What is a desert termite?

The desert termite is a type of subterranean termite. Desert termites are one of ten species of termites that can be found in arid regions of the southwest United States.



  • Size: The desert termite has a light brown body, and is about 3/8 inches.
  • Behavior These termites are also social creatures who live in large colonies. The three castes within a colony are workers, soldiers and male and female reproductives.

  • The most abundant are the worker termites. As with the colonies of most termite species, they perform the various tasks associated with keeping the colony functioning. These tasks include foraging, caring for the young and building and repairing the nest.

    The soldiers protect the colony. They have long, powerful and pointed jaws that are slender, and fairly strong for their size. If threatened, the soldiers will line up and be ready to attack intruders while workers block the opening. This is important for the survival of the colony when fending off predators.

    As with other termite species, the desert termite primary reproductives, when conditions are right, can fly off from the primary colony, find a mate and form separate colonies. This is called "swarming."

    Termites are cold blooded, so the desert termites tunnel deeper into the soil to more stable temperatures during the winter. In the summer, they feed on live grass plants. That menu changes a bit during the fall, as the desert termites feed primarily on standing dead grasses and plant litter.



Desert termites can be found in the deserts of southern Arizona and southern California. They can live and build their colonies in many types of places, including desert plants, litter, dung, fence posts and similar objects. They construct fragile tubes made of sheets of mud and get the moisture they need from their nests. They don't really pose a threat to humans.

Desert termites generally don't invade homes, tunnel into wood or eat the wooden structures of homes. This makes them quite different from other subterranean termites. What they feed on, instead, is live, dead or decomposed plant materials. This is why desert termites are not considered a threat to humans or homes.

However, there are other species of termites, like Eastern subterranean and drywood termites, that can pose a threat to your home. Learn more about those relentless invaders and how Terminix® can help.