What Do Termites Look Like?

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We’ve all heard of termites, and what they can do to our homes. But even if you’ve discovered an old termite infestation in your own home, you might still be wondering what do termites look like. That’s because they tend to live and do their very destructive work far from humans. 

Most of us (of a certain age) have seen cartoons where termites turn wood into dust in a few seconds. The process is not quite that quick, but once they get established, they can certainly do a lot of damage in a relatively short amount of time! 

So if you’ve ever wondered how big are termites, and what they look like, read on for a full breakdown of everything you need to know.

More Than One Termite Species

The first thing you need to know when you’re trying to find out what do termites look like is that they’re not all one species. 

Just like ants, bees and butterflies, termites are a group of insects that are divided into different species. Each species looks a little different and has slightly different habits, so there’s no single answer to the questions of what do termites look like and how big are termites. 

Termites live in many parts of the world, and there are over 2,000 different species that all look slightly different. In the United States, there are about 40 different species that are found in various parts of the country. So it’s very hard to tell you exactly what all the species of termite look like! 

Most termites do share a few traits though. They have softer bodies, and their antennae are straight. 

However, we can tell you what the more common species look like:

Subterranean Termites

Subterranean termites are very common and are found in every state except Alaska. They can range in color from off white to very dark brown or black, and they are about 1/8 of an inch long. Like all insects, they have six legs. 

Formosan Termites

Formosan termites look a lot like subterranean termites, but at ½ inch long, they’re a little bigger. They are long and oval shaped, and some of them can also fly. They are most common in the southern United States.

Dampwood Termites

Dampwood termites live along the pacific coast and in adjacent states. They also live in desert and semi desert and are also found in Florida. They vary in size from about ½ an inch to 5/8 inch, and they can be any color from cream to brown. They also have an elongated shape. 

Drywood Termites

Drywood termites are one of the most common species of termite in Texas. They also live in South Carolina, and in various coastal states. They can get really large, and range in size from about 3/8 of an inch to a full inch long and are usually whitish to light brown. They’re long and narrow and can have wings. 

Conehead Termites

Conehead termites are small, at just 3 to 4 mm long. They are only found in parts of Florida, and they have narrow, cream colored bodies and brown, pear shaped heads. 

As you can see, although most termites look similar, there are many answers to the questions of what do termites look like, and how big are termites. It really depends on where you live, and what kind of termites you are talking about. 

What Do Termite Colonies Look Like?

In many cases, you won’t see termites until they’ve built a substantial colony and done a lot of damage. Sometimes, people only discover termites when they are doing renovations or taking down walls or an old deck or similar. 

There are some common visual signs that you have a termite problem though, including:

  • Wings near windows or doors – these are usually discarded by swarmers who have moved into your home to start a new colony
  • Termite feces, which looks a lot like little piles of sawdust
  • Paint that is uneven or looks like it’s “bubbling”
  • Wood that is soft or sounds “hollow” when it shouldn’t
  • Blistering and darkening of visible wood
  • “Tubes” in mud near your home, that the termites may be using to reach food

While one or two of these might not prove that you have a termite problem, if you notice several, or the problem is escalating, it’s a good sign you have termites in your home. 

What Do I Do If I Think I Have Termites?

If you think you might have a termite problem, the best thing you can do is contact a pest control specialist who knows how to deal with termites and other problem insects. 

They can visit your home and look for signs of a colony. They might ask to open up a wall or structure where there is a suspected colony, so they can see the insects themselves. This will help to confirm that they are termites, and not something else like carpenter ants, and what species they are. 

This is an important step in the process of eradicating termites, because there are different methods and treatments that work for different types of termite, so they’ll need to know what they’re dealing with before they can formulate a plan for the removal. 

How Many Termites Live In a Colony?

While many people ask what do termites look like and how big are termites, very few ask about termite colonies. However, termite colonies can go undetected for years, and by the time they are discovered, they could be home to millions of insects. So they can be quite large, and it’s quite a shock for many homeowners to discover just how big of a problem they have! 

Are All Termites In a Colony the Same?

If you do happen to see a termite colony, you might be surprised to find that not all the termites look the same. 

Like ants and bees, there are several different kinds of termite that live in each colony, and they all have different roles. 

