What Do Termites Look Like? How To Find & Identify Any Kind

Serving Families Throughout Vista

Termites are among the most destructive critters on the planet. As an individual, a termite doesn’t seem like much, however, as a colony, they have the ability to inflict serious structural damage on your home. This is because they can chew through wood and flooring, and by the time you realize it, the damage is usually already done.

The biggest problem when it comes to termites is that they're silent destroyers. They work so discreetly that it can be very difficult to spot a termite. In fact, you are more likely to spot the signs of termite damage than see an actual termite. Moreover, termites closely resemble flying ants and, thus, its easy to confuse the two.

This article will discuss everything you need to know about what termites look like so you can identify them. 

Let's dive in...

Identifying Termites

As mentioned earlier, termites are very similar to ants and, therefore, it is very easy to mistake one for the other. As such, it makes sense to learn how to differentiate one from the other.

Here are the differentiating traits to look out for:

  • Termites have thick waists while ants have noticeable thin waists.
  • Termites have straight antennae while ants have bent or clubbed antennae.
  • Termites have shorter legs than ants.
  • When present, termites’ front wings are the same length as the back wings. In ants, the front wings are usually longer than the back wings.

A typical termite measures between a quarter and a half of an inch long. They have soft bodies with their colors ranging from white to light brown. These colors vary between species with western subterranean soldiers having yellowish heads while western dry-wood termites have reddish-brown heads. Also, dry wood and damp wood termites are significantly larger than subterranean termites.

As mentioned above, there are different termite species. Let us have an overview of each species.

The Most Common Types Of Termites

1. Subterranean Termites (Rhinotermitidae)

These are arguably the most common type of termite species. They prefer hot and damp climates such as that found in the Deep South but they're not restricted to the south. They get their name from the fact that they live underground. And a single colony of these termites can contain millions.

When it comes to damage, subterranean termites could possibly be the most destructive out of all termite species. They have saw-toothed jaws that can easily bite into wood and fragment it bit by bit. Again, a single termite may not do much, but an entire colony is a whole different ball game. Given enough time, a colony can cause damage that will cost you tens of thousands of dollars in repairs and restoration.

These termites are found in every state apart from Alaska.

2. Dampwood Termites (Zootermopsisangusticollis)

As their name suggests, this species has a fondness for moisture rich, decaying wood. Wood that is exposed to leaks or natural moisture is likely going to attract dampwood termites. They cause destruction by creating a series of chambers within posts, poles, and damp wood structures. This results in a sandpaper-like effect that permanently damages the entire structure.

These termites are typically found in Pacific coastal and adjacent states, the desert or semi-arid southwest, and southern Florida.

3. Formosan Termites (Coptotermesformosanus)

Formosan termites are considered to be the most aggressive and destructive of all termite species. These traits are especially amplified when they come into contact with wood and start feasting on it.

It is believed that their aggressive nature comes from the fact that they live in extremely large colonies. At the head of the colony is the queen who can potentially live up to 15 years, laying as much as 2,000 eggs every day. This is how a single colony could contain millions of members.

More members mean more termites working together to devour a wooden structure. They are found in Hawaii, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina, and California.

4. Drywood Termites (Incisitermes minor)

In addition to devouring wood, these critters actually live inside the wood. They usually get their moisture either from the wood or from humidity in the air. This is the reason drywood termites are usually found in humid climates such as coastal areas.

Nevertheless, their colonies are usually a lot smaller than those of other species. An entire dry-wood termite colony typically contains a few hundred or thousand members. Winged males and females usually mate and create colonies in cracks and other openings in the wood.

A common giveaway of a dry-wood termite manifestation is the presence if their fecal material which is known as frass. When in piles, frass looks like sand or sawdust and is frequently found near doors and windowsills.

This species is found in the southern tier states, from North Carolina through the Gulf Coast and into the coastal areas of California.

