Subterranean Termite Biology
The termites in our area of the country are classified as subterranean termites. This means this particular species of termite requires contact with soil (other species around the world may not). Subterranean termites can be found in every state in the United States (even a few times in Alaska). Subterranean termites used to be called “white ants” because of their fair color and similar size to ants but termites are more closely related to cockroaches than they are to ants.
Subterranean termites have a caste (or “class” system essentially) where nymphs (immature young) can develop into a Worker (most common), a Soldier, or a Reproductive (king / queen). Colony size can be anywhere from a few thousand to a few million. Every full acre in the Northeast is home to 1 to 3 colonies of subterranean termites. Termites can be found under warm rocks, in tree stumps, fallen branches, wood piles, etc. Termites are always in search of new food and they will explore underground or in some cases they will build “mud tunes” to bridge the gap from soil to food. The termites will travel up and down inside these tubes, consuming the cellulose (the binding sugars in wood products) and returning to the underground colony to feed the rest of their nest mates. Termites do not die in the winter, they simply move further down in the warm ground.
Subterranean termites will send off “swarmers” or small, black, winged reprductives in early spring (April to early June usually). These swarmers are often mistaken for flying ants but these insects break their little clear wings off and crawl around on the floor or ground. Ant swarmers will usually keep their amber colored wings their entire life. The average subterranean termite colony is said to consumer 3-7 pounds of wood each year.