Contributed by: Doug Webb
Updated on: November 11, 2022
Termites can strike fear in the heart of any homeowner. These destructive pests never stop eating and, if you don't catch them early, they can potentially cause some expensive problems. Each year, they cause $5 billion in damage in the United States and the average cost of termite treatment and repairs totals more than $15,0001.
There are more than 2,000 species of termites worldwide, but only 50 are found in the United States. Termites live in every state except Alaska, and they thrive in warm climates, meaning they're most active in the South, Southeast, West and Southwest.
Termite behavior varies by species, as well as geographical and regional location. Knowing where these termites live in and around your property can help you stay vigilant and may help prevent further damage if an infestation is present.
Termite habitats by type
For American homeowners there are several species of termites that pose a threat to homes and property:
- Subterranean termites, as their name suggests, live underground and make their home in soil. They create a network of mud tubes in the soil in order to wind their way through their underground colonies, as well as forage for food.
- Formosan termites are a type of subterranean termite and also live, primarily, in soil, preferring a damp environment. This particular species of subterranean termite can be found in warmer climates throughout the US, including the southern portion of the country, as well as areas along the Gulf Coast.
- Drywood termites, unlike their subterranean counterparts, do not need to have contact with the soil. Instead, these termites build their colonies in dry wood (such as the wood inside your home) and require less moisture than subterranean termites to thrive.
- Dampwood termites typically live in damp or rotting wood. If your property has decaying tree stumps – or even leaky plumbing and poor drainage – it can create an hospitable atmosphere for dampwood termites to build their colonies.
- Flying termites – also known as “swarmers" or “alates" – are not a species of termite, but rather a caste within a termite colony. Termites of all species can have flying termites when the colony is mature, and conditions and temperature are right for their mating season to begin. During swarming season, the reproductives within a termite colony (regardless of species) sprout wings and hive off to mate and form a new colony. Depending on the species of termite, that's where these pests will make their new home. For instance, a pair of winged subterranean termites will likely create a new colony in nearby soil. Similarly, winged dampwood termites will gravitate towards a new area with damp wood and plenty of moisture, while winged drywood alates will seek out a new area with plenty of dry wood, such as the walls of a home.
Do termites live in soil?
Some species of termites make their home in soil, while others prefer to nest in dry wood – such as the walls of a home – or in damp wood, such as rotting logs. The key distinguishing factor between subterranean (including Formosan) and drywood termites is their need to maintain contact with the soil.
Subterranean species live underground and access sources of wood through a series of termite tunnels, also called mud tubes. These tubes are constructed of soil and wood along with a special termite adhesive made from saliva and fecal material and are frequently found near nests and homes. There are three primary types of mud tubes that indicate the presence of termites:
- Working tubes - Termites use these tubes to move between their underground colonies and their food sources.
- Exploratory tubes – Termite build these tubes as they randomly forage for a food source. If they do not find a source, they may abandon these tubes. Some of these tubes will become working tubes when a good food source is found.
- Drop tubes – Drop tubes are tubes that come down from the food source in an effort by the termites to reconnect or find a shorter path back to their colony in the soil. In many cases, the food source is too far from the soil to make the connection so the drop tube is abandoned.
Unlike subterranean termites, drywood termites do not make mud tubes, do not need soil to survive and are able to get all the water they need from the wood they are living in. They are commonly found in dry climates in Florida, California and Hawaii. They live in dry wood above ground level, where they tunnel through the wood and eat across the grain.
Where do termites live in the house?
Termites in walls
If subterranean or drywood termites access your home, they can damage your walls. Subterranean termites may create mud tubes on or near your walls, which is one sign that you have a termite problem.
Other signs of termites in walls include:
- Paint blisters
- Damaged wood paneling or trim
- Hollow-sounding wood and pinholes
Termites eat most substances containing cellulose, and surprisingly, this includes the paper facings on most drywall, which means walls and ceilings in your home may be damaged by an infestation.
Learn more about the signs of termites.
Termites in bathrooms
It may surprise you to know that the average bathroom is an ideal place for termites to thrive. In fact, any area of your house that provides wood, warmth and moisture can be conducive to a potential termite infestation.
The interior framing of the walls and ceilings in most bathrooms are typically made of wood. Daily bathing and showering can create a moisture source for termites. Termites may be found behind walls in the bathroom, but they may also be found in less obvious places, like behind tile and bathtubs.
Termites in furniture
Because they can survive without soil or moisture, drywood termites may be found in some places in your home where subterranean termites may not live. They can infest virtually any wooden item in your home, including furniture (especially antiques), built-in cabinets, door and window frames, baseboards, exposed beams and wood paneling.
One of the most obvious signs of a drywood termite infestation is droppings, or frass. These are small wooden, hexagonal pellets that the termites dispose of through kick-holes in the wood when they accumulate. If drywood termites are present, you will likely see droppings on or under furniture, inside drawers or on horizontal surfaces.
Related > Are There Termites in Your Furniture?
Terminix termite control
Termites are a serious problem, so if you notice any of the signs listed above and think you might have an infestation, it's best to contact the professionals. Different species of termites respond to different treatments, and pest control specialists will know which treatment methods are most effective for your situation. Call to schedule your initial inspection today.
1Average costs based on the resolution of nationwide Terminix termite damage claims closed from January 1, 2022 through May 31, 2022. Repair and treatment costs may vary. Not all homes qualify for a damage repair guarantee. See Plan for details and limitations.