mid-Missouri Pest Information: Termites

Termite Identification

Eastern Subterranean Termites are social insects that come from a colony located underground between 3-12 feet beneath the surface. The colony starts with a king and a queen. The queen can live up to 50 years and can lay an egg about every 15 seconds! From the egg, she’ll produce one of three main members: a worker, soldier, or a reproductive. Workers can live 4-5 years and will continuously forage underground (up to 400 feet around the colony and 30 feet of depth) searching for cellulose.

Worker termites actually consume and defecate the soil to make trails that are pheromone scented. Once they find wood they consume it, return to their colony and regurgitate it to feed the others. A large colony can consist of over 1 million workers. An established colony can consume the equivalent of approximately 5 to 15 feet of 2×4’s per year!

Termite soldiers resemble a worker in size but have an orange-brownish head with large mandibles. Their job is to defend the colony, food gathering area, and the workers. Their mouthparts are not designed to directly eat wood, so they must be fed regurgitated cellulose by a worker.

Winged Reproductive Termites, or “swarmers,” are only produced by the queen once the colony is well established; usually, once the colony is 4-5 years old or approximately 100,000 in population. The queen can produce as many as 20,000-30,000 swarmers per year! In the spring these swarmers will instinctively leave the colony by following active mud trails made by the workers and will emerge from an active termite infested area.

The swarmers will then fly out from the active area and try to get as far away as possible. Swarming termites have been found to fly as far as 1 mile from the swarm sight! Swarmers do not do any direct damage and do not consume cellulose – they are new kings and queens of a potential new colony. Within approximately 2 hours of the initial swarm, these reproductives must disperse, drop their wings, choose a mate, and excavate into the soil before they are eaten by a predator or dehydrate and die.

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