How Long Does a Termite Live

How Long Does a Termite Live?

Considering that termites live in soil and are exposed to a multitude of fungi and predators that can break into the colonies, termites are great survivors.

  • Studies show that queen termites can live up to decades under ideal climate conditions.
  • Workers and soldiers live approximately one to two years.

Lifespan & ColoniesTermite colonies can persist for the life of the primary queen and beyond, so by the time the primary queen dies, the colony can have quite an expansive territory.

For subterranean termites, with the number of members of the colony approaching a million in some species, extensive damage can occur in wood. Scientists today are using DNA analyses to map out the size and territories of colonies. One study has concluded that there are over 20 colonies per acre in some areas. This means that the long-living termite queen can die off, but the secondary reproductive termites and the other colony queens will keep reproduction moving forward.

Termite infestations can be difficult to identify before they have reached full maturity. Because a queen termite’s life can span so many years, populations left unchecked are capable of causing considerable damage to infested structures. These buildings can require extensive repair. Estimates of the termite damage in the U.S. each year exceeds $5 billion.

At the first sign of a termite infestation, arrange for an inspection. Get an estimate for treatment if there is infestation.

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 donโ€™t cover the damage.

Weโ€™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.

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Termite Life Cycle

Life Cycle Stages

Reproduction
The life cycle of the termite begins with a mating flight, wherein swarming winged reproductive males and females leave established colonies and procreate. After fertilization, winged termites land and shed their wings, going on to form new colonies. These insects then become the king or queen termites of their newly established colonies. The queen and king termites are at the center of the termite life cycle and are responsible for reproduction.

Eggs
After the fertilized queen lays her eggs, they hatch into pale white larvae. Eggs hatch into larvae and molt to develop into workers, soldiers, and primary or secondary reproductives.

Nymphs
A nymph is a young termite that is going through molts, a process of shedding its exoskeleton, to become a reproductive. First, a termite develops a soft exoskeleton under its current, hard exoskeleton. Then, once the termite has reached maturity, its outermost skeleton splits open, and the new exoskeleton enlarges and hardens. This molting process continues throughout a termiteโ€™s life cycle based on the colonyโ€™s needs.

Larvae
Over the course of several molts, these larvae grow to assume a role in one of the three termite colony castes: workers, soldiers, and reproductive termites, also known as alates.


Sizes of various termites in a colony.
Left to right: Soldier, Worker, Nymph, Larvae.

Each caste has a distinctly different physical appearance. Workers are responsible for constructing tunnels and chambers as well as feeding and grooming other termite castes. Soldier termites are yellow-brown in color, with dramatically enlarged heads and often large mandibles. These are useful in combat, but render warriors incapable of feeding themselves. The reproductive alates are darker in color and are born with two pairs of wings.

Although it is not clear how larvae are relegated to a certain caste, some research has indicated that maturity and the overall needs of the colony may dictate caste assignment. In fact, research has shown that castes in the termite life cycle are not rigidly set, as termites belonging to one caste may develop into another caste if the colony requires it. Thus, a soldier termite may become a worker or a reproductive termite if the colony experiences a shortage of one or the other.

Swarming
The termite life cycle also includes swarming. Once reproductives become fully mature termites capable of reproducing, they develop wings and functioning eyes. The bodies of these termites, now called alates, also become harder and darker to help the swarming termites withstand exposure to light and less humid air.

Workers and soldiers live approximately one to two years. Queen termites may survive for over a decade under optimal climate conditions.

Encounters & Concerns

Encounters
Generally the life cycle stages most likely encountered by homeowners are termite workers as they tunnel through wood and the primary reproductive termites that show up as swarms. The pests often are not observed until someone discovers either wood that is damaged or dead termite bodies and shed wings that are indicative of a reproductive swarm.

The remains of termite swarms are usually seen near a source of light such as a window, entrance door, or patio door. Swarms generally occur in the spring, especially after a rain.

As a general rule of thumb whenever a termite swarm is observed, that means the colony has been actively consuming wood in the house for about 3 to 5 years. If dealing with a subterranean termite colony, the most damaging of the three main groups of termites, the presence of other colony caste members are concealed and hidden below ground.

Concerns
Damage is the most significant concern homeowners have with termite infestations. Termite workers may consume and damage wooden structures and wooden surfaces such as floors and wall coverings (paneling or sheetrock.) Some species may damage standing trees or construction wood located in the attic or other locations where wood is dry. Contacting your local pest management professional and requesting an inspection and termite protection plan can lessen these concerns.

More Life Cycle Information

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TERMITE FAQs

What are the most common signs of termites?

Because so much of the damage caused by termites is within the inner walls of a structure, it can be difficult to know if you have a termite problem. However, there are three warning signs to help you determine if you have a termite problem.

TERMITES, DEAD OR ALIVE

Winged termites are often the first sign of a subterranean termite infestation. Swarming termites are attracted to light and are often found near windows, doors, vents and light fixtures. Experiencing a termite swarm is the #1 sign that your property has a termite problem. Worker termites are small, light-colored insects that move quickly when exposed to light. They are also the family members that cause the most damage to a structure. Even if you havenโ€™t seen signs of termites, check windows, heating vents, doors, sinks and bathtubs for dead termites or termite wings.

