Eastern Subterranean Termites

Eastern Subterranean Termites

The workers are the cream-colored caste that consumes cellulose and feeds the colony.


The soldiers are about 1/4 inch-long protectors of the colony. Soldiers are equipped with large jaws that they use to combat colony intruders.


The alates are winged termites or “swarmers” that leave the colony and establish new colonies. The male and female alates leave the colony in the spring, mate after leaving the colony, construct a new colony, and then become the primary king and queen of this new colony. Fortunately, extremely few alates actually succeed in establishing new colonies.

The reproductive caste is made up of the primary queens and males (kings) that stay within the colony for life. The secondary reproductives are important during times of colony stress or conditions unfavorable to the success of the colony.

Alate queens and kings are black or dark brown, about 3/8 to a half inch long, and have two pairs of wings that are lost after a termite swarm. Generally, the appearance of swarmers or their shed wings is the first sign of a problem with eastern subterranean termites.

How Did I Get Eastern Subterranean Termites?

These termites nest underground and cause expensive problems for homeowners. The pests infest wood touching the soil or piled close to siding. Eastern subterranean termites also build mud tubes, which they use to access untreated walls, doors, or trim to venture deeper into homes.

How Serious Are Eastern Subterranean Termites?

All termite species cause issues, but the Eastern subterranean termite is one of the most destructive. The pests’ feeding weakens buildings, causing issues with a house’s framing that can lead to collapse or costly repairs. Because these termites work inside wood, it may be years before residents suspect an infestation.

Signs of Infestation

Usually a subterranean termite infestation is first discovered when winged termite swarmers are seen in the early or late spring, depending upon the climatic conditions. A good inspection will help you locate and become familiar with the following common signs indicating a termite problem:

  • Finding shed swarmer wings or winged swarmers around windows, patio doors, or other sources of light.
  • The presence of mud tubes.
  • Wood material in the home that appears to be soft, easily penetrated, rippled, peeling, or bubbled.

How Do I Get Rid of Eastern Subterranean Termites?

It’s always advised to call your local pest management professional (PMP) as soon as an infestation is suspected. Common control methods invovle removing termite food sources, fixing or repairing entry points, and reducing moisture around the home are good preventative measures to keep Eastern subterranean termites away. Some other recommended control methods your PMP will suggest include:

  • Secure wood piles: Keep wood piles off the ground and don’t allow any ground contact. Inspect firewood to ensure that termites have not constructed exploratory mud tubes and found your firewood.
  • Avoiding wood-to-ground contact: If possible, replace any construction wood that contacts the soil (deck and fence posts, etc.) with materials that are non-cellulose or pressure treated. Also, never allow any wooden siding to contact the soil surface. Maintain at least six inches or more of space between siding and the ground. Do not put mulch on the ground next to the foundation. If you want to use mulch around the home, be sure to provide a “no mulch” zone that is at least one to two feet wide since mulch allows the soil to hold more moisture.
  • Replacing damaged wood: Replace severely damaged wood with sound construction materials. Use pressure-treated wood at surfaces where wood must be in contact with soil.
  • Cleaning up fallen vegetation: If a tree blows down, grind down the stump and roots; never simply let a stump remain in place. If a shrub dies, dig it out and remove all the woody parts and roots of the dead shrub.
  • Trimming and thinning plants: Do not let landscaping plants touch the siding or get too thick around the foundation. Not only does this make a friendly environment for termites, it also makes it more difficult to inspect for signs of a termite problem.
  • Guarding against moisture: Ensure there are no plumbing leaks, water from air conditioner condensation, leaking gutters, and that downspouts direct water away from the house, not close to the foundation. Provide ventilation and drainage in the crawl spaces under the house.
  • Repairing possible entryways:If you notice a crack in the foundation, repair with concrete or heavy duty, durable caulking materials.

Your local Orkin technician is trained to help manage Eastern subterranean termites and similar pests. Since every building or home is different, your Orkin technician will design a unique program for your situation.

Orkin can provide the right solution to keep Eastern subterranean termites in their place…out of your home, or business.

Behavior, Diet, Habits

Above ground foraging also takes place, and the typical termite mud tube must be constructed when workers forage above ground. The mud tube’s purpose is to protect the workers as they explore for new sources of food or travel back and forth with the cellulose they bring back to nourish the colony members.

