Termites belong to the infraorder Isoptera within the order Blattodea and are extremely social creatures.
It is interesting to note that Termites were traditionally classified into a separate order from that of cockroaches, however, recent phylogenetic studies show that they have evolved from cockroaches since they are the ‘sister group’ to the wood-eating cockroaches of genus Cryptocercus.
Most of the recent research and estimates indicate that these insects have an origin during the late Jurassic. There are more than three thousand species of Termites that have been described to date, however, a few more hundreds are yet to be described.
Even though these insects are sometimes called ‘white ants’, it should be remembered that they are not ants and are not at all closely related to them. Termites have been able to colonize most of the arenas of Earth since they are found all over the world except for Antarctica.
Let’s explore and discover some interesting facts concerning their livelihood, feeding habits, lifespan, distinctive features, characteristics, and attractions in a more detailed manner!
29 Interesting Facts About Termites
This article intends to provide a detailed overview of the 29 most important and fascinating facts relating to livelihood, lifespan, nature, habitats, attractions, chief characteristics, and distinctive features of Termites.
1. What Do Termites Eat?
Termites are generally detritivores and therefore they tend to feed on dead plants and trees. Since Termites get most of their nutrients from cellulose, their primary food supplement includes mainly wood and plant matter.
Even though wood is the primary dietary preference of termites, they are also known to eat other items such as paper, plastic, and drywall.
Why Do Termites Eat Wood?
Termites require an organic matter called cellulose that is found primarily in wood in order to survive. Since woods are abundant and rich in cellulose, Termites tend to eat wood.
Moreover, wood usually makes up their primary dietary supplement. Thus, Termites that eat wood, paper, or cardboard, are mainly after the cellulose present in them.
What Type of Wood Do Termites Prefer?
Wood preference of termites totally depends on their variations of species since not all termite species prefer the same type of wood.
- Subterranean Termites that are most commonly found in the U.S, generally nest in moist underground conditions and therefore tend to prefer soft pine.
- Drywood Termites, on the other hand, prefer dry wood such as house frames, structural timbers, or furniture.
- Dampwood Termites are known to prefer woods that are genuinely decaying.
2. What Wood Termites Don’t Eat?
There is no doubt that wood is the primary food supplement in the dietary preferences of Termites. But, does that mean that Termites can eat any type of wood available to them? No, thankfully there are a variety of wood types that Termites don’t eat.
These types of wood include Red Wood, Brazilian Jatoba Wood, Walnut Wood, Mahogany Wood, Teak Wood, Cypress heartwood, processed Bamboo, Pressure-treated Wood like Plywood.
3. How Long Do Termites Live?
The lifespan of Termites generally depends on their position in the social order of the colony and at the same time upon their varied species. Termite life cycle ranges from 2-50 years, differing widely depending upon their varied species.
For instance, the queen of eastern subterranean termite species, the most commonly found termite species in the United States, can survive for a maximum period of 30 years. However, 15-17 years is a more common lifespan.
Some African species queens can survive up to 50 years, while drywood termite queens can only live up to 10-12 years. Worker Termites usually have a lifespan of about two years on average.
How Long Can Termites Live in Furniture?
Having such a long lifespan, Termite swarms can easily sustain inside furniture for more than a year or so, especially Drywood Termites that require very less moisture to survive!
4. Where Do Termites Live?
Termite habitat usually depends upon their varied species and preferences. Drywood Termites are capable of surviving in any drywood habitat and are therefore mostly found in wooden structures, firewood, buildings, etc.
In contrast, both Dampwood Termites and Subterranean Termites require moisture and damp soil to sustain their colonies.
While Dampwood Termites live in damaged wooden arenas, Subterranean Termites make their nests in yards and houses where they can obtain soil, moisture, and wood in plenty.
What Climate Do Termites Live In?
Termite species are scattered all over the world except for Antarctica. However, they prefer to live in warm and humid climates and are therefore primarily found in subtropical climatic conditions.
Arenas that can offer Savannah’s moist and warm climatic conditions are therefore the favorite habitats for termites.
