Subterranean Termites

The Subterranean Termite

Eastern subterranean termite

Eastern subterranean termite soldiers. Source: United States Department of Agriculture.

The subterranean termite is one of the most diverse groups of termites. Although different subterranean termites have various features and characteristics, there are general traits of subterranean termites.



Their appearance varies depending upon the caste of the termite. The worker termites have almost same appearance across all termites groups, but soldiers and alates have a distinctive appearance.

Subterranean termites have long, narrow and ovular body shape. Worker termites possess a cream-colored body, and they are about 1/8 to 3/8 inches long. 

Soldiers have powerful mandibles and cream-colored bodies while their heads are brown. Soldiers also lack wings. Swarmers (alates) are dark-brown to black in color and possess two pairs of wings, which help them fly around. They are usually ¼ to ½ inches in size.


Subterranean termites feed upon softwood, and when they infest a building or wooden structure, they eat away the inside soft-wood and leave behind the hard, dry wood. Therefore, usually, when they infest, the damaged wood has a layered sort of structure.

Just like drywood termites, subterranean termites also eat “with the grain” of the wood. They mostly nest underground because of excessive water availability, but they can also nest above ground only if there is the required amount of moisture present.

Subterranean termites need contact with the soil to prosper because from there they get the essential amount of water they need. The mud tubes that they build provide them easy access to the food sources in the buildings and houses. Moreover, these tubes also protect them from dry conditions outside and help retain moisture levels.

They have an incredible reproduction rate. One subterranean termite colony can produce 100,000 to 1,000,000 termites.


Unlike drywood and dampwood termites, when subterranean termites infest any wooden structure, they build a soil tube above the wooden structure, on the wall, and on the ceiling. 

This tube shelters them and works as their pathway. The presence of such tubes is a tell-tale sign of a subterranean termite infestation.


Termites rush to damaged portion of mound

Termites rush to damaged portion of mound. By U.S. Department of Agriculture (taken by Scott Bauer CC BY 2.0).

Mostly, Subterranean termites enter a home through the moist soil under the ground. From that point, they invade through any wooden material connecting to your home, such as stairs, basements, door frames, fences, etc.

Cracks and holes in a wooden or concrete foundation of the house also provide them a pathway to enter your house.

Accumulated water around a foundation can also be a big reason for them entering your home.


If Subterranean termites infest your home or building, it will be impossible to get rid of them because when they invade your house, they go unnoticed for years.

When you spot their signs, they have already damaged your building and have spread to the entire structure. Therefore, following these preventive measures will help you keep these dangerous pests away from your home:

  • Maintain your house’s sewerage and drainage system and avoid all sort of accumulation of water around your house.
  • Get rid of moisture in your house and its premises.
  • Abolish all sorts of wood contact with the soil, including doors, basements, fences, staircases, etc. There should be at least a six-inch gap between your house’s wooden structure and the soil.
  • Treat your soil with specialist chemicals. These chemical barriers will guard your house against these invasive and detrimental termites.

Subterranean Termite Facts

  • They have large colonies comprising up to thousands of members.
  • Subterranean termites never sleep and keep eating for 24 hours. They have the ability to eat away the entire wooden structure of a building.
  • They are detrimental to the economy and cost around $2 billion in damages every year.
  • Worker subterranean termites are blind, and they spend their entire life in darkness, underground and in tunnels.
  • In favorable conditions, the lifespan of a subterranean termite colony can extend up to several years.

Termite Articles

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