Houston Home Inspector Provides Information About The Subterranean
Characteristics – Size: Worker: 1/8-inch in length. Soldier: Body is similar to that of the worker.
Supplementary Reproductive: About 1 inch in length.
Primary Reproductive: About 1 inch in length.
Color: Worker: Light colored. Soldier: Light colored with brown head. Supplementary Reproductive: Light colored.
Primary Reproductive: Dark brown/black.
* Soldiers have an elongated head with pincer-like mandibles. Supplementary Reproductives have either no wings
or very short non-functional wings, while Primary Reproductives have four wings of equal size. Primary
Reproductives are the termites most often seen in the open. They are commonly referred to as "swarmers."
* Behavior – This termite is known to swarm in May and June, but small flights can occur at any time of the
year. Swarming is the primary way the termite naturally spreads after it has been transported to a new area. Three
elements are needed for swarming to be effective: 1) Proper food resources (cellulose and wood), 2) moisture, and
3) a physical niche. As the colony grows, specialized castes are produced for the different tasks required. The
first caste produced is the workers. The second caste is the soldiers. The third caste is the reproductives. Two
types, primary and supplementary, are produced in a Formosan subterranean termite colony. The two types have
different functions. Primary reproductives swarm and start new colonies. They are called alates or swarmers.
Although thousands of primary reproductives are produced each year, they all leave the nest. Primaries cannot
become reproductive if they remain in their colony of origin. In a Formosan colony, the only primaries that
reproduce are the original king and queen that started the colony. Supplementary reproductives, on the other hand,
can become reproductive only in the colonies in which they were born. They take over reproduction when the primary
king or queen dies or becomes separated from the main colony.
* Habitat – Subterranean termites live in colonies in the ground, building vertical tunnels that look like mud
tubes above ground level so that they can search for food. Because subterranean termites will die if exposed to air
for an extended period of time, the tunnels provide protection from the open air, allowing workers to carry food to
the nest. Subterranean termites can form tunnels through cracks in concrete, so slab homes are not exempt from
these termites. They need to stay in contact with the soil in order to survive, unlike drywood termites that only
need low moisture.
* Tips for Control – There are several things a homeowner can do which can help prevent termite infestations or
make them easier to detect.
* Store firewood away from the house. Make sure at least four inches of the foundation can be seen all around
the home. Siding should not extend into the soil. Mulch and soil should not be high enough to cover the siding.
Make sure water drains away from the foundation. Accumulation of water next to the foundation is important for the
survival of a termite colony next to a home. Rain gutters are ideal; however, the downspout should direct the water
away from the home. Roof or plumbing leaks can allow termites to survive above ground in a house. These should be
corrected as soon as possible. Paint will protect exposed wood against termites for about five years, and
commercial pressure-treated wood will provide longer lasting protection. Before painting, all cracks and crevices
should be filled with putty or plastic wood.
* Certain woods are naturally resistant to termite attacks. Among these woods are redwood core, bald-cypress,
mahogany, and Spanish cedar. These types of wood, however, will become susceptible after several years of exposure