Where Do They Live?

Eastern subterranean termites infest damp timber and prefer damp soil because they need moisture to survive. Humid areas of the home, around the home, and water-damaged lumber are perfect habitats.

Geographic Range

There are numerous termite species native to the United States. Eastern subterranean termites are a subterranean species found primarily in the South and on the East Coast. These insects can have a large economic impact on homeowners due to their dense distribution.


One colony of Eastern subterranean termites may contain anywhere from 60,000 to nearly one million individuals. Unlike some other insect species, reproductive male termites mate throughout their lives, and males do not die immediately after mating. Eastern subterranean reproductive termites do shed their wings after mating swarms, at which time they go on to found new colonies.

Termite Control

Learn the signs to look for to determine if you might have a termite infestation.

Termites cost Americans more than $5 billion in damage each year and most insurance plans don’t cover the damage.

We’ll determine whether you actually have termites, then discuss a treatment plan including financing that works for you.

Learn what to expect from your Orkin Man and the AIM process.


Where are eastern subterranean termites found

Eastern Subterranean termites (Reticulitermes flavipes) Soldiers

Eastern Subterranean termites (Reticulitermes flavipes) Workers

Eastern Subterranean termites (Reticulitermes flavipes)

Eastern Subterranean termites (Reticulitermes flavipes)

Eastern Subterranean termites (Reticulitermes flavipes)

Subterranean termites are the most serious wood destroying pest in Michigan and are much more common than most people realize. Chemical treatment and commercial bait systems (Senitron) employed to protect structures against termites may cost over $2,000 for an average size home. New products like Termidor® offer improved termite protection by providing non-repellent barriers that can eliminate termite colonies. Do-it-yourself bait systems may reduce termite numbers but probably will not rid a structure of termites. Termites prefer wood of high moisture content. Correspondingly, severe termite damage is often concentrated in areas where excessive moisture conditions persist. In many cases, these excessive moisture conditions are the direct result of an imperfect building design and/or construction practices used to build the home. Some of the common building imperfections which attract termites include improper ventilation of enclosed spaces, boards in direct contact with soil, improper flashing between homes and attached porches and decks, and inadequate slope of the grade next to the building. The best defense against termites is a well maintained, dry structure. The presence of winged termites in home strongly indicates an active termite infestation.

Subterranean termites build their nests in moist soil. They will eat any source of cellulose they find and are able to chew up. The presence of winged termites indicates a mature colony that has been present in or around the structure for a minimum of 5 to 7 years. Even though they may eat the wood in our homes, they must always return to their nest in the soil to replenish body moisture lost during feeding above ground. Termites eat boards from the inside out and leave only a thin layer of wood on the surface. Their damage may remain undetected for years. They can enter wood that is not in direct contact with the soil by building shelter tubes over or through concrete foundations.

On-slab construction is the most susceptible type of construction because termites can enter through any crack in the slab that’s wider than a one thirty-seconds of an inch. Also, structures built on slabs are nearly impossible to inspect for termites because so little of the frame of the structure is exposed near grade level where termite activity usually begins. In structures with basements, rim joists and sill plates are commonly the first areas where termite mud and shelter tubes can be detected. Probing these boards with an ice pick, knife, or screwdriver should be done during any termite inspection. Termites are often first noticed during remodeling projects.

Although termites can cause extensive and serious damage to wooden structures, this damage occurs very slowly. A mature colony of 60,000 termites will eat the equivalent of a 2 foot length of 2X4 lumber in a year’s time. Unfortunately, the equipment and materials needed to effectively treat termite infestations are only available to pest control companies. If you need treatment for termites be sure to select a reliable firm with a good tract record and guarantee. Since the damage occurs slowly, you have time to select the best company. Shop around for the most complete treatment and best guarantee for your money, don’t be rushed by aggressive salespersons.


Eastern Subterranean Termites

Pest Guide for Eastern Subterranean Termites

The subterranean termite is the most common termite found in North America and is responsible for around 80% of the money spent on termite control in the U.S. Eastern subterranean termites are found in the eastern half of the U.S. and build their colonies underground instead of in the wood that they eat, as with drywood termites. They can be highly destructive, so if you discover an infestation, don’t wait to call our termite control company.

