Eastern Subterranean Termites

Reticulitermes flavipes is a social insect that lives primarily underground. As these termites forage in the ground in a sort of “spider web” fashion they locate cellulose debris like roots, old trees, or that firewood pile you have stacked up by the house for the winter, and begin to eat. If, in their search, they come across your home’s foundation they have a choice: either turn around in another direction and look for wood, or build a sturdy mud tube up the foundation and see if they can find wood up a little higher (tunnels have been seen being built up the sides of bridges up to 50’!). When they decide on the second choice, you’ve got a problem.

Usually the first sign that a customer sees indicating the presence of termites is when they see swarmers. These are the reproductive termites setting out to start their own colony. They are identified in this way:

  1. An ant has a pinched or narrower waist, whereas a termite’s body is one width.
  2. An ant has bent antenna; a termite has straight antenna.
  3. Ants have a pair of longer wings on top of shorter wings; a termite has a pair of equal sized wings
  4. In the case of our native subterranean termites, their bodies will usually be jet black, whereas ant swarmers can be any color from red to brown, or any combination of colors.

The good news is that they don’t bite and they don’t eat wood. The form of termite that does eat wood is a little harder to find and is called the worker. Workers are white, wingless, and blind and spend their time feeding the colony. They have a special enzyme in their belly enabling them to convert the cellulose in the wood to digestible food. It is these insects that do the damage to a structure.

Formosan Termites

Coptotermes formosanus is also a subterranean termite, though not as widespread (at the moment) as our native subterranean. This particular species of termite is extremely voracious in its appetite, and is an exponentially heavier eater than Eastern Subs. In the dozen or so southern states where they have been found it is estimated that $1 Billion in damage and control measures is spent each year. It is for this reason that several universities, including the University of Georgia, send out special teams to investigate possible Formosan claims. It is suspected that they have been hitchhiking since the 1950’s from Asia on railroad ties and establishing colonies in port cities here in the U.S. Like Eastern Subs, Formosan termites have reproductive forms, soldiers, and workers. The best way to identify a Formosan colony is to find a reproductive form or a soldier. Soldiers are more aggressive in guarding the colony than our native subterranean and make up a larger portion of the population (about 5-10%). When disturbed they secrete a defensive liquid from a gland on the head. The reproductive form of this termite is yellowish brown and swarms in late May or early June and is attracted to lights. 

Drywood Termites

Several species of Drywood termites exist and none are extremely prevalent in our area. They are an important pest though because they are a non-subterranean termite. Why does this matter? Basically, because they cannot be treated in the traditional way of soil chemical application or installing baiting systems. Drywoods can be transported into a structure in furniture and it would never be known until small fecal pellets began to fall out of the infested area or they began swarming. If an infestation is located there are two options: 1) Structural Fumigation or 2) Localized liquid spot treatments. For the most part a swarm occurs at night and they will fly towards the area of greatest light. This normally happens in the summertime when the dark brown to yellowish colored termites emerge from their nest site and in an area of suspected activity there will be small fecal pellets with six concave sides.

Learn More about Termite Control.