Worker termites are the builders of the colony. They use their strong jaws to chew through wood and other substances, and to build the colony itself. 

Soldier termites are larger, but they also stay in the colony, and protect workers and other colony members from other insects and threats. 

Finally, there are swarmer termites, which are winged termites that act as scouts for the colony, finding new places to set up new colonies. These are the ones you are most likely to see, although they are often mistaken for flying ants. 

Termite colonies also have both kings and queens, which are larger insects, and as the name suggests, they rule the colony. 

Is It Your Fault That You Got Termites?

Many people feel embarrassed when they discover that they have a termite infestation. They think it is a reflection on their housekeeping or something else. 

However, if you have a termite problem, it very likely isn’t because of what you have done or not. 

When swarmer termites leave the nest to look for a new place to create a colony, they’re simply looking for a place that has a dark, safe space where they won’t be discovered as they build and multiply. That space is usually inside your walls, your roof, or in a crawlspace. 

Termites don’t like to be disturbed while they work, so it really has nothing to do with how you keep their home. It’s all about how they like to keep theirs! 

How Much Damage Can Termites Create?

You might never see a termite in your home unless a pest control company or contractor opens up a wall where they’ve built a colony. However, you’re very likely to see the damage they cause, even after they’re gone. 

Since termites can make their home undetected in yours for many years, and since there can be millions of individuals living in a colony, they can decimate wood and other materials. 

In many cases, once the termites are removed, the wood structure of that part of your home will not be salvageable, and you will have to have it reframed to make the wall safe again. 

Termites cause many millions of dollars of damage every year, and they don’t only eat wood! Most termites prefer wood, and many have a preference for the type of wood too. However, they will usually also eat plastic, paper and even drywall. 

Can You Prevent Termite Infestation?

If you’re still wondering what termites look like because you think they might be trying to move in, you might be wondering how you can prevent them from setting up their colony in your home. 

There are several steps you can take to make your home a less attractive place for termites, including:

  • Don’t have any wood in direct contact with the ground – termites can simply walk onto a termite buffet and start making themselves at home! 
  • Don’t have wood piles outside your home, close to your walls – termites might start eating outdoors, and then decide to move the party into your home! 
  • Avoid moisture around any woodwork in and around your home – not all termites like damp, but many do
  • Don’t use mulch close to your home, and don’t overdo it – mulch might seem innocent enough, but it might be all it takes to bring the termites to your home
  • Take preventative action – there are termiticide products that can be used to keep termites out before they ever create a colony – and it’s a lot easier to keep them out than to try to get them out once they’ve got settled! 
  • If you do see what you think might be a termite, don’t wait to see if there are more – even if it’s not a termite, there are many insects that can cause serious damage to your home, and the sooner you get the process of evicting them started, the better! 

Termites are very small and can be very hard to spot. That’s why they are such a big problem. You might not see them until there is a huge colony somewhere in your house, so when you do see one, you need to act immediately. 

How Do I Confirm What Kind of Termites I Have?

Because termites can look so similar, it’s very hard for the untrained eye to know exactly which species you’re dealing with. 

Professional pest control companies not only know how to identify common species, but they also know which species are found in a particular area. This helps to narrow the possibilities down and makes it easier for them to figure out exactly what you’re dealing with. 

In some cases, it will be obvious what kind of termite you have, while in others, it may take a little more guesswork and investigation. But no matter what kind of termite you’re dealing with, you can be sure a pest control specialist will be able to solve the problem. 

Where Can I Find Out More About What Termites Look Like?

Again, the best place to find out how big are termites and what do termites look like is often to speak to a local pest control company, but there are other places you can learn more. 

Many universities have biology departments that have specimens or pictures of common insects and pests, and that can help you to tell if what you’ve seen is a termite, or something else. 

There are also many books and websites about insects that you can use as reference when you’re trying to figure out if you have termites, and if so, what kind. 

However, every day that you leave insects like termites in your home, they are doing more damage, and you will be incurring more costs to do repairs. So it’s never a good idea to wait too long before you deal with any kind of pest problem. 

The cost of a pest control call out is very low compared to the damage a large termite colony can do in a day or a week. So it’s best to leave the species research until after you’ve dealt with the problem! 

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