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Termite Characteristics

There are more than 2,300 species of termites worldwide. There are approximately 45 species of termites in the United States. The most common termite species in the U.S. belong to one of three termite families: drywood termites, dampwood termites and subterranean termites (a family that includes the Formosan termite species).

What Do Termites Look Like?
Termites range in size from 1/8 inch to 1 inch long. Termites vary in color from white to brown to black, depending on the species and the life stage of the particular termite.

Across most species of termites, a worker termite looks like an insect in the larval stage. Worker termites have soft exteriors and tend to be white or pale brown. (Drywood termites do not have a specific worker caste and instead, rely on nymphs to perform the typical “worker” role.)

Soldier termites have the same soft bodies as worker termites, but with much larger heads that have a hard exterior and large, well-developed mandibles (jaws).

In the alate stage, termites look like flying ants. However, these insects can be distinguished by inspecting their wings, antennae and abdomen. Termites have straight antennae and two sets of wings that are equal length. They also have two body segments with a straight abdomen. Ants have antennae that bend in the middle, two sets of wings of different lengths and three body segments with a very narrow waist.

What Is the Termite Diet?
Termites eat materials containing cellulose, but the specific termite diet varies by species. Depending on the species’ need for moisture, termites may eat dead plants and trees, including materials used in buildings, carpet, insulation and wallpaper, plastic, fabric, or animal feces. Termites require the help of protozoa and bacteria in their digestive systems to break down the cellulose into sugars they can digest.

Termites fed on the foam insulation behind these walls:
evidence of termites in foam insulation

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