5. Conehead Termites (Nasutitermescorniger)

Just like Formosan termites, coneheads build their nests in wooden structures, trees, and the ground. However, they do not exclusively tunnel underground. Rather, they move and populate spaces in a similar fashion to ants. This helps them spread and infest quite quickly.

Coneheads are native to the Caribbean. However, they have been found in some parts of Florida.

Different Termite Casts & Roles


These are wingless, light-colored, and soft-bodied termites that you typically see if you notice a termite infestation. In spite of their soft bodies, workers have hard mouths which they use to collect and chew food. They are responsible for feeding the termite soldiers while aiding the queen with her needs.

Workers also do the following:

  • Maintain and store food for the colony
  • Take care of nests of immature termites or nymphs
  • Maintain colony structure
  • Groom other members of the colony
  • Workers are the most numerous group of any termite colony.


Even though soldiers have worker-like bodies, they are stronger and have huge dark heads. They also have large jaws (mandibles) in addition to secreting defensive fluids which allow them to protect the colony. They utilize their large heads to block the entrances to their lair. This ensures that predators such as ants and termite colonies cannot access their nests.

As mentioned earlier, soldiers rely on workers for feeding. This is because their body structure hinders efficient feeding. Often, soldier termites fight to the death while protecting their colonies.

Alates (Flying Termites)

Also known as swarmers, these termites have wings and a hard exoskeleton which can be very dark in color. It is easy to identify swarmers due to their prominent wings which can be nearly twice the length of their bodies.

Their job is to look for new feeding sites.

The Reproductive Team

Each colony has a queen who is responsible for laying eggs. Only a select number of males can mate with her since workers and soldiers are sterile. The queen lays eggs several times a day and can live for up to 45 years. Throughout her lifetime, her job is to increase the colony’s population.

Are Termites Visible To The Naked Eye?

Even though most pests are small, termites are quite large. Swarmers are the most conspicuous due to their wings. You can almost always see these termites and may even notice them in your pool when its warm out. They can easily be confused with flying ants though so be sure it is in fact a flying termite before worrying. 

How To Spot Termite Damage

As mentioned earlier, termite damage is quite costly and, therefore, it's vital that you take a proactive approach towards preventing that damage. This can only be achieved through routine inspections for signs of termite activity in your house. The following are the top signs of termite activity:

Blisters in Wood Flooring

Blisters on wooden floors are a typical sign of termite damage. Subterranean termites usually damage the subfloor making it look like it has water damage.

Hollowed or Damaged Wood

As worker termites chew through wood in search if cellulose, they damage the wood behind or below surfaces such as floors and walls. Over time, the grooves weaken the wood and structural damage follows. An indicator of hollowed wood is a honeycomb interior which produces an empty sound.

Presence of Swarmers

Swarmers are always on the lookout for an ideal place for their colony. Thus, if you notice swarmers or evidence of their wings, know that a termite infestation is imminent.

Mud Tubes

As subterranean termites work their way up to your house, they create pencil-sized paths known as mud tubes.

Termite Droppings

Since they eat wood, their droppings are wood as well. They resemble sawdust or coffee grounds.

Tips To Prevent A Termite Infestation

Reduce Moisture

Termites like places with a lot of moisture. Thus, keep your house and compound moisture free by draining water away from your home, fixing leaky pipes, and properly ventilating areas where moisture is likely to build up.

Maintain Landscaping

Do not allow wood mulch and heavy vegetation around your foundation. Also, check around firewood piles for termite activity.

Proper Wood Storage

Do not store wood, cardboard or paper directly on a dirt floor.  

A termite infestation can cause you more than a headache. It is likely to break the bank in repairs. With that said, its a good idea to actively monitor your home and exterminate termites if found. 

If you live in San Diego or another area with termites, its a good idea to enlist a professional pest exterminator. They have the skills and knowledge to accurately judge whether you have an infestation or not. Also, they know how to efficiently get rid of the critters so you do not have to worry about a re-infestation.

If you're unsure and you live in Southern California, give us a call for a free termite inspection. We'll send a trained professional to your house to perform an inspection free of charge.