Where are Termites Most Commonly Found

Where are Termites Most Commonly Found?

Posted on Mar 27, 2015 10:07:07 AM by Fran Oneto

There are many things that strike fear in the hearts of homeowners, but perhaps none more costly than termites. These winged insects chomp into your foundation and framing and fly into attics to reduce the once-thick wood into paper-thin slices. You should be on the constant lookout for them, but it’s not always easy for property owners to know where or what to look for.

What a lot of people don’t know is that there are two types of termites – drywood termites and subterranean termites. Drywood termites prefer warmer climates, so if that’s where you live, be on the lookout for them. Subterranean termites can be found pretty much anywhere in the U.S. Both are capable causing the same amount of damage, but tend to colonize in different places. This is how you’ll know where to find them.

Subterranean termites build colonies in the soil surrounding your house. Drywood termites live entirely in wood. That means you can find them in your foundation, framing, furniture and hardwood flooring. Termites can colonize and cause damage pretty much any time of the year, but they are especially dangerous in the springtime. This is when swarms of them occur most commonly.

When you’re searching for termites, do not be fooled by any smooth surface that may appear on the outside of a stretch of wood. Termites prefer dark and humid environments, so they don’t really like to eat on the outside of wood. Knock on it. If it sounds hollow, that is a sign that termites are inside feasting away.

Also keep in mind that termites need a way to enter the surface of the wood to do their thing. They do this by making tiny slits and cracks that can be as thin as a dime. Therefore slits or cracks in the side of wood framing or in a hardwood floor is a common sign that drywood termites have entered and need to be dealt with.


Facts, Identification & Control

Latin Name


Termites all belong to the phylum Arthropoda, the class Insecta, and the order Isoptera. There are over 2,000 different species of termites with over 40 species in the United States alone. Although they have distinct characteristics, most look similar. They typically measure between 1/4 and 1/2 of an inch long and have soft bodies with straight antennae. The queens and kings are larger, capable of reaching over one inch long. Colors range from white to light brown where worker termites often appear lighter, while swarming termites darker. Flying termites, also called reproductives, have two pairs of prominent wings.

TYPES OF Termites

Dampwood Termite

Zootermopsis spp. and Neotermes spp.

Drywood Termite

Cryptotermes spp. and Incisitermes spp.

Formosan Termite

Subterranean Termite

Reticulitermes spp., Coptotermes spp. and Heterotermes spp.


What Orkin Does
Based on the layout of your home and the degree of termite infestation, Orkin will create a customized treatment plan tailored for your home. This can include a variety of treatments such as Termidor Liquid, Dry Foam and OrkinFoam, and Sentricon Bait and Monitoring dependent on the areas of usage, situations, and species of termite. Learn more about our termite treatments here.

How Serious Are Termites?

Termite Warning Signs

Types of Termites



What Can I do About Termites?



How Serious Are Termites?

A termite infestation and damage can be devastating to your home or property. Termites are often called the “silent destroyer” because they may be secretly hiding and thriving in your home or yard without any immediate signs of damage. All termites consume cellulose-based plant materials. Unfortunately, all homes, regardless of their construction type, can provide cellulose food for termite infestation.

Termite Warning Signs

Some indications you may have a termite infestation:

  • A temporary swarm of winged insects in your home or from the soil around your home.
  • Any cracked or bubbling paint or frass (termite droppings).
  • Wood that sounds hollow when tapped.
  • Mud tubes on exterior walls, wooden beams or in crawl spaces.
  • Discarded wings from swarmers.

    Types of Termites

    There are three major types of termites found in the United States:


    Termites invade homes by crossing from their colonies in yards to foundations. Cracks or gaps around pipes and wires give the pests access inside. Homeowners can also get termites from:

    • Wooden structures, like porches and decks, in direct contact with the ground
    • Stacks of firewood that lean against the house
    • Damp soil near foundations from leaking faucets, gutters, or downspouts
    • Trees and shrubs planted close to the building.

