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Identification of Swarmers and Soldiers: Swarming generally occurs during the spring but occasionally a few smaller swarms may occur during the summer. Swarming most often occurs during the morning following a warm rain shower whereby the soil temperature is around 70°F.
CONTENTS: updated 7 May 2005 - learn about this destructive species of termite - tips on identification of the timber damage caused - find out when these termites swarm in your local area and how to identify the swarmers, workers and soldiers - learn of their fascinating biology, life-cycle and behavioural aspects - and receive professional tips on how best protect your home from the world's best timber recycler .... subterranean termites.
Eastern subterranean termites have a well ordered social system with amazing engineering capabilities and an acute survival instinct; they obtain moisture from the soil and moist decaying timber, and communicate using pheromone signals.
The king, queen and worker termites.
The king and queen live in a central chamber and are tended by the workers.
Formosan termites are a serious timber pest in Hawaii and coastal regions of Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina and southern California, as well as, inland towns and cities.
The Formosan termite is rarely found North of 35° N latitude. They have been reported from the following states: Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. Their distribution will probably continue to be restricted to southern areas because their eggs will not hatch below about 20° C (68° F).
Identification of Swarmers and Soldiers: Formosan termites swarm in huge numbers in late spring or summer; usually following a warm rainy day. They prefer to swarm in times of high humidity in the evening hours from dusk to midnight. The swarmers are attracted to lights and are about 1/25'', including wings. Their body color is pale yellowish brown. A fontanelle (frontal gland pore) is present.
The swarmers have four wings of equal size with dark hard veins in the front portion of the front wing. The wings are a translucent, slightly milky color and covered with tiny hairs. The armoured head of the soldier is rounded tapering toward the front. A fontanelle (frontal gland pore) is present on the soldier's forehead. They have large mandibles relative to their body, which is flat and narrower than the head.
When disturbed the Formosan soldier termite may emit a white sticky latex substance from it's fontanelle - a defensive measure to ensnare their enemies, primarily ants.
Identification of Timber Damage: Formosan termites eat mainly the springwood of susceptible timbers, most often leaving the summer wood sections. Timbers infested by Formosan termites usually have layered sections packed with moist soil in high activity areas.
Biology and Habits: Formosan termites are subterranean termites that typically live in the ground and a large mature nest will periodically emit swarmers in large numbers over a wide area to find a mate from another colony nest to start up a new colony. A suitable location for nesting should provide a constant moisture source and a readily available timber food source close by.
Several years are required before the termite colony reaches the typically mature size, which may contain millions of termites foraging for timber food sources within a 400 feet radius, actively feeding on trees and free-standing poles as well as buildings and other timber structures.
The colony nests of Formosan termites are usually located in the ground below the frost line, but above the water table. They typically construct mud galleries or "shelter tubes" across hard objects in order to gain access to timber food sources.
Formosan termites constantly search for new food sources. They are known to enter buildings through cracks in concrete flooring or to travel under parquetry or tile flooring through gaps of less than 1/16" wide. The space between the foundation and the first mortar joint is often enough space for termites to enter a home.
Formosan termites can establish secondary colonies in very moist wood of upper stories of buildings (even several stories above ground) and do not need soil contact if there is a nearly constant moisture source.
Where moisture regularly collects inside the wall or other cavities of a building, say from faulty plumbing or broken roof tiles, the Formosan termite can develop a subsidiary colony nest, which may not require contact with the ground to ensure its survival. This is particularly prevalent in areas of high humidity where wood moisture is above average.
Due to its size and aggressive foraging behaviour a colony of Formosan termites does more damage than single colonies of other U.S. subterranean species, and can cause significant structural damage to a home within 6 months.
The swarmers (reproductives) are called "alates" and are commonly seen when they swarm during daylight; they have eyes; are poor fliers but are swept along by the wind; they land, drop their wings, find a mate to become king and queen of a new termite colony.
Subterranean termites travel in these mud shelter tubes as protection from predators, sun-burn, dehydration and to maintain a high humidity environment which is essential for their survival.
Eastern subterranean termites are highly secretive, preferring to enter a building through areas inaccessible to inspection, such as, through in-fill patios, fire heaths, expansion joints and cracks in concrete slab (on-ground) flooring.
Eastern subterranean termites can pass through a 1/8" crack or an expansion joint (eating through the rubber compound) between adjoining concrete on ground flooring. They can also travel under parquetry and floor tiles to get to the wall framing timbers.
IDENTIFICATION: the soldiers have an orange coloured rectangular armoured head with mandibulate pinchers which they use to crush the ants. On their forehead is a fontanelle (frontal gland pore) used to emit a sticky latex to ensnare the ants. Its mandibles are curved at about 70~90 degrees. The body of the Eastern subterranean termite is flat and almost as wide as the head, with the width of approx 1/32”.