Subterranean termites have existed for more than 55 million years and actually evolved from a close relative of the cockroach; some scientists even consider them a highly-specialized form of wood-eating cockroach. Because they’ve been around so long, they’ve learned to adapt to a variety of environments that can be wet, dry, cold or hot. This is why you can find them all over the different climates of the United States.

Easter subterranean termite colonies can range between 60,000 and one million termites and of colony production can take several years to reach full maturity. Most termite nests are found underground above the frost line and once the nest is built, they create burrowed tunnels that can radiate within a 100-yard radius to lead to a food source.

These termites feed mainly on building wood and wooden fixtures, but can also consume other cellulose materials like cardboard, wallpaper, paper, and even cotton. Once they find a food source, it doesn’t take long for them to create significant damage, and that’s why it’s important to contact our professionals if you think you have termites.

Just like other termite types, eastern subterranean also have a swarming period. This usually occurs from February to April and is the time when an infestation is most likely to take place. These pests can find their way into homes and buildings through even the smallest of cracks or through surprising areas like in-fill patios, fire hearths, or expansion joints.

Signs of an Eastern Subterranean Infestation

Because subterranean termites live mainly underground, detecting their presence can be difficult. During the swarming period, you may find actual termites but if not, here are some other not-so-obvious signs of an infestation:

  • Buckling wood
  • Swollen floors or ceilings
  • Dark areas or blisters
  • Hollow-sounding wood
  • Shed wings

Also, look for mud shelter tubes that termites create to travel safely between their nest and their food source. Typically, the tubes can be found on walls, floors, ceilings or sticking out from trees or other surfaces.

At Ledford’s, we have several effective termite treatments for eastern subterranean termites. If you think your home or office has an infestation, we suggest you not try to tackle it yourself – it can get pretty frustrating and you may not completely eliminate your problem. Instead, let our professionals take care of it. We’ll inspect your building and determine if and where you have an infestation. Then, we’ll get to work quickly to get rid of it and save you from experiencing any further damage.


Eastern Subterranean Termites

Reticulitermes flavipes (Kollar)

Eastern subterranean termites are present throughout Pennsylvania and often damage structural timbers in buildings. When this damage becomes evident (Fig. 1), it is usually the result of years of infestation. Thus, damage by termites is not a sudden onslaught that will cause a building to collapse in a few days. Generally, termite problems only occur some years after construction – usually 10 years or more. Many houses in Pennsylvania are unlikely to ever have termites because they are either located where the risk from termites is low or they are constructed to resist termite infestations. The risk of infestations can be reduced by avoiding certain faults or errors in construction, site grading and maintenance, or controlled through the application of soil insecticides or baits.

Termites feed upon old roots, tree stumps, fallen tree limbs and branches on the ground, and similar materials. They are beneficial when they aid in reduction of wood and similar cellulose products into compounds that can be used again by other living organisms. Occasionally termites attack living plants, including the roots of shrubs and trees. In buildings, they feed on cellulose materials, such as structural wood, wood fixtures, paper, books, (Fig. 2) cotton, and related products.


Subterranean termites are social insects that live in colonies within the ground and have specialized castes to perform specific colony functions. The termite colony has three primary castes: workers, soldiers, and the reproductives (kings, queens, and secondaries). The creamy-white workers (Fig. 3) are seldom seen unless a termite tube or infested wood is broken open. It is the workers that feed on the wood and cause damage. Individual workers are believed to survive for up to five years. Soldiers have elongated yellowish heads with large jaws and are about the same size as the adult worker-a quarter-inch (Figure 4). There are fewer soldiers than their associated workers, and must rely on the workers to feed them. Whenever the colony is invaded or a hole is made in a tube or piece of infested wood, the soldiers will use their jaws to defend the breach. The secondaries are supplementary reproductive females that occur in mature colonies under favorable conditions. The kings and queens (Figure 5) are dark-brown or black and about 3/8 to 1/2 inch long. They have two pairs of translucent wings of equal length, which break off shortly after swarming. Very often the shed wings are the only evidence that termites are in a building. In Pennsylvania, swarms of winged termites usually emerge between February and June.

