The Subterranean Termite: What You Need To Know

Subterranean Termites


Subterranean termites live in underground colonies or in moist, secluded areas above ground, which can contain up to 2 million members. They build distinctive “mud tubes” to gain access to food sources and to protect themselves from the open air. Termite colonies are organized into castes depending on tasks—workers, soldiers and reproductives. The characteristics of a subterranean termite are dependent on the termite’s role in the colony. Cream-colored Worker subterranean termites are 1/8 to 3/8 of an inch in length. Soldier subterranean termites are of a similar body length, but are distinguished by their powerful mandibles. Soldier termites have cream-colored bodies and brown heads. Reproductive subterranean termites are approximately one inch long.

Pest Facts

Creamy brown


Long, narrow, oval

1/8 inches



All 50 states

·       Cause serious damage to structures often long before they are discovered—over $1.5 billion in property damage per year to more than 600,000 homes in the U.S.

·       Feed on books, papers or anything containing cellulose.

·       Favor warmer climates and actively avoid light.

·       Live in underground colonies—some containing more than two million members.

·       In a larger nest, a queen and king may live for 15 years, with the queen laying up to one egg every 15 seconds for most of her life.


Subterranean termites live underground and build tunnels, referred to as mud tubes, to reach food sources. Like other termite species, they feed on products containing cellulose. Subterranean termites swarm in the spring, when groups of reproductive termites go off to start new colonies.


Subterranean termites need contact with the soil to survive and live underground. They can build tunnels through cracks in concrete.


Subterranean termites are by far the most destructive species. They can collapse a building entirely, meaning possible financial ruin for a homeowner. The hard, saw-toothed jaws of termites work like shears and are able to bite off extremely small fragments of wood, one piece at a time.


Avoid water accumulation near your home’s foundation. Divert water away with properly functioning downspouts, gutters and splash blocks. Reduce humidity in crawl spaces with proper ventilation. Never bury wood scraps or waste lumber in the yard. Most importantly, eliminate wood contact with the soil. Maintain a one-inch gap between the soil and wood portions of the building.

All information contained within is sourced directly from the National Pest Management Association.