There are 2,000 known termite species worldwide identified by entomologists and about 55 species of termites within the United States. As for central Texas, there are 2 kinds of termites causing issues for homeowners. They are subterranean termites and drywood termites. Subterranean termites are divided into 2 types, native subterranean termites and formosan subterranean termites. Termites eat wood because cellulose is their food source. They will also damage non-wood material when searching for food including scourging concrete; this is why they are such a threat to homeowners.
According to the Entomology and Nematology Department of the University of Florida, “Of the $2.2 billion annually spent for termite control in the United States, subterranean termites account for 80% share.”
While native subterranean termites were native to The United State of America, formosan subterranean termites didn’t appear in Texas until the 1960’s.
“There are three common species of drywood termites found in Texas (Incisitermies snyderi, Cryptotermes brevis, and Incisitermes minor),” according to the Urban and Structural Entomology Program at Texas A&M University.
Most species of subterranean termites belong to the genus Reticulitermes, but formosan subterranean termites belong to the genus Coptotermes. According to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, “Reticulitermes virginicus (in east Texas to Uvalde and Tom Green Counties) and Reticulitermes hageni (in east Texas to Bexar and Eastland Counties)” are the two species in the genus Reticlitermes found in Texas, which are commonly called native subterranean termites. There is only one species from the genus Coptotermes found in Texas, and that is the formosanus, commonly called formosan subterranean termites.
Both types of subterranean termites found in Texas (native and formosan) have 3 different castes within their colony. This is because they are in a caste system. The 3 castes are: reproductives, workers and soldiers. The reproductives include the king, queen, alates or swarmers and immature alates or nymphs. The queen is the most important member with the role of laying eggs and controlling the colony nest size, makeup and dividing labor. The queen is the largest termite, with the king and alates being comparable in size to each other yet much smaller in size compared to the queen. The king is the second most important member of the colony, with the role of mating with the queen in addition to cleaning and taking care of the young until other workers can take on the responsibility of caring for the young. Alates are reproductives because their role is to swarm (fly away) to become kings and queens of a new nest. Unlike their counterparts, workers and soldiers do not have wings. The workers are responsible for caring for the queen and eggs, as well as doing general repairs or maintenance work on the galleries. Galleries, a type of colony structure, are traveling pathways for the termites to move about through a food source or other lumber. To protect themselves from open air and sunlight while traveling between the ground and their food source or to protect themselves when traveling outside the colony, the workers also build shelter tubes, commonly called mud tubes. Soldiers take on the role of defending the nest. The main enemy seeking to invade are ants, but other invaders that the soldiers defend against include beetles, flies and arachnids.
New colonies are created when swarmers (alates with wings) are given instructions by the queen to depart the colony and “swarm” in order for them to establish new colonies. It can take between 5 and 10 years before that single pair of alates form a colony mature enough to produce more alates. Alates will make a brief flight before dropping to the ground and shedding their wings. As males follow behind closely, females search for the new nesting location in moist, wood crevices. Then the male and female form a royal chamber in a moist location near wood and start another life cycle of a colony by laying eggs. Larvae hatch from the eggs and eventually molt into workers. Some of the workers molt into soldiers and some into alates by 1st molting into alate nymphs. Not all workers or nymphs are capable of becoming a king or queen, but some do take on this role when the primary reproductive dies or is isolated from a section of the colony. This makes it possible for multiple colonies of termites to be found in one structure.
Native Subterranean Termites
common name: Native subterranean termite
scientific name: Reticulitermes virginicus (Banks) (Insecta: Blattodea:Rhinotermitidae)
scientific name: Reticulitermes hageni Banks (Insecta: Blattodea:Rhinotermitidae)
Native subterranean termites use their saw tooth jaws to chew off tiny wood fragments 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. The alates (also referred to as swarmers due to their wings) have long, dark brown to almost black bodies. Their slightly milky colored wings are twice the length of their bodies, measuring in at ¼ inch to ½ inch. Workers are about ¼ inch or less in length with creamy colored bodies. Soldiers are easily identifiable by their large pinchers in the front called mandibles. Soldiers have heads shaped like rectangles of a brownish color with flat and wide bodies colored cream similar to the workers' creamy color.
Small colonies can eat 5 grams, or ⅕ ounce, of wood in a single day. The more time goes by, the more wood will be eaten, which can lead to an entire structure collapsing!
Formosan Subterranean Termites
common name: Formosan subterranean termite
scientific name: Coptotermes formosanus Shiraki (Insecta: Blattodea: Rhinotermitidae)
While native subterranean termites were native to The United State of America, formosan subterranean termites didn’t appear in Texas until the 1960’s. They were first identified in China but received their name from Taiwon (formosa) and assumed to be brought over on cargo ships of wood from various port cities. A single colony is known to contain many millions of termites, unlike native subterranean termite species that only contain several hundred thousand.
The king and alates look similar at first, but as time goes by the king develops clearer eyesight and becomes darker in color. The alates are 5/16 inch in size and pale yellow to brownish yellow in color with small hairs spreading across their translucent wings. Workers are the most common caste members, making up over 90% of the colony, and are sightless (without eyes), have no pigmentation (white in color), with responsibilities of foraging, building tunnels and caring for the young. The soldiers make up about 10% of the colony's population and have rounded heads that are tapered in the front.