The soldier termite is usually the first to be seen in large numbers when any active termite workings (mud shelter tubes or damaged timber) are opened. Soldier termites will rush out to guard the opening whilst worker termites repair the breach.
Cryptotermes drywood termites are sometimes discovered in other states after being transported in furniture or other timbers.
Cryptotermes drywood termites infest the structural timbers of buildings, furniture and other dry timbers having less than 12% timber moisture content. This termite species require no ground contact and obtain their required moisture intake from the timber they infest.
Cryptotermes drywood termites are sometimes called "powderpost" termites or "furniture" termites due to their small faecal droppings and the fact that they commonly attack timber furniture. The average moisture content of seasoned timbers in service in the United States is 8-12%, except along the coastal plains where the moisture level can exceed 12%.
Identification of Swarmers and Soldiers: Swarmers are about 7/16-1/2" long including the wings, with the head width being 1/32-1/16". The head and body are pale yellowish brown to pale reddish brown and the wings are hardened and pigmented. The veins are pale yellowish brown in the outer half of the wing.
The front wings have 3 dark, heavily sclerotized veins in the front half of the wing. The median vein is un-sclerotized and runs midway between sclerotized veins above and unsclerotized area below. The area ends near the wing tip even if branched along its length and is not hairy. The tibia have spines lacking along their length, apex has 3 spines.
The head of the Cryptotermes drywood termite soldier is short and thick in front, the front surrounded by a flange and the front part nearly black. Mandibles re-curved under front of head, with an unequal number of teeth on each member of pair. The tibia lacks spines along length.
Identification of Timber Damage: The most obvious sign of infestation is the piles of tiny faecal pellets ejected through temporary holes in the infested timber. The faecal pellets are hard, elongated and oval with rounded ends, and have six concave sides.
Cryptotermes drywood termites eat across the wood grain and make chambers or galleries connected by tunnels. Other signs of infestation include the presence of swarmers or their shed wings, piles of faecal pellets, termite plugs which seal all openings in infested wood, and surface blisters caused by older enlarged galleries very close to the wood surface. Occasionally they may build shelter tubes constructed of pellets cemented together to bridge over to an adjacent piece of wood.
Biology and Habits: Cryptotermes drywood termites do not live in the ground. They obtain all the moisture required from the timber they infest. They do not require contact with the ground and do not build mud shelter tubes.
Their colonies are located in the wood they eat and are small in size, containing perhaps a few thousand termites. It is commonplace to have multiple colonies in the same building.
Cryptotermes drywood termite infestations tend to be localised in buildings, in doors, window trims, fascias, even picture frames. They eat the springwood as well as the summerwood. The cavities they excavate in timbers are clean and smooth, and do not contain any mud packing, in contrast with subterranean termites.
Within a termite nest there are members of different castes, each with a different role to perform and all interdependent upon each other for survival of the colony. These include the queen, king, the winged reproductive (young kings and queens), soldier and worker termites.
Eastern subterranean termites eat through the centre of susceptible timbers leaving nothing but a thin veneer of timber and/or paint. They will pack mud in cracks and joints in timber to prevent loss of humidity and resultant dehydration.
As noted above, termites constantly groom and feed each other. A valuable technique for the termite controller is to instal and monitor a termite baiting system next to any live activity found in and around the premises where termite foraging is most likely to occur. Subsequent inspections (preferably monthly) may reveal dead or sick worker termites, they change colour to a mottle look, and spread of the termite bait to other termites leading to elimination of the colony.
The termite baits are designed to be non-repellant to the termites and has a unique delayed effect. Time enough to be passed onto the other termites in the colony including the queen, with a sufficient dosage leading to the elimination of the entire colony. This process is explained in detail in the Termite Control section of this website.
Area of Distribution: The Formosan subterranean termite (Coptotermes formosanus) has now become established in Florida and other southern states. At least one colony has been found In California (1995).
Termites travel in humidified mud-shelter tubes or galleries...
The picture on the right shows a mud shelter tube that subterranean termites have constructed over a solid object, in this case, a brick foundation wall in the sub-floor of a cottage.
The soldiers are the defenders of the colony, particularly against marauding ants - with whom they have engaged in a relentless war lasting 250 million years.
Eastern subterranean termites are highly destructive to douglas fir and other common building timbers. They can rapidly eat out the internal sections of structural timbers - devouring mainly the spring wood, and preferring to leave the harder summer wood sections.
As`a result, infested timbers are often left as a thin shell with a honey-comb of layered hollow sections (as illustrated) packed with moist soil. These termites love a moist dark damp environment - it is essential for their survival - discussed in detail under Biology of Subterranean Termites - later on.
Economic Significance: Formosan termites are the most aggressive and destructive timber pests in the United States. It is an imported species, native to China.
