Differences Between Termites (What Types Are there?)

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Wondering what types of termites exist out there? Drywood vs. subterranean vs. formosan?

What are the differences?

This guide breaks it down by providing the facts you need to understand each type.

If you live in a particular area of the United States (we’re looking at you, Gulf Coast), it can be difficult to tell which kind of termite could be lurking around in the backyard.

Luckily, we’ve got the scoop on how to tell the difference between the most common — and the most destructive — types. Keep reading for all the key facts!

Reviewed By:
Ed Spicer

Ed has been working in the pest control industry for years helping 1,000's of homeowners navigate the world of insect and rodent management. He manages Pest Strategies now helping homeowners around the world!

Table of Contents

    What Are The Main Types of Termites?

    There are verious types of termite species that live around the world, but for the most part all you need to worry about are two main types.

    Those types are:

    • Subterranean Termites: Within the United States you have two sub-groups. The Eastern Subterranean Termite and the Formosan Termite. Both groups like to live in or around moisture. The
    • Drywood Termites: Unlike subterranean termites, drywoods prefer to live in dry conditions. You’ll find them living in furniture, attics, walls, etc.
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    Drywood Termites vs Subterranean Termites

    These two types of termites are truly apples are oranges to one another.

    When looking at subterranean termites vs drywood termites, it’s important to remember that though they’re both termites, their habitats are so different that it can lead to different infestation methods.

    What does that mean? Let’s have a look.

    What Does Each Look Like?

    Drywood termites tend to be larger, producing worker caste members with creamy-white bodies throughout.

    Drywood termite soldier caste members maintain the milky body color but have larger bodies and darker heads which look almost scorched.

    The drywood termites with wings, however–otherwise known as swarmer termites–will have a series of complex veins running along the topside of the wing which is a surefire way to tell which type of termite you’ve got on your hands (that is, if you can see that close).

    Subterranean winged termites, however, have just one vein which runs along the top line of the wing instead of the series of veins characterized by the drywood termites.

    Additionally, the bodies of the subterranean termite soldier and worker caste members are smaller than that of their drywood cousins.

    Which is Worse?

    In terms of infestation, there is no real “worst type of termite.” Anytime you have termites in the house, you’re looking at a ticking time bomb of damage to be done to your property.

    A drywood termite colony size is a bit smaller than a subterranean, which is a plus. Drywood termites also take longer to reproduce, meaning they take longer as a whole to chew through your house.

    A key difference, though, rests in how these little guys make their way inside in the first place: drywood termites reside in–you guessed it–dry wood like furniture, trees, and wooden structures.

    Subterranean termites live in earthen soil and make contact with wood through the dirt, commonly boring their way through the soil to tree roots and wooden structures from the ground up.

    Given that you can target soil to eliminate subterranean termites, we’re they are slightly “easier’ to treat, whereas drywood termites usually require a costly fumigation to ensure removal.

    Curious about fumigations? Click here for more information on how they work.

    Which Does More Damage?

    While drywood termites definitely eat their way through a fair share of homeowners’ savings accounts…

    …subterranean termites are the most destructive types of termites.

    It’s estimated, in fact, that the damage done by subterranean termites across the USA exceeds $5 billion annually.

    Where Does Each Live?

    Drywood termites can survive anywhere with untouched forest and moisture in the air.

    Because they draw their hydration from the air around them, this species prefers to live in a subtropical, humid environment such as the southeastern US states along the Gulf Coast.

    Subterranean termites, though, are found in nearly every US state (with the exception of Alaska), although they favor the humidity and warmth of the southeastern states as well.

    Which Termites Do the Most Damage?

    While drywood termites eat their way through a fair share of homeowners’ savings accounts, subterranean termites are the most destructive types of termites.

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    Formosan Termites vs Subterranean Termites

    A quick Google search for the different types of termites will probably have your head spinning after a few minutes…

    …especially when you throw Formosan termites into the mix.

    What Does Each Look Like?

    Termites can usually be identified by their cream-colored, segmented bodies which blend in with the grains of wood, camouflaging them perfectly within the grains.

    Not Formosan termites.

    Despite the fact that Formosan termites are a type of subterranean termite (aka thy like to live in the ground) originating from Asia and brought to the US during World War II, they looking more like crawling lava. Formosan termites are characterized by their loud, orange bodies, easily seen in soil and on wooden surfaces.

    Traditional subterranean termites have more brownish bodies and lack the small hairlike follicles on the Formosan termite.

    To most people, they will look very similar.

    Some of the main differences between Formosan and Subterranean Termites are:

    • Habitat: Formosan Termites prefer the warmer, southern states where Subterranean can be found in almost every state in the United States.
    • Body Type: Formosan Termites have a more elongated body, with a short head, and short pinchers, where Subterranean Termites have longer head and body, with long pinchers.
    • Nesting: Formosan Termites also build their nests in such a way that it allows for better moisture circulation and less trips to the soil.

    Which is Worse?

    This is hardly even a contest–the Formosan termite wins this round.

    The mention of this type of insect is incredibly unnerving to some coastal property owners, and for good reason: once a colony of Formosan termites has taken up residence in an area, there has been no record of one ever successfully being eradicated.

    This is because the make long tunnels between colony positions. Further, they don’t actually have to live in the soil. Once the find a plentiful food source, it is possible that the termites will leave the safe and moist soil and carve out a new nest in its above ground home. These nests are sometimes referred to as “cartons” due to their appearance.

    Which Does More Damage?

    The winner here, unsurprisingly, is going to be the Formosan termite.

    In just the state of Louisiana, Formosan termites managed to chew through $500 million worth of structural and property damage over the course of just one year.

    To combat the destruction caused by these insidious insects, the state of Hawaii regularly budgets yearly control costs in the neighborhood of $100 million.

    Florida, as well, budgets around $60 million annually to account for the damage done by Formosan termites.

    Formosan termites are just harder to eliminate because they don’t always live in soil. This drastically reduces the treatment options pest control professionals can refer to making their infestations more difficult and costly.

    Where Does Each Live?

    Here’s a silver lining.

    Though subterranean termites are spread throughout the continental USA (and the Formosan termites is a type of subterranean termite), the Formosan termite is limited to only a handful of states.

    If your site isn’t listed it should give you some level of comfort, but always consult a local exterminator about your specific neighborhood and ask about preventative treatment options.

    It’s important to remember that no termite is ever a “good termite to have.”

    Sure, some termites are less destructive than others, but at the end of the day, they all have the same objective: to eat you out of house and home…literally.

    If you notice the warning signs of termites in your house, don’t panic! Here at Pest Strategies, we want you to equip you with all the knowledge necessary to make smart decisions about how to handle your pest problems before they get out of hand.

    When you know what kind of termite you’ve got, you know exactly what termite control methods to take, and how soon to act.

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