Termite colonies are organized into castes – workers, soldiers and reproductive’s. The characteristic of a subterranean termite depends on the termite’s role in the colony. Cream colored worker subterranean termites are 1/8 to 3/8’s of an inch in length. Soldier subterranean termites are just slightly larger, but are distinguished by their powerful mandibles (pinchers). Solider termites have cream colored bodies and brown heads. Reproductive subterranean termites are approximately one inch long.
Subterranean termites live in underground colonies or in moist secluded areas above ground. Subterranean termites build distinctive “mud tubes” to gain access to food sources and to protect themselves from open air. Subterranean termites need contact with the soil to survive and therefore live underground. They can build tunnels through cracks in concrete to get to a food source.
Subterranean termites feed on wood and other items that contain cellulose, such as paper, fiberboard, and some fabrics derived from cotton fibers. They can damage a variety of non-cellulose materials such as rigid form board insulation, sheetrock etc., in their search for food.
Life Cycle & Reproduction
New colonies form when the old colony produces swarmers or when groups of termites become isolated from the main colony. Only a small percentage of the swarmers will actually survive and start new colonies. The majority fall prey to birds, insects and other predators. Many also die from dehydration or injury.
The termite swarmers that survive will pair up and immediately seek cover under rocks or other materials and will begin making a small nest before mating. Only a few hundred eggs are deposited during the first year. In subsequent years, the young queen grows larger and lays more eggs. Larvae hatch from the eggs within a few weeks and are cared for by the new king and queen. The colony stabilizes when the queen reaches maximum egg production. If the queen dies, secondary reproductive’s take over the queen’s duties. A mature colony can contain up to 2 million individual members.
Subterranean termites are by far the most destructive termite species. Subterranean termites are the most economically important wood destroying pests in the United States. Nationwide, billions of dollars are spent annually to control subterranean termites and to repair the damage they cause.