Termites are sneaky critters. You see the damage they do long before you see an actual termite. Termites come in two main types – breeders (called alates) and non-breeders. The non-breeders can be divided into soldiers and workers. The non-breeders have similar coloration while the breeders are larger and colored much darker than the non-breeders.
There are also many species of termites which can offer slight differences in coloration, size and diet. However, these differences are so slight that it can be hard for anyone other than a biologist or entomologist to spot the differences. The average person is so stunned by seeing a termite on their property that winds up blurring all attention to details in size, color or antenna length.
Exterminators and biologists tend to classify termites into three main groups based on what the termite eats or where the termite lives. These groups are:
- Drywood termites: lives and prefers to consume dry wood
- Dampwood termites: lives and prefers to eat rotting wood
- Subterranean termites: They live underground and consume a wide variety of materials – not just wood. These are the most common types of termites in the United States.
Breeders or Termite Swarms
Worker and soldier termites are sterile. The only termites that can breed are queens (females) and drones (males.) The males are basically useless after mating with the queens. It’s the queens that are the most dangerous and essential members of the termite colony. You can kill all the drones, workers or soldiers in your property that you want but if you do not kill the queen, get ready to be stuck with termites for a long, long time.
Queens and drones vary in shades of brown, tan or yellow according to species. They emerge from termite colonies in swarms and with wings. The wings, legs and circular bands around the abdomen are often a lighter color than the rest of the body.
Wings are transparent. Wings from Formosan termites may have some slight hair on them. They can be more than twice as long as the termite’s body. Termite alates fly for mating and go off a short distance to start another colony. Queens then shed or even off their wings in order to start their new kingdoms. So if you happen to see a lot of wings without insect bodies attached to them, you just may be seeing the aftermath of a termite nuptial flight.
Differences Of Termite Alates From Ant Alates
Many species of ants also live in colonies structured similarly to termite colonies. The ants even have winged alates that breed and start new colonies. It is easy to confuse a winged ant alate to a winged termite alate. The best ways to tell the differences are to look at the body, antenna and wings of the winged creature in question:
- Body: Ants are closely related to wasps and therefore have “wasp waists.” There is a very thin connection between the abdomen and the rest of the ant’s body. In contrast, winged termite bodies are shaped like a large grain of rice. It’s very hard to see where the abdomen begins on a termite body.
- Antennae: The antennae are those strange feelers sticking out from the top of the insect’s head. Ant antennae are always bent, almost as if the antennae have elbows. In contrast, termite antennae are always straight.
- Wings: The wings still need to be on the body of the insect in order to determine what kind it is. If you discover a whole pile of unattached insect wings, it’s better to get a professional to inspect them than to just guess. Both ants and termites have two pairs of wings. In ants, these wings are of different sizes while in termites the wings are the same size.
Both ants and termites can swarm at similar places, inside or outside. Common places include tree trunks, dead tree stumps, doorframes, window frames and porch steps.
Workers are the smallest and most numerous members of a termite colony. If you do actually see a termite body in your home or yard, chances are it will be a worker. Although size varies according to species, termite workers average one quarter of an inch in length. They are shaped like grains of rice with six legs. They do not have eyes or ears.
They tend to be off-white or rice-colored but can sometimes look transparent as if they are made of jelly. However, their bodies are usually not see-through like glass catfish are. If a termite has a mottled color, then it is most likely sick. Subterranean termites dry out quickly when they are above-ground.
Soldiers are found with workers. As their name suggests, they serve to protect the colony from invasion. They are larger than workers but not as large as a queen. Their heads are grotesquely larger than a worker’s head. This huge head helps give power to their bites. Some species have clearly visible mandibles while other species possess mandibles that are hard to see with the naked eye.
Solder heads are usually darker in color than the rest of the body. Head color can vary from yellow to black. Some species have white spots on the head that resemble eyes. All termite soldiers are blind. They get around through smell and touch. They usually do not bite people or pets, but the Formosan subterranean termite can deliver a painful pinch.
Still Not Sure?
Have you found a strange insect and still aren’t sure if it’s a termite or not? Don’t take any chances. Termites do millions of dollars’ worth of structural damage a year. Save a corpse for a professional exterminator to inspect and get a termite inspection as soon as possible.