5. When Do Termites Swarm?
Termites are generally known to swarm once their colony matures enough, reaching a maximum level of holding capacity and is ready to expand further.
Termite species don’t have a particular swarming season, rather they swarm at different times of the year.
Most of the Subterranean Termite species are known to swarm during the spring and summer months. The day has to be a warm day with calm winds and heavy rainfall. Drywood Termites usually swarm from August till November.
How Often Do Termites Swarm?
The swarming of termites totally depends upon their varied species. However, most of the termite species usually swarm at least once every year. In fact, the swarming period also differs according to their species.
For instance, the major termite species in the eastern United States, swarm about a month gap along with the eastern subterranean termites that go in April and are then followed by the dark southern subterranean termites in May.
Also, some termite species, like the light subterranean termite species, prefer different climatic conditions and therefore swarm in the fall, extending from August-November.
How Long Do Termites Live After They Swarm?
After swarming, termites generally locate a suitable habitat in order to establish their new colony. At this juncture, they need moist soil that is in direct contact with wood.
The swarmers that can find such habitats continue to live whereas those that couldn’t find such favorable conditions usually die within a few hours because of dehydration and lack of moisture.
6. What Eats Termites?
Termites are very crucial to our ecosystem since they are one of the most important food sources to many creatures. They are being preyed upon by a variety of birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, spiders, and mammals.
Different kinds of birds, such as sparrows, swallows, swifts, starlings, and weavers, usually fly to catch these swarming termites in the air and feed on them.
Various species of Lizards, Frogs, and Snakes are also known to grab these little creatures as their food. Numerous insects including ants, beetles, flies, and wasps are very active and serious predators of termites.
7. What Attracts Termites?
Termites are genuinely attracted towards their favorite food sources such as wood and items containing high cellulose content and at the same time favorable climatic conditions such as moisture and warmth.
Termites feed on materials that contain cellulose such as papers, newspapers, firewood, etc. Therefore the more availability of these materials in a particular place, the more termites are attracted towards that place.
Also, termites usually prefer moist and undisturbed places to make their nests and expand their colonies. The availability of such arenas attracts termites to a great extent.
8. How Do Termites Spread?
There are predominantly two major ways by which termites generally spread. The principle method is by reproducing and secondly by the worker termites that make tunnels in order to forage and create colonies across the whole arena.
In the former method, the winged reproductive termites make an exit from their existing colonies and mate with male swarming termites.
The female termites then find a suitable habitat and start a new colony there. In the second method, the worker termites build tunnels in order to forage for food. Thereafter these tunnels in turn result in the creation of new colonies.
9. How Do Termites Get In Your House?
Understanding how termites get in your house and spread can help you to prevent termite infestations and protect your wooden stuff. Termites are usually in search of arenas with adequate food supplements and favorable moist conditions.
Therefore, the availability of these factors brings termites into your house. Most commonly, the way by which termites enter our houses is through ‘wood-to-ground contact’.
Subterranean termites can build mud tubes and enter through door frames, deck posts, and cracks in the foundation or brick mortar.
Drywood termite swarmers generally locate a place in your house and expand their population there ultimately resulting in infestations.
10. What Are The First Signs Of Termites?
It can be problematic to identify termites infestations right away since termites can go unnoticed for quite a long time until serious damage is done. However, there are few signs that indicate the presence of and infestations by termites.
Evidence showing Swarming: Evidence of having swarmers is usually one of the first signs indicating termite presence. If swarmers or flying termites are noticed, then it definitely indicates the existence of a termite colony nearby.
Also, the presence of discarded termite wings in your house, that the swarmers shed after their flight, indicates that your house may have been infested by termites.
Blistering Wood: Since termites consume wood from the inside out, they tend to hollow out the inside spaces that in turn makes the wood sound hollow or papery.
Drywood Termite Droppings: Generally, the Drywood Termite species throw their feces outwards near the entrance of their nest. These termite droppings or frass looks like sawdust and is one of the first signs of termite infestations.
Mud Tubes: These are the first signs indicating the presence of subterranean termite species in your house. The Subterranean Termites build these tunnels in order to travel between soil and food sources. These are found near the foundation of houses and can be easily spotted with naked eyes.
