Termite Facts and FAQs (‘Cause Knowing is Half the Battle)

By the time you start reading up on termite facts and asking some of the most common questions about termites, you already know that termites are far from the light-hearted comedic pests Looney Tunes cartoons would have you believe.

You already suspect what millions of home owners already know: that termites can wreak total havoc in a home that is unprepared to deal with them and cost you thousands in damages. And you might already know by now, especially if you’re a regular reader of these pest control articles (I prefer novels, but hey, to each their own): the key to preparation is knowing what you’re up against.

It’s with this in mind that we’ve compiled a list of the most common questions asked about termites, infestations and some other interesting facts that you might not have known about the bugs!

What do termites look like?

Termites are interesting looking creatures, believe it or not – and what they look like depends on which type of termite you’re discussing. A typical worker termite tends to be quite pale in color and its outer body is soft, rather than the common exoskeleton of other small beasties that find their way into home.

what do termites look like

They tend not to have much in the way of a distinctive shape, due to the way their head joins up with their abdomen… Which might sound weird to you, but who knows what passes for attractive in the termite world.

Winged termites are a little more distinctive, obviously due to the wings but also as they tend to have a stronger color and a more clearly defined waist.

Notable are the antennae of a termite: straight and narrow, which differs quite a bit from say, a silverfish. Now you know what the minuscule wood-munching enemy looks like.

Ants and termites: what’s the difference?

Obviously, because of their stature and antennae, termites are often mistaken for some types of ants. However, if you decide you want to get down on your hands and knees and give your magnifying glass a bit of exercise, you’ll notice that ants have very segmented and distinctive bodies – heads, thorax and then their bulbous abdomen.

This is nothing like the blander termite bodies. Real ants have curves.

ants and termites

Some of the winged termites are also mistaken for ants, particularly due to the more pigmented color of swarming termites, however these termites usually shed their wings shortly after they’ve reproduced whereas ants keep theirs for the full innings.

Plus, most ants won’t take a chunk out of your bedpost.

How big are termites?

Termites are very, very small creatures – a worker termite is unlikely to grow much bigger than 3/8ths of an inch or so, although there will, of course, be some variation across the board. But yes, you can still see termites – they’re visible to the naked eye.

Point of interest: despite their small stature, winged termites will have four equal sized and shaped wings – with very short, stubby legs; another discretionary point between them and ants.

The fact that they’re so tiny and live in such thick numbers is what makes them a force to be reckoned with and, strangely, difficult to find.

Termite queens are huge

Ever see that episode of Futurama with the Slurm? If so, you know exactly where I’m going with this. A termite queen is often up to 100 times the size of her average worker, because her body is specifically designed to do nothing other than lay eggs day in day out.

termite queen

There are all kinds of conflicting figures for how much an active queen can lay in terms of eggs. Some reports say up to 30,000 per day, others say one egg per fifteen seconds and some are even quoted as saying she can manage over 160 million in her entire lifespan…

The one thing that is for certain, is that you’ll never completely eradicate a termite problem until you take out the prolific egg-laying queen. She’s got nothing better to do with her time after all.

Do termites fly?

Short answer: yes.

Longer answer: it’s not as simple as that. For many homeowners, the first major sign they have of termites in or around the home will be the presence of winged or flying termites – which usually indicates that the colony is ‘swarming’ (migrating, essentially) to a new location.

Further still; winged termites are a sign of maturity – as the colonies tend to produce flying termites in order to reproduce elsewhere. Interestingly, however, the females will shed their wings after they’ve birthed their offspring, so it’s not always clear whether you’re at the beginning or the end of a termite infestation in terms of how long they’ve been present.

Generally speaking, though, if you’re spotting winged or flying termites, it’s time to take some decisive action.

Do termites bite?

Termites are not known to hunger after human meat, so it’s very unlikely that you’ll receive an intentional termite bite if there’s anything else on offer for them nearby (more on that weird diet later on).

That being said, there are specific strains of termite within the average colony which are equipped to bite and fight off other insects and invaders which might pose a threat to their home.

Obviously, these ‘soldier termites’ are only really designed for warding off ants, other termites and similar creepy crawlies – but it doesn’t seem outlandish to suggest that you may run the risk of a pinch on the finger if you go poking your hand around where it ain’t welcome.

(If you’re taking DIY measures to get rid of an infestation, you should always wear some sort of protective gear anyway!)

Are termites harmful to people or pets?

Now that you know the possibility of a termite nibble is on the cards, I bet you’re wondering if that means they can cause you or your pets any harm, right? I knew it. Us insect-phobics need to stick together in tough times like these.

The answer is no, though – termites are not known to harm mammals with any sort of toxins or poisons, so there’s no real need to be alarmed if you or your pet(s) are subject to a defensive bite. That being said, you should never rule out the chance of an allergic reaction to something you’ve never been directly exposed to before.

