For most homeowners, Isoptera, more commonly known as termites, are unwelcome guests. These social insects within the Insecta class can wreak havoc on a structure in a surprisingly short time, including your home. As a homeowner, understanding what termites do and their behaviors and habits is crucial to help keep these pests at bay. Keep reading to learn more interesting facts about termites!

Termites on wood

Where did termites come from?

While there are about 2,000 species of termites worldwide, in the United States, there are approximately 50 species1. The most common types of termites in the U.S. are subterranean, drywood, and dampwood termites. Termites likely originated in Africa or Asia during the Jurassic or Triassic period, with the first confirmed fossils appearing in the Early Cretaceous. 2

So, what do termites do?

One of the most interesting aspects of termite behavior is their relentless work ethic. They are known to be incredibly diligent, working around the clock without taking breaks to sleep. Termites dedicate themselves to constructing and maintaining their nests, foraging for food, and caring for their young. This nonstop activity is crucial for the survival and growth of their colonies. Most termites are also essentially blind, relying on pheromones, vibrations, and chemical signals for communication and navigation rather than vision.

Division of labor

Termites live in colonies that operate under a caste system that includes workers, soldiers, and reproductives—each with specific roles. The majority of the colony is made up of worker termites responsible for gathering food and maintaining the nest. Soldiers defend the colony, while the reproductive caste, including the queen, king, and winged alates, focus on reproduction. The caste system helps to ensure effective resource management, defense against threats, and the continuous growth of the colony, making termites successful across diverse environments.

Termites eating wood

Can termites fly?

One interesting fact about termites is that some can fly, but not all. Different species of termites can fly during their reproductive stage, but only a certain caste has wings. The three most common types of termites in the U.S.—subterranean, drywood, and dampwood—all have reproductive castes capable of flying in swarms.

These winged termites are called “alates" or "swarmers" because of the way they fly together in a group. These winged termites can only fly a short distance and during a limited time of the year. Once the winged termites land, they shed their wings, making discarded wings a telltale sign of a termite infestation.

How do termites communicate?

Termites are unique because they communicate through chemical signals, vibrations, and physical contact. They use pheromones to send messages across the colony, such as alerting members to danger or guiding them to food sources. Vibrations and touch, particularly within their complex nest structures, play a key role in maintaining the colony's organization.

The termite diet

Termite habits revolve around acquiring and consuming cellulose, the main component of wood. While some termite species target living trees, most are drawn to decaying wood or man-made structures containing cellulose, making them a serious threat to homeowners.

If you suspect termites are munching on your home, there are some telltale signs. Look for hollow-sounding wood, especially near foundations or around crawlspaces. Discarded wings near windows or doors after swarming season can also indicate termite activity. If you see any of these signs, it's crucial to contact a termite control professional, like Terminix, for an inspection and treatment plan to protect your property. Contact us today to schedule a free termite inspection.

1 Information on species provided by Pest World.

2 Information on termite history is provided from Britannica’s article on termite evolution, paleontology, and classification.

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