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What Do Termites Look Like?

In our service area, the most destructive termites we have are subterranean termites. These insects can tunnel up to the length of a football field in their search for food. And they can come up from the ground to feed on our homes and businesses for years, undetected. If you have termites, you’re not likely to know it until it’s too late. Subterranean termites live almost entirely inside the soil or the wood they are feeding on. The one exception is when a nest creates swarmers. These winged termites take to the air in search of a new location to establish a nest. If you already have a nest in your home, you may find these termites crawling around on the insides of your windows.

Termite Swarmer Identification

In South Carolina, the two subterranean termite species we see most are the Eastern subterranean termite and the Formosan subterranean termite. But these two termite species are not created equal. While both are extremely destructive, the Formosan subterranean termite is worse in every way.

Formosan subterranean termites: Swarmers of this species are tan to brown in color. This is the primary characteristic that will help you distinguish this species from the Eastern subterranean termite. They are pill-shaped insects that can be as long as 25 mm (including wing length).

Eastern subterranean termites: Swarmers of this species are black. This helps to clearly distinguish them from the Formosan species, but may cause some to confuse them for carpenter ants. With a body length of only 12 mm, this termite species is half the size of a carpenter ant, and its long white wings leave little confusion as to which insect is being examined.

What Termites Look Like

General Traits

Aside from their color and size, Eastern subterranean and Formosan subterranean termites share the same features.

A termite swarmer (also referred to as an alate or reproductive termite) has two antennae that are straight or slightly bowed. When examined under magnification, these antennae look like tiny balls stacked on top of each other.

A swarmer has six legs and three body parts: head, thorax, and abdomen. Its thorax and abdomen do not have a pinch between them, like an ant, which should help in identification.

The most prominent physical characteristic of a termite swarmer is the two sets of wings that stack on its back. While these wings are mostly transparent, they appear white when this insect is walking around. Under certain lighting conditions, the wings of Formosan subterranean termites may appear slightly tan or yellowish. These wings start at their neck and go as far as the length of their body beyond their abdomen.

Identification Of Workers And Soldiers

Though workers make up the largest population inside a termite colony, you’re not likely to see them unless you do some home renovations, dig into the ground on your property, or break apart an old stump or log. If you do see them, you’ll see lots of them. There can be thousands of worker termites in a single colony. In fact, a single colony of Eastern subterranean termites (Reticulitermes flavipes) can contain as many a 1,000,000 individual termites, most of which will be workers.

Workers are a pale yellow color and may look like worms or maggots when you first uncover them. But it shouldn’t take long to realize that these insects have legs, six legs, to be exact. They also have two antennae and three body parts, like the alates.

Soldier termites look like worker termites, with one exception. A soldier termite has a large orange head with black pincers on the front. In all other ways, they look like workers, and for good reason. Soldier termites start out as workers. But, they develop into soldiers when there is more of a need to defend a colony. Their large head is used for blocking entry holes to their tunneling and their pincers are used for combat. If you break into a network of tunneling, you should see soldier termites mixed in with the large group of workers.

Don’t wait until you see termites. Get your South Carolina home protected today. When the termite specialists here at Spencer Pest Services install the Sentricon® System with Always Active™, your home will have 24-hour-defense that will not only keep termites from eating into your equity but strike back at invading colonies and destroy them. That is termite protection you can live with. Contact us for immediate assistance.