Formosan subterranean termites forage below ground up to 300 feet and seriously threaten structures located close by due to their extremely large population size and foraging range. They may also establish above ground carton nests, which are made up of soil, wood, saliva and termite feces. Carton nests provide a moisture supply and therefore making it so formosan termites do not need to return underground for a water supply. The queen of the colony can produce more than 1,000 eggs in a single day. A mature formosan colony can eat approximately 31 grams or 1 ounce of wood per day, which in turn can be defined as 1 foot of a 2x4 wood plank in less than a month. With so many formosans in a colony devouring wood, a structure can have severe damage in as little as six months.
common name: Drywood termite
scientific name: Cryptotermes brevis Banks (Insecta: Blattodea:Kalotermitidae)
Drywood termites belong to the genus Cryptotermes. “There are three common species of drywood termites found in Texas (Incisitermies snyderi, Cryptotermes brevis, and Incisitermes minor),” according to the Urban and Structural Entomology Program at Texas A&M University. They live in dry, hard wood inside a home including the timber of the structure itself, furniture, banisters, and any other dry wood objects that may be located inside. Instead of extracting water from the soil such as subterranean termites do, drywood termites obtain their water from the wood they ingest. The droppings are usually blunt on one end and pointed on the other end, commonly called frass as they look like little pellets piled up. “Kick-out” holes can be spotted in the wood where frass is being literally kicked-out of the wood.
Colonies can grow to be 2,500 in size, and have no worker caste because all the work is completed by young termites before turning into adults. The size of drywoods range based on their age, between ¼ inch to 1 inch in length. They are colored cream white to light brown, have an oval shaped or thick waist and straight antennae. They cause expensive home repairs because they are capable of chewing through almost all things made of cellulose such as floors, walls, support beams, shingles, siding, etc.
Drywood Termite Frass “Kick-out”
Termite Fun Facts
In Texas, subterranean termites cause about $500 million in damage each year. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service)
If a home is not protected, there is about a 70% probability that it will suffer some termite damage within 25 years. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service)
Termites don’t sleep! That’s why they go, go, go 24/7.
Termites are eaten around the world, usually to increase the consumption of protein and fat. They are rich in Vitamin A and C.
Nationwide, termites cause over a billion dollars in damage annually-more than all tornadoes, hurricanes and windstorms combined. (Texas Department of Agriculture)
It's not unusual for a termite to feast on a building throughout a lifespan of 15 years-and the queen can live and produce eggs for up to 50 years. (Texas Department of Agriculture)
Commonly Asked Termite Questions
How do I know if I have termites?
Answer: There are some commonly identifiable ways to know if you have or had termites, which include seeing mud tubes, frass from kick-out holes and discarded wings. It is recommended to have an annual inspection to ensure you don’t have termites. Blessed Pest Control offers free termite inspections!
What type of treatment do I need if termites are found?
Answer: Treatments vary depending on the type of termite and the infestation location. Blessed Pest Control offers free termite inspections, so don’t hesitate to call us and schedule a professional to come out and speak with you about the findings. Best case scenario, you don’t have termites and didn’t spend any money to treat them!
If termites aren’t found, are their preventive measures I can take to avoid having them?
Answer: Yes! If you are renovating your home or building new construction, borate treatments are a great way to prevent termites. If you have a home that is completely built and are not doing any renovations, Blessed Pest Control can do a partial treatment which goes along the exterior foundation of your home and comes with a lifetime warranty.
Are termites harmful to humans? What about pets?
Answer: Termites are not known to carry diseases, and are even eaten in some countries for a source of protein and fat. That said, they can bite and sting you and your pets and can cause allergic reactions and asthma attacks. Due to the damage done to a home or structure, it can lead to falling beams or even a complete collapse of a building which is very dangerous for people and pets dwelling inside.
My neighbors have termites, do I need to worry?
Answer: Unfortunately, yes. When the colony matures, it will produce what are known as swarmers (flying termites) and their only purpose when swarming is to find a new home. Due to the close proximity of your home and your neighbors, your home can be the next location for the swarmers to settle and form a new colony.
“Drywood Termites.” Urban and Structural Entomology Program at Texas A&M University, https://urbanentomology.tamu.edu/urban-pests/termites/drywood/.
Gold, Roger E., et al. “Subterranean Termites - Texas A&M Agrilife.” Subterranean Termites, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, https://agrilife.org/citybugstest/files/2016/06/Subterranean-termites-E368.pdf.
Hammon, et al. “Field Guide to Common Texas Insects.” Field Guide to Common Texas Insects, https://texasinsects.tamu.edu/termite/.
“Regulatory Programs.” Texas Department of Agriculture Website, 2022, https://www.texasagriculture.gov/Regulatory-Programs/Pesticides/Structural-Pest-Control-Service/Termite-Fumigation-Applications/Termite-FAQs.
Su, Nan-Yao, and Rudolf H. Scheffrahn. “Featured Creatures.” Edited by Elena Rhodes, Native Subterranean Termites, University of Florida EENY-212, May 2019, https://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/urban/termites/native_subterraneans.htm.