Tightened Doors or Chewing Noises: Some other signs of termite infestations include tightened and hard-to-open doors and windows and harsh chewing noises made by termites from within the wooden structures.
How To Tell If You Have Termites In Your Walls?
You can easily tell if you have termites in your walls if you find out some of these signs in your house walls:
- ‘Mud piles’ or Mud Packs: Having mud piles near or around the wall can indicate termite infestations.
- Bubbling Paint or Discoloration of Plasterboard: Discoloration and bubbling of paint is another sign indicating termite presence in your wall.
- Chewing Noises or Hollow Sounds: Termites eat wood aggressively which produces chewing noises. Therefore, if noises or hollow sounds are heard from the wall, this can be due to the presence of termites.
11. When Are Termites Most Active?
Termites are generally most active at the daytime when the temperature is above 70°F and at the nighttime when the temperature drops below 60°F.
Apparently, there is no particular termite season with a beginning and an end since termites are active the whole year round! However, they manage to stay unnoticed the majority of the time and are only visible when they swarm.
In places with warmer climates, termites stay active year-round. In places with cooler climate, they stay less active during the cold months, that is November to February.
12. What Do Termites Hate?
So far we have found out that wood is by far the most favorite food item of termites. But this might trigger the question, then what do they hate?
Termites usually hate sunlight and the smell of some items as well as some garden plants. They hate the smell of cedarwood, geranium, tea tree oil, clove bud, cinnamon, garlic oils, vinegar, and orange oil.
Amongst the garden plants, vetiver grass, catnip, mint, garlic, marigold, and daisies are a few plants that can effectively repel termites from our furniture. Some of these items such as vinegar and orange oils are even used to kill termites.
13. How Long Does It Take For Termites To Do Damage?
It takes around 3 to 8 years for termites to cause any serious damage to our wooden belongings.
Termite damage time-frame cannot be measured so easily since the damaging span is affected by various factors. The span depends primarily on the size of the colony and the climatic conditions of the region.
Firstly, The greater the number of members in a colony, the higher is their capability and rate of damage.
Secondly, in colder regions they are comparatively less active than in warmer areas, this, in turn, slows down their damaging rate. Termite damages are usually slow but often disastrous.
How Fast Do Termites Eat Wood?
The rate at which termites consume their favorite dietary item usually depends on various factors such as termite species, colony size, type of wood and climatic location.
According to the website – NC State Extension, a colony of 60,000 termites can eat a 2″ × 4″ wooden structure in a period of slightly over 5 months.
14. Why Do Termites Follow Ink?
The fact that termites follow ink trails seems quite interesting. Isn’t it? This is because certain ballpoint pen inks mimic the odor of pheromones, which are chemical termites secreted in order to communicate with others.
Since termites are blind and are incapable of hearing, they rely on smell to navigate and communicate with other termites.
The black and blue ballpoint pens contain chemicals that resemble pheromones to the termites and they think they have found a way to food! This is why they follow the ink trails.
15. What Do Termites Do To Humans?
Since termites are very rarely found outside their nests, they are rarely known to harm humans physically.
Even though termites may bite or sting, these wounds aren’t known to be toxic. Termites are not even known to transmit diseases that are harmful to humans. Although, people who live in an area that is infested by termites may have to suffer from allergic reactions or asthma attacks.
Moreover, these insects can cause serious structural damage to your house that can cost nearly $10,000 to repair on average, according to terminix.
16. At What Temperature Do Termites Die?
75℉ is the primal temperature setup suitable for termites irrespective of their species. Termites generally die in extreme climatic conditions such as when the temperature rises above 100°F or drops below 25°F.
However, drywood termites that live deep inside the wood would require the temperature to rise upto 120°F for a minimum period of 35 minutes in order to kill them. Thus, extreme climatic conditions lead to the death of termites.
17. How Far Do Termites Travel?
Termites can be extremely talented travelers and are known to travel great distances of 130 to 150 feet on average from their colonies in order to forage for food.
Some termites are even known to travel as far as 400 feet from their colonies in order to search for food.
