Eastern Subterranean Termites


General Information
The eastern subterranean termite is the most common termite in North America and a major pests. These social insects live in expansive colonies that contain thousands or even millions of termites. Capable of causing severe damage to wooden structures, eastern subterranean termites represent a serious concern to homeowners, especially those with older homes.

Appearance & Identification

What Do They Look Like?
Eastern subterranean termite colonies consist of a caste system made up of workers, soldiers, and reproductives, also called alates. Each class features distinct physical appearances.

termite family identification

worker, soldier, reproductive

Photo source: UFL.edu

Reproductives are the most commonly seen caste of eastern subterranean termite because they leave the nest to mate. Measuring about 10 to 12 mm long, eastern subterranean termite reproductives have black bodies with grayish, translucent wings.

If a nest is breached, the most common caste found inside is the worker. Creamy white in appearance, workers are sterile, wingless and measure about 6 mm long.

Similar in size and also wingless, soldiers have enlarged, yellowish heads with distinct long, black, pinching mandibles.


Where Do They live?
Individual termites are constantly at risk of dehydration, and colonies require high levels of moisture to ensure survival.

Underground Nests
In most areas, living above ground is not viable for eastern subterranean termites. The pests mainly reside in underground nests in moist soil. Nests feature intricate networks of tunnels made from mud and saliva. Tunnels are approximately the diameter of a pencil and may sprawl outward as far as 150-300 feet from the center of the colony. Nest temperatures need to remain between 90 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit (with high levels of humidity) in order to sustain a colony. If a tunnel is breached, workers labor tirelessly to repair holes in order to sustain the habitable environment.


What Do They Eat?

Eastern subterranean termites feed on wood or any cellulose containing product. In nature, eastern subterranean termites consume decaying roots, tree stumps, and fallen tree limbs.

If introduced into a home or office building, the insects eat the wooden materials of the structure as well as wood fixtures and paper products.

How Much Wood Do They Eat?
A typical eastern subterranean termite colony consumes about five grams of wood in 24 hours.

Life Cycle

Winged Reproductives
After rainfall in late winter or early spring, swarms of mature reproductive eastern subterranean termites leave their nests to begin the mating process. The winged, reproductively capable insects search for new nest sites where wood directly touches moist soil.

Once a site is selected, the termites drop their wings and search for partners. After a female selects her mate, the pair burrows into moist soil and creates a nuptial chamber for mating.

Following mating, the female, now called the queen, begins laying eggs. Queens lay thousands of eggs each year. Unlike other insects, the male, or king, lives after mating and stays with the queen for the rest of its life.

Eggs & Nymphs
A few days after mating, a queen lays about a dozen eggs. Incubation takes about two weeks, and nymphs hatch directly from eggs. Nymphs need to be tended to during a two-week molting process in which they become workers, soldiers, or reproductives.

Most often, nymphs develop into workers.

If the king or queen dies, workers may develop into a secondary reproductive caste which fulfills the essential reproductive role for the colony. Secondary reproductives that do not assume king or queen roles may foster nearby satellite colonies.


Eastern subterranean termites cause damage by feeding on the wooden construction of homes and other structures. According to the Division of Agriculture at the University of Arkansas, subterranean termites cause more damage to homes than all other natural disasters combined. The total estimated amount of destruction caused by eastern subterranean termites is about $1.5 billion annually. Due to the reclusive nature of the insect, an infestation can go unnoticed for years. Eastern subterranean termites bore passages underneath wood surfaces, and damage can be difficult to detect. In many cases, infestations are discovered once severe damage is evident or after a colony has been present in the structure for a lengthy period of time (presence of reproductive termites or shed wings).

More information about termite damage.

Professional Control

A challenge to control, termite infestations often require the use of toxic baits and termiticides. As a result of the potentially dangerous chemicals typically utilized to eradicate infestations, any suspected termite activity warrants the contacting of a pest control professional. With the appropriate gear, knowledge, and certifications, professional specialists can remove the pests safely and completely.