Overview of Termites

There are three major groups of termites which occur in the United States: dry wood, subterranean and Formosan. Termites are identified by the appearance of the swarmers, their damage, and the droppings they leave behind.

The two most common types of termites are "drywood" and "ground," or subterranean termites. Subterranean termites cause about 95% of the termite-related damage found in the United States. Both types of termites eat cellulose for nutrition. Cellulose is found in wood and wood products.

Drywood termites are found in a narrow geographic band that extends from the coastal Carolinas along the southernmost borders of the U.S, all the way to California. Dampwood termites are common to the Pacific Northwest.

Termites are the major wood-destroying structural pests in the southern United States. According to some estimates, over $2 billion is spent annually controlling or preventing termite infestations.

Termites have become a threat in every region in the US, with centrally heated homes. There may be an average of 13 to 14 subterranean termite colonies per acre. A typical home may easily have three to four colonies situated under or around it, with as many as 1,000,000 subterranean termites per colony.

Termites have been able to survive for over 250 million years. The highly structured nature of the colonies allows termites to adapt more to ever-changing environments.

Your home is naturally close to termite colonies. Foundations are usually built above the water table, and below the frost line, where termites typically live.

Termites don't distinguish between the wood in your home and the wood in the forest to satisfy their nutritional needs.

Termites can not digest the wood directly. The protozoa that live in their gut break down the cellulose into simpler compounds for the termites to absorb.

Concrete slab and basement foundations are some of the most susceptible types of construction. Termites only need a crack of one-sixty-fourth inch in the slab floor to gain entrance into your home.

Termites can travel up to 130 feet from the colony -- and once they discover a food source, they leave a "chemical trail" for others to follow.

Termites work 24 hours a day. "Worker" termites bring food to the colony through tunnels, without ever resting.

Termites need moisture to survive and will die if exposed to sunlight or open air for more than a few minutes. Their tunnels protect them from the elements. High moisture areas like basements and crawl spaces are very attractive to termites and can serve as starting points for an infestation. Once in, termites can infest virtually any part of your home -- wood trim, siding, wallboard, even picture frames.

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Subterranean Termites and Drywood Termites - A Quick Comparison
Subterranean Termites

Food and Moisture: Need a great deal of moisture such as from soil, and damp wood, Cellulose (from wood) is their diet.

Habitat: Usually they live in the soil, but can be above ground if enough moisture is present. They have large colonies.

Evidence of Activity: Protective mud tubes ascending from the ground to the structure or protruding from walls, etc. (See link for Pictures)

Termite swarming within the structure

Prevention: Treat the soil before construction-pretreat with an termiticide. For more information go to Chemical soil treatments.

A termite bait station monitoring system to monitor termite activity and bait placements after detection.

Regular inspections by a pest control company or yourself if qualified.

Control Measures: With current activity use a baiting program or a termite barrier treatment. Continue monitoring with the use of bait stations or regular inspections.

Drywood Termites

Food and Moisture: Moisture requirements are minimal. Cellulose(from wood) is their diet.

Habitat: They live within the wood, no soil contact required to keep moist. Colony size is small.

Evidence of Activity: Their fecal material looks "sand like". Kick-out holes on the walls, ceilings or wood.

Prevention: Use treated lumber during construction.

Coat any untreated wood or exposed wood with Timbor or Boracare

Control Measures: For complete treatment: Tent fumigation.

For spot treatments:
Locate kick out holes.
Lightly puncture hole to inject Drione Dust or an termite foam like Premise Foam

See Drywood Termites for recommended procedures.

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Do I have Ants or Termites

Ants or Termites Comparison picture

Drawing- a courtesy of University of Nebraska-Lincoln Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Do I have ants or termites? This can be a very troublesome question. Some of the flying winged ants can resemble the winged-swarming termite. Here are some ways do identify the difference between the physical resemblance.

While both species have four wings, the termite wings are all the same size and the ant wings have noticeably larger wings in the front as compared to the hind pair. Termites have an almost straight antennae; the ants antennae are elbowed. Termite wings are twice as long as the body. Ants appear distinctly segmented, because of their thin-waisted appearance. Termites have a broad-waisted appearance.


Carpenter ants are black or brown and measure up to 1" in length. They are often confused with termites. Unlike termites, they have pinched waists and elbowed antennae. Termites have straight bodies and antennae. As with termites, there is a winged version too.

Carpenter ants can do significant structural damage, but are more a nuisance than a structural problem.


There are several ways to recognize a carpenter ant infestation:

Swarmers: Winged form of the carpenter ant in a great number. Sawdust: If you see sawdust(frass) raining from your ceiling or any indoor cracks. If you see more than ten ants a day in any room other than the kitchen. If you see ants in your home and the ground outside is frozen. Crunching Noise: If you hear munching, rustling or crunching noise coming from within a window sill, wall or ceiling. For further information on carpenter ants go to

Carpenter Ants: Identification and Recommendations


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