Mud tubes provide shelter for termites and have a muddy, flattened appearance approximately the width of a drinking straw. Look for mud tubes along cracks, beneath flooring, around baseboards, on pipes, piers, chimneys, behind siding, plumbing and other fixtures. Mud tubes may also extend over concrete foundations and other exposed surfaces.

Another way to check for termites is to tap wood along the walls, baseboards and windowsills every few inches with a screwdriver handle. Damaged wood will sound hollow and, if the area is extremely damaged, the handle may break the woodโ€™s surface. If the area is active, you may see worker termites inside. Dark areas or blisters in wood flooring are an indicator of a subterranean termite infestation. Because subterranean termites are preventable, it is a good idea to have your property regularly inspected by a trained specialist.

How much damage can termites really do?

Termites cause an estimated $5 billion in property damages and repair costs annually. In fact, termites damage more homes than fires, floods and tornadoes. More than 4 million homes in the United States are at risk of infestation this year.

How do I know if I have winged ants or swarming termites?

Winged termites have pigmented bodies with broad waists and two pair of wings that are equal in size and shape. Subterranean termite swarmers have bodies about one-quarter of an inch in length. The swarmers quickly shed their wings after a brief flight. Winged ants have pinched waists and two pair of wings that differ in size and shape (front pair is much larger). Flying ants shed their wings like termites. Termite wings are all the same size. Collect a few and call Terminix to have them identified if you want to be sure.

Termite workers are pale, soft-bodied insects about one-quarter of an inch or less in length. They appear to have a head and body because their thorax is broadly joined to their abdomen. Their antennae are straight.

Termites are mistakenly called white ants, but are not ant-like in appearance. Ants are usually heavily pigmented and have three distinct body regions: head, thorax and abdomen. Ants also have a very narrow or pinched โ€œwaist,โ€ and their antennae are “elbowed.”

Winged termites, also known as swarmers, have pigmented bodies with broad waists and two pair of wings that are equal in size and shape. Subterranean termite swarmers have bodies about one-quarter of an inch in length. The swarmers quickly shed their wings after a brief flight. Winged ants, on the other hand, have pinched waists and two pair of wings that differ in size and shape (front are much larger).

How can I tell if pest excrement is from termites or other insects?

Drywood termites produce small bun-shaped excrement. This often accumulates on surfaces directly below infested areas. Evidence of activity can include small โ€œpin holesโ€ in the surface of the infested area and the droppings accumulating below. Swarmers might also be observed. The adult reproductives swarm to start new infestations in other areas of the structure. This usually occurs between early summer and late fall depending on where you live.

There is mud tunnel on the drywall of my exterior wall. Should I be worried about termites?

Mud tunnels are one of the top indicators of subterranean termite activity. Contact your local Terminix branch as soon as possible.

Do termites really eat wood?

Yes, termites really eat wood. In nature, termites play a useful role helping wood be recycled to the soil as humus, an organic material that provides nutrients for plants and increases the ability of soil to retain water.

Using bacteria, protozoa and microbes that live inside their stomachs, termites are able to digest cellulose, the main constituent of wood. They are extremely well organized and persistent in their search for new food sources. Contrary to what one might think, they will eat anything containing cellulose โ€“ wallpaper, books, boxes, carpet backing, drywall and even furniture.

Can termites make their way through concrete?

Termites cannot go through solid concrete, but they can get through a crack only 1/32 nd of an inch wide. Openings this size or bigger often occur where two pieces of concrete abut โ€“ like when poured separately โ€“ and around plumbing penetrations through the concrete or where the concrete has cracked.

How long do termites live?

A worker termite may live from one to two years. A queen termite may live for decades.

Why do winged termites lose their wings?

Swarmers use their wings to fly a short distance from their nest. They then break off their wings and never fly again, burrowing themselves in the soil to spend the remainder of their lives building a new colony.

What will termites do after they swarm?

Subterranean termite swarmers attempt to pair with a swarmer of the opposite sex within their colony. They must locate a suitable habitat to establish a new colony of their own. They need moist soil, preferably in direct contact with wood, in order to survive. The termites that swarm inside a structure and cannot get out will quickly die from lack of available moisture. The termite colony that produced the swarmers will continue to be active after the swarm has taken place.

How do termites get ins >

Termites donโ€™t need much room to squeeze inside your home or business. In fact, they can enter a structure through a space as small as 1/32 nd of an inch.

Subterranean termites usually enter a building from the soil along its foundation or through cracks in the slab, expansion joints, weep holes, voids in brick or block and around plumbing. Decks, porches and other wood structures in direct contact with the ground are also easy access ramps for termites.