Remember that termites are pretty disgusting compared to you and they hide out in grimy places. If one manages to pierce your skin, it could well infect it… But that’s very unlikely.

Do termites sleep?

Sleepless in Seattle… I thought this sub-heading was a good pun, but it’s not. It does, though, lead to a very interesting termite fact.

A very interesting fact about the humble termite: it never sleeps. As far as I’m aware they have no unions or workplace legislature either, so for all intents and purposes, these guys will munch on your furnishings and terrorize your home all hours of the day, 365 days of the year.

Yeah, they don’t even take Christmas off. Losers.

Do termites eat furniture?

Sorry, I’ve freaked you out again haven’t I? Now you’re wondering about the state of your furniture…

Termite mythology has the beasties gnawing their way through cabinets, kitchen tables and even walls with the destructive speed and determination of lemmings, but is it actually true? Well, yeah, unfortunately.

signs of termite damage

Termites truly do eat wood – this is actually quite an important part of the natural world. Termites speed up the recycling process of wood in the wild, turning rotten or old logs into nutrient rich fertilizer for renewed growth, essentially. In the home, though, it’s a different story.

That being said, their diet doesn’t exclusively revolve around wood. Their bizarre digestive tracts are built to suck the goodness out of cellulose, which happens to be the main foundation of wood, but also a great many other things such as papers, boxes, books, drywall and even some types of carpet.

It’s for this reason that a termite infestation can often be mistaken for a silverfish problem in the home. Speaking of…

What are the signs of a termite infestation?

Given that termites bear a number of similarities to other domestic pest problems, it’s worth noting the specific signs of termites.

As ever, the first major sign of an infestation is actually spying one of the bugs for yourself. It might seem like common sense, but it’s very easy to convince yourself that you’re noticing some of the subtler signs of a specific kind of infestation, when you’re really not. If you spy winged termites around light sources or near doors and windows, then you might have a swarming colony of termites nearby (which means trouble could be on the horizon if they get a chance to reproduce).

termite signs

A sure-fire sign of termite activity is spying some of their means of transport and living quarters – usually some form of mud tube or hive/hill structure. Smart termites will construct these tubes around cracks and openings into the home or in some of the usual pest/creepy-crawly haunts like skirting boards, behind furniture, around plumbing and pipe fixtures etc. You might also notice clumps of packed earth and dirt in the same locations.

Naturally, if you’re concerned about a termite infestation, you’ll be putting your wooden furnishings under extra scrutiny – and rightly so. If you start to notice hollow wood, sagging floors or structural damage to your wooden cabinets or furniture, then the chances are you’ve got yourself a termite infestation. Additionally, dark, shadowy spots on wood might point to subterranean termite activity.

Bonus: listen out for any very quiet and subtle tapping coming from things like tree stumps; often some strains of termite will tap their mandibles and heads against the interior of their hollowed tunnels to signal the rest of the colony, which can be picked up by the human ear… Just about.

Where there’s one…

Termites tend to set up whole neighborhoods rather than just their own respective hives, where you find one colony, it’s very likely that there are several others located nearby and they might not always be on friendly terms with one another.

What’s interesting about this, however, is that a typical termite can be prepared to hunt up to 250 feet away from its own front door for some tasty food (remember how small they are… Imagine traveling cross country for a hamburger…what do you mean that sounds reasonable?).

With so many termites, from different families, living in a small area and traveling such great distances for a snack, you’ve got to imagine that there’s a Lord of the Rings-esque termite battle happening somewhere close to you right now and you’ll never even know about it.

How long do termites live?

The average termite is likely to last between one and two years, climate issues and human interaction notwithstanding. This applies to the soldiers and the workers but not the queen. The queen termite is thought to be able to live for up to a decade if given the right conditions, which means that her colony can stretch to near termite-empire levels by the time she finally pops her clogs.

Then again, if you had a devoted army of serfs waiting on you hand and foot, I’m sure you’d survive for quite some time too.

Where do termites live?

Most termites are subterranean in nature, and thus like to bed down underneath the floor or soil. Termite sites are quite noticeable in some very hot and arid climates by their tall, freestanding structures which can reach several feet in height – these are actually ventilation shafts which provide air for the hive living below ground.

However, in a more domestic situation, you’re likely to find termites living in rotten wood, or in and around wooden joints (where some space has been left for the little invaders). They’re looking for moisture, safety, darkness and, of course, a nice ample food source.

Not all types of termite require moisture in their environment, though – so it’s worth checking drier areas if your home, too, when looking for signs of a termite infestation!

Now you’re equipped with knowledge, the greatest tool in the war against pests… with the exception of pesticides, insecticides, prevention measures, sealants and extermination crews that is…

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