It can develop huge nests containing millions of termites aggressively and relentlessly seeking and devouring structural timbers, utility poles and other timber structures, including ships and barges. Infestation can occur to living trees, such as oak, cypress, pine and maple.
They often cause power failures by chewing through electrical cabling. A termite to be feared - it is known to cause major structural timber damage to homes and buildings within a few months.
Mother Nature's most prolific builders
This picture shows a large above ground termite nest found in the Northern Territory of Australia. In the USA, most of the destructive subterranean termite species build their nest completely below ground level.
A large colony in an urban environment is most often unseen, being totally below ground level with a nest containing more than a million termites - the damage can be devastating.
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The picture on the left shows a termite inspector examining an above ground termite subsidiary nest built inside a wall cavity of a home.
Area of Distribution: Cryptotermes drywood termites are found mainly in the humid coastal areas of the southern states of the United States from Virginia to Florida, through the desert southwest, along the Pacific coast to northern California and in Hawaii.
Termidor uses an advanced undetectable liquid technology. That means that termites don’t know it’s there and travel through it, ingest it and become carriers. Termites are very “social” insects and transfer Termidor to other colony members.
They in turn become secondary carriers, transferring Termidor to other termites while behaving normally transfer it to other termites spreading
it like a virus throughout the entire colony.
This is called the “transfer effect” and it delivers devastating results to termites maximizing the protection to your home. Studies show that no other products, whether liquid or bait, can equal Termidor’s fast acting, long-term results with 100% total colony elimination 100% of the time.
Termites cause over 6 billion dollars in damage in the U.S. annually
For more information on Termidor, visit their web site at
Worker termites - thin external skin.
IDENTIFICATION: Eastern subterranean worker termites are small in size, about half the size of match-head or 1/8" long and are soft bodied insects. They have no wings, are sterile, blind and work 24 hours a day for their entire 2 year life span.
Neotermes are common in the subtropical woodlands, mangrove forests, and urban settings of the coastal peninsula of Florida and the Florida Keys.
Neotermes castaneus has the greatest distribution in Florida with its northern limits extending to Merritt Island on the eastern coast and Pinellas County on the Gulf coast. Inland infestations of Neotermes castaneus have been confirmed in Orlando and along the shore of Lake Okeechobee.
The range of Neotermes jouteli extends from Vero Beach to the Keys, while Neotermes luykxi, a relatively newly discovered species, has been collected from eastern Broward County to Key Largo.
Identification of Swarmers and Soldiers: Alates leave mature colonies via multiple dispersal flights over "swarming" seasons that can last for several months.
Neotermes jouteli and Neotermes luykxi tend to disperse in the late spring or summer, while Neotermes castaneus has peak flights in the late fall or early winter. Flights occur at dusk or at night.
Dampwood termites are relatively strong fliers and, like most nocturnal flying insects, are attracted to lights. Porch lights, indoor lights, and video monitors often lure the alates inside, especially when doors and unscreened windows are opened. When alates are found indoors, their origin is usually from a yard tree or a woodland colony.
Occasionally, alates found indoors originate from an infestation in the structure itself. However, alates flying indoors are unlikely to find the moist wood they need for successful colonization, and are doomed.
A month or two before dispersal flights, nymphs with long wing buds appear and gradually molt into swarmers (alates). Neotermes swarmers are large and have two pairs of wings that are lightly creased along their vein paths.
Fore wings and hind wings are about equal in size and shape. Each fore wing has five pigmented and enlarged veins near where they attach to the body. The enlarged median vein distinguishes Neotermes swarmers from all other termites in Florida.
Neotermes soldiers from the same colony can differ substantially in size, but all are large (1/3” - 1/2" long) and have at least two marginal teeth visible on their left mandibles. They differ from other termites in Florida in that their pronotum is as wide as the head and, at the same time, the width of the pronotum is much greater than its length.
Identification of Timber Damage: The limited conditions that support colonization by dampwood termites relegate these termites to minor pest status. Wood damage, however, can be severe after several years if infestations are left alone.
Damage to trees and branches may cause weakening but does not appear to harm tree viability although hollowing from galleries might promote secondary fungal intrusion. These termites build networks of galleries that meander through the wood in which they are hidden.
Biology and Habits: Neotermes castaneus, in particular, prefers to nest in living trees. Colonies are often discovered in trees when they are pruned or damaged by windstorms.
Robust colonies of N. castaneus apparently live in trees and palms for years or even decades before they are discovered. In one case, alates of N. castaneus were emerging from a Ficus tree in an indoor shopping mall in New Jersey many years after the tree was delivered from Florida.
Although the galleries may weaken trunks and branches, the overall health of the tree is usually not directly affected. The termites appear to limit their feeding to the dead xylem tissues while avoiding the cambium.
