion which they use for defense against ants, fungus and nematodes.

Attention! Formosan termites are one of the most destructive termites!

Every year millions of dollars are spent on Coptotermes formosanus treatment. These kinds of termites can be found in the ground, ships, towers, trees, etc. Formosan termite dikes and dams infestation made hurricane Katrina more destructive for New Orleans in 2005.

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Drywood termites

Drywood termites (Kalotermitidae) consist of more than 20 classes and about 350 types. The name of these termites shows that they prefer living in dry wood.

This species works and lives under houses, below sinks, tubs and toilets or wherever there might be water intrusion or conditions conducive to the infestation. These termites live all over the world but are widely spread closer to coast and islands.

Kalotermitidae soldiers have mandibles which are as big as their head. They are also usually bigger than other types’ workers and soldiers.

Swarmers can reach up to 12 mm long. They also shed their wings directly after swarming, so this feature makes it easier to identify their type. If you see dead swarmers without wings, most probably these are drywood termites.

Plenty of rains and high humidity create perfect conditions for drywood termites’ nest, which they build above the ground. Drywood termites locate their colonies in tree stubs, dead trees and even in dead branches of green trees.

Attention! You will not see drywood termites, unless they move to another wooden element.

Drywood termites like building their nests in timber framing, frames of windows and other wooden parts. They can also live in the attic.

Notice! Drywood termites’ appearance can be noticed due to dry wooden waste.

Drywood termites’ colonies are not too big: usually the number of termites reaches a couple of hundreds. Kalotermitidae do not need too much for comfortable living: a small colony can stay alive in a part of your writing table if your air humidity is high enough.

Though usual drywood termites’ colony is not too big, they can still do serious damage to your property and your house. So in order to avoid future infestation and destruction, you need to take measures for treatment.

Learn more about this type of termites: how to get rid of them in furniture, spot treatment and do it your self methods. Also read interesting article about the differences between drywood and subterranean termites.

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Dampwood termites (termopsidae)

Dampwood termites’ family consists of 5 classes and about 30 types. They prefer living in wet tropics choosing dead wood. Dampwood termites like areas with high humidity, preferably in north-western areas near the Pacific Ocean.

Unlike Kalotermitidae dampwood termites cannot stand staying in drying up wood. Their colonies are not too big as well.

There are only two types of dampwood termites: swarmers and soldiers. Termopsidae has no real workers. Workers’ functions are performed by pseudergates. Basically pseudergate is an elder nymph. Immature termite can act as a worker for quite a long time without changing its appearance.

Soldiers usually are a little bit smaller (they are about 20 mm) and have large head with mandibles.

Swarmers are the only termites that have wings. Basically they exist for reproductive functions. Reproductives perform king and queen functions in the nest. Dampwood swarmers look bigger comparing with any other termites’ types and can reach 25 mm long. What to do if there is a flying termites in the house?

Comparing with the other types the number of dampwood termites’ eggs during the first year is much smaller. The first soldier appears after 1 year.

Slowly the size of the colony grows and when pseudergate number reaches 30-50, the queen and the king can rely on colony and stop feeding themselves. A couple of years after the colony can raise new swarmers. In tropical forests termites grow faster.

Even though these termites are less destructive then subterranean termites, but still they “drill” supporting building parts that may cause serious problems for householders.

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Conehead termites

Conehead termites (Nasutitermes corniger) are widely spread in Caribbean and Central American tropical parts. Nasutitermes corniger build their nests above the ground, in the mud. Their nests can be seen on upper tree parts as well. How to find termites’ nests?

Conehead termites’ soldiers have big wide white body and brown head. They also have a special cone on their head which they use for nest protection.

If the enemy comes, they produce sticky secretion which makes enemies unable to move. Moreover, this secretion is rather poisonous; that’s why even anteaters avoid conehead termites.

A couple of years ago this type of termites was also called “tree termites”. But they got a different name as many people mistakenly thought that they may attack only trees.

Attention! If you notice that conehead termites attack your house or move into your neighborhood, call pest control immediately!

Conehead termites can be very harmful for your property; they spread very quickly as well. In order to protect your house do some preventive measures.

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Desert termites

Desert termites (Gnathamitermess) are more numerous than ants, though they are almost unnoticeable. Usually desert termites live underground, creating endless tunnels and channels.

Though sometimes you can see wooden poles covered with loam-like staff which signalizes termites’ activity. They can be also found under rocks or wood. Desert termites are spread all over the world but are common for southwestern part of the United States.

Their soldiers and workers have mandibles. Desert termites’ workers are of pale yellow and brown color. Gnathamitermess’ swarmers are about 0.5 inch long and have light brown body.

Desert termites do not belong to serious property infest. They bring more benefit rather than harm. By building channels in the ground these termites encourage water infiltration. They also break down plant material, as a result playing a big role in the environment.

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As you can see there are many different types of termites but keep in mind that there are much more.


Remember that to classify termites you have to have a look at swarmers and soldiers; you need to identify the wood damage as well. Also most probably it will be better to call termite control, which will help you to classify and get rid of insects in a right way.

About termites activity you can read following articles: signs of termites outside and in the housein walls or furniture.

Helpful video

For successful termite control it is very important that you know what kind of termite you are up against. Watch free video about common types of termites in US:

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