    Above ground locations in the house that remain damp enough to support termites without them needing to return to the moist conditions found in the soil.


    Since termites are a constant threat to your home, here are some things you can do during the year to help maintain the effectiveness of Orkin’s termite treatment plan. Small steps make a big difference in termite prevention and sustaining an effective termite treatment plan. Start by eliminating moisture conditions and termite food around your home. These simple steps make your home a less attractive target, helping deter termites.

    Eliminate Moisture Problems

    • Repair leaking faucets, water pipes, and A/C units
    • Divert water from foundation
    • Keep gutters and downspouts clean
    • Remove excessive plant cover and wood mulch
    • Get rid of standing water on roof
    • Keep all vents clear and open
    • Seal entry points around water and utility lines or pipes

    Remove Termite Food Sources

    • Keep firewood, lumber or paper away from foundation or crawl space
    • Get rid of stumps and debris near house
    • Place screens on outside vents
    • Check decks and wooden fences for damage
    • Wood on your home shouldn’t contact the soil

    What Can I do About Termites?


    Where do they live?
    Commonly, termites live in wooden structures, decayed trees, fallen timber, and soil. Habitats vary among species as some termites require different amounts of moisture. The pests are found in greater numbers in tropical regions where living conditions for termites is optimal.

    Subterranean termites are the most abundant variety and can be found throughout the United States. Both dampwood and drywood species are generally more localized in the Southern states.

    Subterranean termite homes are usually formed in soil. Within these mounds, termites build elaborate tunnel systems and mud tunnels through which they access above-ground food sources.

    Mud Tubes on Walls

    Drywood termites live within the wood they consume and oftentimes infest walls and furniture.

    When a colony has matured, winged, swarming termites can be seen around windows and doors. Winged termites are highly attracted to sources of light and are most active in springtime. After mating, these termites locate a new breeding site and create another colony, spreading infestations throughout multiple locations in the case of drywood termites.

    What Do They Eat?
    Termites are detritivores, or detritus feeders. They feed on dead plants and trees. Termites get nutrients from cellulose, an organic fiber found in wood and plant matter. Wood makes up the majority of the pests’ diet, although termites also eat other materials such as paper, plastic, and drywall. Most species prefer dead wood, but some termites feed on living trees.

    Each type of termite has its own dietary preferences.

    • Subterranean termites prefer softwoods, but may invade most species of wood.
    • Dampwood termites generally stay close to the ground, but will choose moist, decaying wood anywhere it is found.
    • Drywood termites are often found in attics and require little moisture in the wood they eat.

    A termite’s mouth is capable of tearing pieces of woody material. This ability is what causes concern in human dwellings: while termite workers only measure approximately 1 cm to a few millimeters in length, their feeding habits are capable of causing costly damage to property. House foundations, furniture, shelves and even books are all possible feeding sites for termites.


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

    Workers are responsible for gathering and feeding the colony members, maintaining the nest, and caring for young. Soldiers protect the termite colony using their large mandibles to fend off predators. Reproductives are the only sexually mature members of the colony, aside from queens and kings. Read more about termite colonies.

    Mating Flight

    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.


    After the fertilized queen lays her eggs, they hatch into pale white larvae.


    Eggs hatch into larvae and molt (shed their exoskeletons) to develop into workers, soldiers, primary reproductives and secondary reproductives. A nymph is a young termite that is going through molts to become a reproductive.

    The termite growth process begins with a process called molting. 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 termite’s life cycle based on the colony’s needs.


    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.


    Article by D.k. Mcewan Kevan, Spencer K. Monckton
    Published Online January 28, 2007
    Last Edited May 17, 2016

    Termites are social insects of the infraorder Isoptera. They may be thought of as “social cockroaches,” as they evolved from their wood-eating cockroach ancestors approximately 200 million years ago.