Because of their moisture requirements, structural infestations of dampwood termites are associated with sources of free water. These include wood-to-soil contact, wood exposed to roof leaks, or wooden siding or ornamentation exposed to rainfall or sprinkler irrigation.
Because these same conditions are conducive to fungal decay and subterranean termites, it is in the interest of the property owner to correct these moist conditions.
Neotermes infestations can extend into sound dry wood several yards away from the moisture source, but once the remote source of moisture is removed, the colony will gradually decline and succumb to desiccation.
Like drywood termites, dampwood termites produce faecal pellets, but because of the moist conditions of the gallery system, the pellets loose their distinctive shape and form amorphous clumps or paste. The degree of shape degradation is directly related to moisture content.
The workers are by far the largest caste in the eastern subterranean termite colony and the one that does the damage; they are a creamy translucent colour, soft bodied and carry out all work in the nest, including gathering food (timber and other cellulose); constructing tunnels; repairing and enlarging the colony nest; grooming each other and feeding the soldiers, the king, queen and also caring for the young nymphs until mature.
The Eastern subterranean termite is a serious economic timber pest causing millions of dollars of damage throughout the areas where it is located. It is estimated that more than 1 in 5 homes in the high activity areas, been or will be attacked at sometime by these voracious little insects.
Termites often build such nests if moisture is allowed to regularly collects inside the wall cavity, say from leaking pipes, shower recess, faulty plumbing, guttering, broken roof tiles, etc.
Area of Distribution: The Eastern subterranean termite is the most common and widely distributed termite in the USA, commonly found from southern Ontario, in all eastern states of the USA including Texas.
The mutual feeding, constant grooming and close social habits of termites are used to advantage in modern termite control baiting systems.
Certain hi-tech termite baits are now on the market that have a delayed lethal effect on termites which readily pass on the bait to other termites in the central colony nest during the mutual grooming and feeding.
Eastern subterranean termites need to maintain a high level of humidity and temperature (75 to 95F) in their central colony nest.
Only the worker termite caste can digest timber by the use of symbiotic protozoa in their gut. Worker termites feed their partly digested semi-liquid food, regurgitated from their mouth or passing from their anus, to the other termites, a process known as trophallaxis.
Area of Distribution: Neotermes species are found in Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. The three Neotermes species in Florida have various extended distributions that include the Bahamas, Cuba, and Mexico.
Eastern subterranean termites have acute survival instincts. If they are shaken up or disturbed, the termites often will abandon the associated area and move on to secretly cause damage in other areas in the building. If you find eastern subterranean termites in or around your property, it is essential that you do NOT disturb them and promptly arrange for a professional inspection and application of a termite bait to the live termites, if present in abundance.
The queen termite is an egg laying machine; her body is enormous compared to her off-spring; she can live more than 25 years and produce more that 2,000 eggs a day.
IDENTIFICATION: The eastern subteranean termite swarmers are about 3/8" long (including wings) with a dark brown body and a small fontanelle (frontal gland pore) on its head. Their wings are brownish grey with two dark solid veins along the forefront of the front wings. The front wing is distinctly larger than hind wing.
WHEN DO THEY SWARM? In the northern part of their range, swarming takes place in the spring, but without rain. In the southern areas, swarming usually follows rain. The swarmers are emitted in their thousands when a mature termite nest is large and well established.
Eastern subterranean termites swarm in large numbers over a wide area to find a mate from another colony nest to start up a new colony. A suitable location for nesting should provide moisture and a readily available timber food source close by.
Colony nest development is slow in the first few months, with the egg-laying capacity of the new queen termite peaking after a few years, producing up to 10,000 offspring a year. The queen may live for many years and workers up to two years. The swarmers are emitted in their thousands when a mature termite nest is large and well established. Swarmers are usually produced after this period and are an indication a large termite nest is in the vicinity, a sure danger sign and a warning that professional protection is required.
Several years are required before the termite colony reaches the typically mature size. In some locations an Eastern subterranean termite colony can contain several million termites foraging over a wide area (up to 12,000 square feet) and actively feeding on trees and freestanding poles as well as buildings and other timber structures.
The colony nests of Eastern subterranean termites are usually located in the ground below the frost line, but above the water table. Mud galleries or "shelter tubes" are constructed across hard objects in order to gain access to timber food sources.
Eastern subterranean termites constantly search for new food sources. They are known to enter buildings through cracks in concrete flooring or to travel under parquetry or tile flooring through gaps of less than 1/16" wide.
Where moisture regularly collects inside the wall or other cavities of a building, say from faulty plumbing or broken roof tiles, the Eastern subterranean termite can develop a subsidiary colony nest which may not require contact with the ground to ensure it's survival.
They build a central colony nest from which they construct underground tunnels that radiate within a 100 yard radius from a central colony nest in search of a timber (cellulose) food source.
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