The eastern subterranean termites in the United States construct their underground tunnels that radiate out for 100 yards and include a foraging area of around twelve thousand square feet.
18. How High Can Termites Climb?
Termites are generally extraordinary climbers since they can travel upwards of about 150-180 feet or more in search of arenas with adequate food supplements.
They have hooks on their feet that help them to climb and navigate wood. Subterranean termite species usually make tunnels and climb up the foundation walls in order to forage for food and navigate wooden structures.
19. Where Do Termites Go In The Winter?
The cold wintry season doesn’t necessarily mean total termite inactivity or that they hibernate. Rather, during winter termites are generally known to live deep underground in most cases.
Subterranean termite species create their nests deep inside the soil and as the weather starts to get colder, they dig further into the ground where the temperature remains quite warmer.
Termites don’t hibernate and generally stay active throughout the year! In wintertime, however, their rate of activity drops but doesn’t become nil.
Drywood termites and Dampwood termites usually nest deeper into the wooden structures such as stumps or trees in the winters.
20. How Often Do Termites Molt?
How often termites molt totally depends on the needs of their colony. The molting process continues throughout a termite’s life cycle. However, it generally takes a larva 3 molts to reach its maturity.
A termite nymph sheds its exoskeleton and develops a soft exoskeleton under the existing one. Once the termite attains maturity, it discards its hard outer layer and the newly formed exoskeleton enlarges and hardens.
21. How Do Termites Help The Environment?
Termites may seem like annoying and highly dangerous pests to us since they can destroy our precious belongings. However, they aren’t that bad for the environment! Rather they help the environment in many ways.
Termites are very crucial decomposers since they help in breaking down plant fibers and recycle dead and decaying trees into the new soil. This in fact helps the forest to regrow at a faster rate!
Also, the construction of termite tunnels, aerate and improve the overall soil fertility. Thus, these insects are crucial for the health of our forests and play a vital role in maintaining the environment.
22. How Deep Do Termites Burrow?
It is usually believed that subterranean termite species can remain up to 18-20 feet below the ground.
Subterranean termite species remain deep below the ground and make their burrows there during the winters in order to avail warmer temperatures and moisture.
However, as the temperature rises, these insects remain closer to the ground surface and make tunnels so that they can easily forage for food supplements.
23. How Many Different Types Of Termites Are There?
Even though there are more than 3,000 species of termites found in different pockets of our planet Earth, the following species are some of the most common ones that can pose the greatest threat to house owners in the United States.
1. Subterranean Termites
These termite species live underground and are generally found across every state in the United States except Alaska. They construct underground colonies that can even consist of more than 2 million members!
They are known to make ‘mud tubes’ in order to stay in damp conditions and travel from place to place so that they can avail food. The five main categories of subterranean termite species that are found in the United States are:
- Arid Land Subterranean Termites
- The Desert Subterranean Termites
- Eastern subterranean Termites
- Dark South-Eastern Subterranean Termites
- Western Subterranean
2. Dampwood Termites
Dampwood termites are mainly found in areas of Northern California, Washington, Northern Nevada, and Montana.
Their name itself suggests that they prefer areas with dead and decaying woods from where they get an adequate amount of moisture. Dampwood Termites are further subdivided into the following categories:
- Desert Dampwood
- Florida Dampwood
- Nevada Dampwood
3. Drywood Termites
The habitat of Drywood termites mainly includes Florida, California, Texas, Mexico, and Alabama. They don’t require as much moisture as other termite species require and therefore don’t need to stay in the soil for their survival.
They usually prefer to nest deep inside the wood that they are currently feeding. They are further subdivided into the following categories:
- Western Drywood
- Southeastern Drywood
4. Conehead Termites
These termites are native to the Caribbean and are known to be found above the ground, unlike any other termite species.
These are aggressive termites that can cause serious damage within a short stretch of time. These termites have a dark cone-shaped head for which they popularly get their name!
5. Desert Termites
These termites are commonly found in Arizona, West Texas, and New Mexico regions. They prefer to feed on decomposed plant materials and predominately live within dead or living grasses.