    Termites are social insects of the infraorder Isoptera. They may be thought of as “social cockroaches,” as they evolved from their wood-eating cockroach ancestors approximately 200 million years ago, making them the earliest known example of social insects. Often called “white ants,” termites are only distantly related to true ants. Their colony-based lifestyle evolved independently of other social insects — for example, ants, bees and wasps.

    There are more than 3,100 species of termite worldwide, only a handful of which are found in Canada — namely, the dampwood termite (Zootermopsis angusticollis), western subterranean termite (Reticulitermes hesperus) and eastern subterranean termite (Reticulitermes flavipes).

    Because termites feed primarily on cellulose — a major component of plant material such as wood — they destroy many plant-based products, such as house frames and utility poles. As such, they are often considered pests.


    Most termites are pale and waxy, about 5–15 mm long, and have short, slender antennae, short legs, and a cylindrical or slightly flattened body. Beyond these general characteristics, each caste of termite (workers, soldiers and reproductives) varies slightly in appearance. Workers are soft-bodied and pale, with mouthparts for chewing, while soldiers are larger and darker in colour, with longer, hardened heads. Soldiers of most species have long, hooked jaws, which they use as weapons; some have long snouts for spraying defensive chemicals. Workers and soldiers are wingless, while reproductives have four long wings of similar shape. The wings are shed after they find a mate. In most cases, termites either have small eyes or no eyes at all. Many species have a pore on the front of the head to secrete pheromones and/or defensive chemicals.

    Distribution and Habitat

    Termites are mostly found in tropical regions and are most diverse in tropical west Africa, and in rainforests in South America and southeast Asia. Termites may live underground in moist habitats, or above ground in dry habitats. Many species build mounds, some of which protrude up to nine metres above the ground.Subterranean species, like those found in Canada, do not build mounds, and are usually found in wood that is buried in or in contact with soil.

    Canada has two native and one established species that are mainly found in human-made structures and environments. Two are native to British Columbia: the Pacific dampwood termite (Zootermopsis angusticollis) mainly infests moist deadwood, while the western subterranean termite (Reticulitermes hesperus) is the region’s major termite pest. The eastern subterranean termite (Reticulitermes flavipes) is found in many of eastern Canada’s densely populated areas, and is known for the most extensive termite-caused destruction in Canada and the United States. It is thought to have been introduced by ship to Toronto sometime between 1935 and 1938.

    Other species are sometimes found in localized infestations in Canada: two small colonies of Cryptotermes brevis have been found in British Columbia, one infesting a wooden case imported from Peru (Port McNeill, BC), another infesting a cupboard in Vancouver, while a large colony of Incisitermes minor was found in 1989 infesting a home in Toronto. At least two other species have been found in Canada: Cryptotermes domesticus and Cryptotermes dudleyi.


    All termites are social, forming colonies with differentiated castes. Most species have three castes: workers, soldiers and reproductives. This is true of all Canadian termites, though colony structure varies in complexity among other species. Colonies are founded by two primary reproductives (often called “queen” and “king”), who tend the nest and feed their young until enough workers have developed to take over these tasks. Workers make up most of the colony, and their tasks include nest building, repair, foraging, feeding, and grooming of nest-mates. Soldiers are responsible for defending the colony, and both workers and soldiers are sterile.

    Termites groom one another and perform “proctodeal trophallaxis,” which is the exchange of fecal matter between individuals. These behaviours have two very important consequences. The first involves the colony’s structure: castes are regulated and maintained by hormones or pheromones spread about the colony by reproductives and soldiers via grooming and trophallaxis. The second involves the termite diet, which consists mainly of cellulose, a sturdy plant sugar that most animals cannot digest. Termites do not directly digest cellulose, but instead have symbiotic gut microbes that do it for them. These symbiotic microbes are lost each time a termite moults (which they must do periodically as they grow), so a constant communal exchange of fecal matter is needed to ensure that all individuals in the colony can continue to digest food.

