Termites

Termites are small, wood destroying pests that invade approximately 600,000 homes in the United States each year, causing an estimated $5 billion in structural damage and termite control costs.

The eastern subterranean termite is the most common species in North America. They are the only native termite species found in New York and the northeastern United States.

These insects live in large, underground colonies that may number in the tens or hundreds of thousands (10,000–1,000,000 individuals). Colonies are highly organized, with a hierarchical structure comprised of 3 main castes:

Eastern Subterranean Termite (Worker)

Reticulitermes flavipes

Workers typically make up between 90–98% of the colony. They’re responsible for foraging, building tunnels, and caring for the young.

Subterranean termite workers construct mud tubes to help them travel between their colony and outside food sources.

These tubes are usually 1/4–1 inch in diameter and made from dried mud, soil, and wood particles. They resemble muddy patches or lines spreading like veins across the walls and ceilings of an infested structure.

Subterranean Termite Worker

Size: 1/8–1/4 inch long (3–6 mm); about the length of a flax seed

Color: Creamy white

Shape: Narrow, oval-shaped body with a broad waist, straight antennae, and 6 legs

Legs: 6 legs

Antennae: Straight, beady antennae

Head: Round head with no eyes and small, hardened jaws for chewing wood

Body: Soft, narrow body with a broad waist connecting its thorax and abdomen, making the two sections appear as one; its abdomen has 10 segments with a pair of short cerci at the end

Eastern Subterranean Termite (Soldier)

Reticulitermes flavipes

Soldiers typically make up 2–4% of an eastern subterranean termite colony. They’re responsible for protecting workers and defending the nest from ants and other insects.

Despite the menacing look of their large mandibles, they are harmless to humans. They only bite if handled, and their bites are neither painful nor dangerous in any way.

Subterranean Termite Soldier

Size: 1/8–1/4 inch long (3–6 mm); about the length of a flax seed

Color: Light yellow to orange-brown

Shape: Narrow body with a large, rectangular head, broad waist, straight antennae, and 6 legs

Legs: 6 legs

Antennae: Straight, beady antennae

Head: Look for a large, rectangular, orange-brown head with long, black, pincer-like mandibles; its head is wider than the rest of its body

Body: Soft, narrow body with a broad waist connecting its thorax and abdomen, making the two sections appear as one

Eastern Subterranean Termite (Swarmer)

Reticulitermes flavipes

Termite swarmers, or “alates,” are commonly mistaken for flying ants because of their long wings and small, dark-colored bodies.

In the spring, swarmers emerge in large numbers to reproduce and establish new colonies. They are poor fliers and don’t travel more than 300 feet away from the colony. Indoors, they are usually spotted around doors and windowsills.

When two swarmers successfully pair up, they discard their wings to mate and start a new colony (becoming the new queen and king).

Subterranean Termite Swarmer

Size: 3/8–1/2 inch long (10–12 mm); about the length of a sunflower seed

Color: Dark brown to black

Shape: Narrow body with a broad waist, straight antennae, 6 legs, and 4 translucent wings of equal length

Legs: 6 legs

Antennae: Straight, beady antennae

Head: Round head with small, compound eyes

Body: Soft, narrow body with a broad waist connecting its thorax and abdomen, making the two sections appear as one

Wings: 2 pairs of long, narrow wings that extend beyond its abdomen; translucent and milky-white or gray in color; forewings and hindwings are equal in length