There are over 2000 species of termites in the world, more than 40 of which are present in the United States. Termites are dangerous pests, often called the “silent destroyer” due to the fact that most of their damage is done before homeowners realize there is a problem. They cause millions of dollars of property damage each year due to their tunneling and food-finding activities as they search for cellulose to consume. This cellulose is often found in wood, but it can often be found in paper, books, insulation and even swimming pool liners. Termites can be mistaken for other types of pests, however, so here are some ways to identify them if you suspect they’re in your home.

Differences In Species

There are four main species of termite that most commonly give property owners trouble:




Subterranean Termites

Subterranean termites are the most dangerous of all common termite pests. They live living in underground colonies and use mud tubes to find food and navigate through their nest without being exposed to the air. These types of termites are about ⅛ inch long with creamy white to dark brown or black coloring. Their colonies can contain up to two million termites, and they have the ability to cause whole buildings to collapse.

Dampwood Termites

Dampwood termites can be found in areas where moisture and wood combine, though they don’t always infest structures like homes. If there are any such places on your property where moisture tends to collect, do your best to keep them dry so dampwood termites won’t be attracted to them. These termites are generally about ½ inch-⅝ inch long, with white to brownish coloring. If your home or property has a room like a basement or crawl space that is known for developing moisture problems, it may attract termites. Fortunately, our moisture control services can help with this.

Drywood Termites

Drywood termites are the most common kind of termite to actually find inside your home, as they (as their name implies) create their colonies in dry wood structures. They can be anywhere from ⅜ inch to 1 inch long and a white to light brown color. Homeowners most often encounter drywood termites as they leave their nests. These termites thrive in tropical climates with warm winters, and are found from California to Florida, but mainly in coastal areas where the environment is fairly temperate and predictable. Drywood termite infestations can be difficult to treat, as multiple colonies can form within a single structure at any given time. These types of termite colonies grow slowly, and can often go undetected for months or years at a time.

Formosan Termites

Formosan termites are similar to subterranean termites in their destructive ability, aggression and appetite for wood, and in the fact that they build massive colonies underground that can reach into structural walls. The Formosan termite is often called the “super termite” because of these tendencies. A mature colony can eat about 13 grams of wood a day, and can cause significant structural damage in as little as three to six months. Where Formosan colonies are present, nearby buildings are also at risk for infestation. Once Formosan termites have become established in an area, they are very difficult to eradicate. Formosan termites can invade a variety of structures (including boats!) and have even been known to damage trees. They are a creamy white to brown color and usually reach about ½ inch in length.

Differences In Castes

Besides the queen termite, which lays all the eggs, there are three distinct castes in a termite colony, and each one has a unique appearance. You can also learn about their life cycle here.







Worker termites are soft-bodied and lighter in color. They are also the smallest members of a termite colony, doing all the work necessary to find food and care for the queen and the larvae.


Soldier termites are darker brown in color and have soft bodies like workers, but their heads and mandibles are larger and much harder than those of worker termites to allow for defensive capabilities. These termites defend the colony from outside threats.


Swarming termites—also known as “alates”—are dark brown to black in color, with harder bodies than workers or soldiers. This enables them to be exposed to the outdoors when they use their two pairs of long, equal-length wings to fly from the colony and find a suitable place to start a new colony. These termites have more well-defined body segments with straight abdomens and antennae. When alates have mated and begun to build a new colony, they have the ability to change caste based on the needs of the new colony.

Termite Lookalikes

Flying termites are often confused with flying ants. This is a distinguishment that a pest control professional can make. However, it is important to note that, unlike a termite, a flying ant’s front wings are bigger than its back wings, and flying ants have narrower waists and bent antennae.

Termites don’t look like carpenter bees, but the damage they can make may look similar. The main difference is that carpenter bees don’t eat wood, and their tunnels are usually much wider since they are larger in size than termites. Additionally, you’re far more likely to see carpenter bees exit the tunnels they create in wood than you are to see termites exit the tunnels they create.


Are Termites Visible to the Human Eye?

Termites can be seen by the naked eye, particularly the larger alate swarmers that are most often seen outside the colony. In fact, one identifying factor in a termite infestation is finding discarded wings from an alate termite near openings like doors and windows. But even if a property owner was to find a colony of termites, they would be able to see any kind of termite that is in the nest.


Identifying Termites By Their Habitats

  • Dampwood termites may be found in moist habitats or in areas with water leaks, such as bathrooms and basements. They are most common on the Pacific coast, the southern part of Florida or the southwest United States.
  • Drywood termites may be found in drier environments, particularly the coastal, southeastern and southwestern parts of the U.S.
  • Subterranean and Formosan termites may be found in the ground near structures and other sources of wood. Subterranean termites live in every U.S. state but Alaska, and Formosan termites are often found in Hawaii, the Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee and California.

Identifying Termite Damage and Signs of Infestations

Since termites eat the cellulose found in wood, you will find most damage in walls, ceilings, and wooden furniture. Damaged structures may be sagging or buckled, and infested wood will sound hollow or feel brittle. You may find feces that resemble sawdust, along with mud tubes and shed wings. Termite damage often requires reinforcing wooden structures at best and completely replacing them at worst.

Professional Identification

A pest control professional will be able to identify if you have a termite infestation. At Dodson Pest Control, we know the level of property destruction that this pest can do and how to find them, and we will work hard to eradicate termites from your home if they are found. Contact us for a free inspection today!