    Reproduction and Development

    Once a colony matures (which may take up to 10 years), new reproductives are produced by its founders once or more per year when they expose newborns to the appropriate pheromones. From these mature colonies, large numbers of winged reproductive individuals emerge and form mating swarms, in which males and females pair off, land, break off their wings, and seek a suitable nesting site where they begin producing a new colony. The two founders mate for life and the female is usually much larger than the male, being full of unlaid eggs. Termites undergo incomplete metamorphosis, meaning that juveniles are much like small adults, and are therefore active in the colony. Unlike in social bees, wasps and ants — whose worker and soldier castes are exclusively female and develop from fertilized eggs, and whose reproductive males develop from unfertilized eggs — the sterile worker and soldier castes of termites include both males and females, and all individuals develop from fertilized eggs.


    Termites primarily feed on cellulose, a major component of wood and other plant materials. They are important decomposers, as they break down dead trees and fallen logs into usable substances for other plants, while simultaneously aerating and mixing the soil. Termites are especially dense and environmentally important in tropical areas, where their colonies cover up to one-third of the soil surface and cycle up to one-third of all plant material through their guts. Globally, the total mass of all termites approaches three times the total mass of all humans. Much like in cows, which also rely on symbiotic microbes to digest cellulose, methane is formed as a byproduct in the guts of termites, and consequently, termites contribute significantly to atmospheric levels of this greenhouse gas (see Climate Change). Though they mostly attack deadwood, termites can also do considerable damage to living woody shrubs and trees.

    The colonies of many termite species are inhabited by other arthropods, such as beetles or flies; these species co-evolved with their termite hosts, and live in a mutually beneficial arrangement. Some tropical species tend gardens of fungi; in East Africa, these termites form the largest known colonies, which may be up to 100 years old.

    Interaction with Humans

    Termites cause economically significant damage in human environments. Due to the commercial movement of wood, as many as 28 species of termites are considered invasive throughout various parts of the world. Termites damage and destroy a variety of plant-based products, such as house frames, utility poles, fence posts, furniture, books, fabrics and so on. In Canada, the most significant termite pest is the eastern subterranean termite, Reticulitermes flavipes, which infests wood in contact with soil(the soil provides the termite colony with necessary moisture). They may also build above-ground mud tunnels from the soil to nearby wood. Infestations of R. flavipes spread slowly and can be recognized by the swarms of reproductives in very early spring. Infestations can be prevented by designing buildings with wooden components safely separated from the ground and sealed away from the outdoors, or by applying chemical treatments directly to wood or to soil (fence posts and utility poles are often pre-treated with such pesticides). Termites can also be controlled using baits, which contain poisons that either kill their symbiotic gut microbes, or are carried back to the colony and spread around through grooming and trophallaxis. Unlike their eastern relative, colonies of the western subterranean termite, Reticulitermes hesperus, can live in wood without contact with the soil, as long as there is enough moisture and food to sustain the colony.

    Interested in wildlife?

    Termite // Key Terms

    Social insects

    Species that divide labour between reproductive and non-reproductive groups (castes) have overlapping generations of adults, and co-operatively care for their young. Many other insect species are considered “presocial,” as they exhibit some but not all of these characteristics.

    A chemical secreted by one individual that alters the behaviour of others who detect it. Pheromones are a form of chemical communication.

    The periodic shedding of the hard insect cuticle or exoskeleton in order to allow growth. Once hardened, new cuticle does not stretch, and so must be shed when the insect grows too large for it.


    The process by which an insect passes through a series of life stages as it grows from egg to adult. In complete metamorphosis, the stages are as follows: a juvenile or larval stage, an intermediate or pupal stage, and adult stages.

    Incomplete metamorphosis

    Unlike complete metamorphosis, this process does not have a pupal stage. Instead, juveniles — or nymphs — resemble adults more and more as they grow.


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