6. Formosan Termites
These termites are generally found in Southern regions of the United States like Hawaii, Texas, Mississippi, or California.
These species are known to be the most destructive and aggressive termite species since it is extremely difficult to control these insects once they establish their colonies.
24. Which Termites Are Harmless?
There are more than 3,000 termite species that exist on our planet. Out of them, only a few species of termites are genuinely harmful and disastrous to humans!
Most of the termite species are harmless to humans since their bites or stings don’t bother people much and they are not known to spread diseases or inject venom. The main harm that termites cause to humans is the structural damage that they inflict on our houses.
The most destructive termite species are the Subterranean Termites, which are very common in the United States, and there they are known to cost the house owners over $5 billion every year!
25. What Is The Benefit Of Termites?
The most important benefit of termites is the role played by them in nature by maintaining the ecological balance. Their activities primarily help the forest to regrow faster.
It is generally hard to believe that insects whom we consider destructive pests and that cost us huge expenses, can be beneficial too! However, it is true that termites help in the decomposition process and turn dead and decaying trees into fertile soil.
They are therefore extremely beneficial to our forests since their activities help to replenish the forest areas and maintain the ecological balance. They are also known to aerate the soil and restore nutrients of the soil.
26. Do Termites Die When Exposed To Air?
Yes, when termites are exposed to open air or sunlight they tend to die quickly within a few minutes because of lack of moisture.
Termites, especially the non-winged ones, take only a few minutes before they die if exposed to open air or sunlight.
This is because these termites require a damp environment with sufficient moisture to survive, but sunlight present in open air tends to evaporate the available moisture.
This results in termite dehydration and they lack the material they need in order to break down and digest their food. So, this explains why we seldom find these insects outside their nests in the open air!
27. What Is The Difference Between Ants And Termites?
Both of these tiny insect species share some common similarities with each other. However, a closer review usually reveals a greater difference between the two!
The principal differences between Ants and Termites include their physical and characteristic variations.
Ants have three distinctive body parts; head, midsection and abdomen with a narrow waist. Termites, on the other hand, have a more uniform body with an obvious head and rear portion.
While the wings of termites are of equal sizes, ants have their front wings larger than that of their hind wings. Termites have straight antennae, by contrast, ants have shorter elbow-shaped antennae.
Characteristically, termites mostly live inside wood or moist arenas. However, ants are known to live predominantly underground.
28. What Is The Difference Between Termites And Woodlice?
Similar to termites, woodlice are generally found in old and decaying wood. However, these two insect species share more differences than similarities!
Both termites and woodlice may seem similar in the woods from a distance, but in reality, they differ significantly in their physical appearances, characteristic features and behaviors.
Woodlice have a segmented body that is dorsoventrally flattened and consists of seven pairs of jointed legs.
Termites, on the other hand, have a straight broadened body with an apparent head and abdomen and consist of only three pairs of legs. Many species of woodlice are known to roll up into a ball which termites are incapable of.
29. What Is The Difference Between Mites And Termites?
The names mites and termites may rhyme, but similarities between these two creatures are way too less!
Mites are generally small arthropods that belong to the class Arachnida, but termites are insects that belong to the class Insecta.
Mites have a body that can be divided into two sections with no separate head, whereas termites have a body with three apparent sections; head, thorax and abdomen.
Different mite species live in different habitats such as in water, in soil, on plants, or are predators. On the other hand, Termites predominantly live in woods and underground. Mites feed on animals, plants, and fungi, while termites solely depend on wood and cellulose.
Therefore, in this detailed discussion, we explored the various aspects of termite livelihood and activities. These little insects are responsible for havoc structural and infrastructural damages, but at the same time, are quite important to our forest ecosystem.
We inspected their feeding habits, lifespan, livelihood, climatic preferences, characteristic features, and differences with that of Ants, Woodlice, and Mites. It is to be noted that different species of termites have their own distinctive peculiarities and attributes.
Even though termites may not be harmful to humans, the damages they cause to our belongings are enough to make them villains in our eyes. However, in a wider perspective, these insects are crucial for us.