While most subterranean termite infestations can be traced to a colony living in soil outside the structure, some infestations begin above the ground. This occurs when a termite king and queen begin a new nest within a structure or when foraging termite workers become isolated and cannot return to the parent colony. Such conditions are most common in high-moisture areas. Structures with flat roofs or chronic leaks can also be at risk because the structure can retain enough moisture for a termite colony to establish itself. Constant moisture allows a termite colony to survive even without a connection to the soil. In such cases, the structural moisture problems may be as damaging to the home as the termite activity.

Common construction practices can also contribute to termite problems by providing termites admittance into a structure or creating ideal damp conditions for colonization. Some examples of these practices include wood-to-soil contact, form boards not being removed after construction is completed, wood refuse buried under the slab, improper drainage and stucco below grade.

Spreading mulch over the soil adjacent to a structure’s foundation can also provide an inroad for termites to creep into a building.

Does the builder of a new home usually protect it against termites?

There are only a few states that require soil pretreatment for control of subterranean termites during construction. It is usually the mortgage lender that requires this, especially in termite-prone areas.

I have an old tree stump infested with termites. Should I have it treated?

You donโ€™t need to treat the stump, but you may want to give your home termite protection. In areas of the country where termites are common, it is not unusual to find them in the ground, in tree stumps or in debris near a structure. If your home has not been treated to control or prevent termite entry, you should maintain a close watch for termites and have a Terminix specialist inspect and implement a termite control program.

Subterranean termites nest in the ground and forage for food (cellulose or wood) over areas up to one-half of an acre or more in size. There is a high probability that if they are detected close to your home, they will eventually infest it โ€“ if they have not done so already. Treating the stump will not have any great impact on the colony or its continued search for new food sources. Contact your local Terminix branch for an inspection and to find out your control options.

Preventative action makes good sense in any termite-prone area, and you should also consider having Terminix implement a termite control program before you notice an infestation.

Remove all wood debris from around your home, especially after new construction and remodeling. This includes wood form boards along foundations, tree stumps and roots, as well as firewood stacked near the house.

Since termites need moisture to survive, grade the soil around your foundation so it carries water away from the house. Keep gutters and downspouts in good repair.

Will subterranean termite swarmers infest my house, furniture, closets, etc.?

Subterranean termite swarmers are looking for moist soil in close proximity to wood in order to start a new colony. The likelihood of these conditions existing inside your home is very low, so unless the swarmers get outdoors, they will not survive.

There are homes with termites in my neighborhood. How can I protect my house?

Termites forage year-round and they spread most commonly underground. If your home is currently termite-free, it could become infested by termites that are active nearby. A preventative termite control program will help avoid termite infestation. Contact your local Terminix branch for additional information about termite biology, habits and treatment options.

I live in a stucco home. Should I be concerned with termites?

Termite problems are common in stucco homes. Usually this is because the stucco exterior finish extends beneath the soil level around the outside of the structure. This creates a small space between the foundation and the stucco finish, permitting termite entry that is completely hidden from view.

Another situation involves the โ€œsyntheticโ€ stucco finishes that have a base layer of rigid foam board. This type also often extends beneath the soil level, and once the termites access the foam, they can move anywhere around the structure. This type of exterior finish is also prone to moisture intrusion, which will help support the termites once they get in.

How do I get r >

More than likely, a home infested with drywood termites will require tent fumigation. Tent fumigation involves covering your home with tarps and introducing a fumigant gas to penetrate all infested wood. It is the most effective method of controlling drywood termite infestations.

How can I prevent a termite infestation?

Terminix will get to subterranean termites before they get to you. The Bait Barrier Plan establishes an advanced treatment perimeter around your home and provides annual monitoring to check for termite activity. A second option, the Subterranean Termite Coverage Plan, offers an annual professional Termite Inspection and free treatments if termites are discovered. Both plans are backed by an ongoing guarantee protecting against any costs from future treatments or damage repairs.

My house does not have termites โ€“ should I still get a termite treatment?

Yes. Without an effective prevention program, like our Bait Barrier Plan, your home is open to termite damage, which could remain unnoticed until it becomes a serious problem.

The Terminix Bait Barrier Plan is designed to eliminate termites and their colonies.

Keep in mind that just because you donโ€™t see termites does not mean your property is safe from infestation. Subterranean termites live in colonies that can house hundreds of thousands of termites. They work 24 hours a day and are often difficult to detect since 80 percent of the wood they eat is hidden within the structure.

How long does it take to eliminate or control a termite colony with bait?

Individual termites can be affected within a few days after consuming the bait, but it may take several months before an entire colony is controlled or eliminated. This varies depending on the time of year, geography, the number of termites in the colony, the number of colonies infesting the structure and the species of termite.

How do I control termites and avo >

There are many effective options based on the type of termites found at your home. Terminix recommends a Termite Inspection in order to determine the best method and treatment plan. Liquid treatments use applications to the soil at potential entry points into the structure. As the termites forage for food sources, they come into contact with the treatment area if they try to enter the structure.

Soil treatments are intended to control termites for extended periods of time, although they may be breached because of physical disturbance of the treatment zone (landscaping activities, construction, erosion), tree roots growing through the treatment zone and natural degradation of the termiticide, among others. For these reasons, most termite control treatments are available with renewable guarantees.

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