Life History

During late winter or early spring, swarms of the reproductive caste may be noticed in infested buildings. These black, winged termites are the stage most commonly seen, since the other castes do not willingly expose themselves to light. Winged termites are attracted to light, and when they emerge within buildings, they swarm about doors and windows. After crawling or fluttering about for a short time, the termites break off their wings and locate a mate. Each pair attempts to locate moist wood in contact with the soil to start a new colony, but few succeed. Although they alarm the homeowner and can be a nuisance, no damage is done by the winged forms.

How to Recognize Termites and Termite Damage

The presence of swarming termites or their wings alone is a sure sign that termites are working in a building. Winged termites are often confused with winged ants. Most species of ants in the house are only nuisances and, except for carpenter ants, do not damage wood. For this reason it is necessary to know the differences between winged termites and winged ants. The easiest way to distinguish the two groups is to look at their waists. An ant has a narrow, wasp-like waist; a termite has a broad waist. The antennae or feelers of ants are L-shaped, whereas those of termites are straight. Furthermore, the four wings of termites are of equal length and nearly twice as long as the termite body, while ant wings are approximately equal to the length of the ant, and the fore and hind wings are of unequal length.

Wood attacked by termites has runways or passages that are coated with an earth-like material glued to the wood. Where the wood has been infested for some time, it may be largely hollowed out with passages and may be rotten in appearance (Fig. 6 & 7). Upon probing such wood with a screwdriver or similar tool, many of the hidden worker termites may spill out.

Another sign of termites in the house is the presence of termite tubes (Figure 8). Termites make these earth-colored tubes for a number of reasons, primarily as a protected runway from the earth to the wood they feed on. Moreover, these tubes may serve as swarming exits for the winged termites. Look for these tubes on the cellar walls, on wooden posts, wall studs, mudsills, and door and window trim. Wood embedded in earth or in concrete cellar floors is especially susceptible to termites.

Where Are Some of the Places You Should Look If You Believe You Have Termites?

In Pennsylvania most termite infestations occur in the basement or cellar areas and in the structural timbers immediately above the cellar walls, such as the mudsills, studs, joists, subflooring, and the floors. Wooden posts, steps, door frames, and trim embedded in an earth or concrete floor are especially susceptible to termite infestation. Wood siding, window frames, steps, and similar materials covered by earth or resting on the ground may also be attacked by termites. Where the termite infestation is extensive, the flooring and framework in the walls can be damaged by termites; this is often the case where houses are built on concrete slabs. Termites especially favor areas around furnaces, chimneys, hot water heaters, and hot water pipes that provide warmth during cold months.

The extent of damage to structural timbers and woodwork can be determined by a careful inspection of the building. Although you may choose to make the inspection yourself, we recommend you have a professional pest control operator inspect the building. Licensed pest control companies have individuals with experience in detecting termite infestations that many laypeople would otherwise overlook.

All woodwork in suspect areas should be probed for soundness and visually inspected for any sign of mud tunnels. An awl, ice pick, screwdriver, or similar instrument is commonly used to probe the wood. After the area and extent of infestation are determined, control measures can be planned.

Termite Control

First, contact at least three or more licensed pest control operators to obtain estimates. Be advised that it is common for pest control companies to offer different control treatments and warranties. The Better Business Bureau, neighbors, friends, and colleagues may be able to recommend a reputable firm. Those firms that are members of the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) and the Pennsylvania Pest Management Association have access to specialized training and materials and will generally exhibit a higher degree of professionalism.

Termite control in a building can involve structural or chemical (soil treatment and/or baiting) methods. Either method when used alone may provide the desired results, but when structural and chemical methods are combined, the most satisfactory results are often obtained.

Structural Modification Methods – The less suitable the site or structure is for termites, the less likely a colony will become established and flourish. Therefore, the following are considered beneficial in preventing and controlling termites:

1. Remove all wooden debris (stacks of lumber or firewood) from the vicinity of the building. Replace any wooden posts, steps, trellises, etc., that are in contact with the soil with non-cellulose materials or pressure-treated lumber.

2. Replace badly damaged timbers with sound materials. Use pressure-treated wood at places where wood must be in contact with soil. Where possible, do not permit any wood within 18 inches of the soil.

3. Provide adequate drainage for basements, cellars, and crawl spaces. Be certain that the grade level will drain away from the building.

4. Fill all visible cracks and voids in the foundation with concrete or suitable caulking compound.

5. Reduce soil moisture near the structure by directing runoff away from the foundation. Gutters, downspouts, and French drains should be correctly installed and operational; surface drainage should flow away from the structure.

Soil treatment/barrier control – The principle of soil treatment control for termites is to establish a treated barrier of soil between the wood in the building and the termite colony in the soil. Such a chemical barrier will kill or repel any termites attempting to move through it. Treatments may involve the trenching of soil adjacent to the exterior foundation wall down to the footers, and replacement of the soil after it is mixed with the termiticide; soil injection of a liquid termiticide, under pressure, through a hollow rod to saturate the soil adjacent to the foundation; and the drilling of concrete slabs, porches, and patios to reach the soil adjacent to the foundation beneath these structures.

Many different soil termiticides are available. However, because of the great number of variables at any location, it is difficult to predict which chemical will perform best at your site. A partial list of the most recent soil termiticide efficacy tests conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service (USDA-FS) is included in the USDA-FS termiticide report data. The table lists common chemical names, date that the test originated for a particular chemical, the number of years that the treatment was not breached by termites, and the level of termite pressure at a particular site. Note that the control percentages for fipronil (Termidor 80 WG) are low. This occurred because fipronil had an impact on not only the test locations but also on those control sites in the near vicinity. Subsequent USDA-FS trials on firpronil kept the other tests and controls away form the fipronil test site.

Note: We do not recommend that homeowners attempt to treat their own homes because of the difficulty in obtaining termiticides, the specialized nature (and costs) of the equipment necessary to properly apply these insecticides, and the human experience factor involved in establishing a continuous barrier within the soil.

Termite Baits – In recent years, termite baits have gained in popularity. This alternative to liquid barrier treatments is a welcome addition and will assist in the battle against termite infestations. Baiting involves the use of an attractant (wood stakes, cardboard, or other cellulose-based material) to establish termite feeding. The active ingredient (insecticide) is either added after feeding begins, or may be included in the initial baiting. Termites feeding on the treated material will carry the toxicant back to the colony where it adversely affects the colony, possibly eliminating the entire colony.

Baits are especially important in treating structures with wells or springs close to the foundation; drainage tiles around the foundation; air ducts under or imbedded in the slab; or in situations where a perennial high water table makes conventional soil treatment ill advised. Although data suggest they may be valuable as a stand-alone treatment, many of the factors that affect baiting efficacy are poorly understood. As with soil application of termiticides, it is recommended that licensed, experienced pest control companies be hired to provide a baiting service. Baiting, in conjunction with a partial (or complete) soil treatment may be advisable. The USDA-FS does not perform efficacy tests on termite baits.

Termite Treatment Warranties – Most licensed pest control companies provide warranties for termite treatments. You should carefully review the conditions, limitations, and yearly costs associated with warranty renewals. Warranties for subterranean termite control will not extend to control of any other wood-destroying organisms such as wood-boring beetles, carpenter ants, or other termite species (i.e., drywood termites). Companies will also limit their liability on buildings that have structural alterations that have disturbed the soil adjacent to the foundation or where additions to the original structure have not been treated.

Probably the most difficult aspect of warranty coverage involves the replacement of items damaged by termites subsequent to treatment efforts. It is understandable that termite companies would not want to be held liable for damages that have occurred before their treatment. However, even a very thorough inspection of the premises may not uncover all existing damage. Therefore, it is important to have a thorough examination performed before treatment and have an accurate and detailed accounting of all current and past termite activity. Whenever possible, obtain a damage replacement clause with your warranty.

Finally, you should determine the yearly termite warranty renewal fees to maintain your home. It is common for companies to charge a yearly fee of ten percent (10%) of the original treatment price each year to renew the warranty. Obviously, after 10 years you have paid for an additional treatment, but with the current high treatment failure rates (20-30 percent in some areas) for subterranean termites, it may be advisable to keep the warranties in effect for long periods of time. It is advisable to maintain warranties for at least one to two years to determine if control efforts were successful.

Pesticides are poisonous. Read and follow directions and safety precautions on labels. Handle carefully and store in original labeled containers out of the reach of children, pets, and livestock. Dispose of empty containers right away, in a safe manner and place. Do not contaminate forage, streams, or ponds.

Authored by: Steve Jacobs, Sr. Extension Associate

December 2008, Revised 2014

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