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Common Names: Subterranean Termite, Termite


Scientific Name: Order Isoptera, many families, genera, and species


Size: Adult—1/4" to 3/8"


Identification: Winged adults are dark brown to black with compound eyes. Two pair of wings similar in size and shape. Workers are grayish white and eyeless. Short antennae. Termites have fatter waists than ants.


Biology and Life Cycle: Social insects. Females lay large eggs that hatch and small eggs for nymph food. The long-lived queens more than doubles in size and are unable to leave the colony. Workers appear first, then soldiers.


Termite castes/developmental stages of subterranean colony.
No queen or king here. Via Rutgers U, NJ.


Habitat: Damp soil or damp timbers close to the ground. Wooded areas of soil and moist wood.


Feeding Habits: Feed on wood, paper, and other wood products; fungi; dried plant and animal products. Termites sometimes eat growing plants. They use intestinal protozoans to digest chewed food.


Economic Importance: Destroy wood structures.


Natural Control: Beneficial nematodes.


Organic Control: Boric acid products applied to bare wood, beneficial fungi products, plant oil products, and sand barriers (see below), especially in openings for plumbing in slabs.



Insight: It isn't necessary to use toxic chemicals to treat your home or office for termites. Here's a safer and more effective approach.


Treat all exposed wood with boric acid products such as Tim-Bor or Bora-Care or hot pepper spray. Inject these same products by foam into the walls. Dust natural DE and boric acid into wall cavities. Use 00 sandblasting sand (also sold as 16 grit sand) as a physical barrier in leave-outs in slabs, against the edge of slabs and around piers and beams. New construction can use it under slabs. Treat the soil around the structure with beneficial nematodes. Ignore the nuts that say to remove the mulch from around the house.


Termites race to damaged portion of mound.
USDA photo by Scott Bauer.


The first step is to eliminate wet and moist wood from the house or other affected structures. Subterranean termites don't like dry wood. Check carefully for leaks of all kinds and have them fixed. Installing drainage systems around structures is sometimes necessary.


Sand will make an effective termite barrier. Not just any sand will work—you must use a 16-grit sand (also sold as 00 sandblasting sand) to create the barrier. It's the size and uniformity that's important. The material can be sharp sand or washed silicon sand, basalt or lava. Termites can't get through it. Put the sand on each side of the foundation beam of the structure. The sand prevents the insects from building the earthen tubes up to the wooden parts of the house. A trench or wedge of sand above the ground measuring 6 inches by 6 inches (or smaller) and filled with sand can be effective. The trench should run around the entire perimeter of the structure.


Treat exposed wood with boric acid products. These materials soak into the wood and give long-lasting protection. This works well for new construction, remodeling, and pier and beam construction.


Physical barriers are important tools. Cracks in concrete beams and slabs provide access from the ground up into the structure. Fill the cracks with silicon caulking to prevent access. Dust natural diatomaceous and boric acid in wall cavities.


If termite tubes are visible, break them and introduce beneficial nematodes or ants. Both are natural enemies and quite effective. One of the benefits of the damaging fire ants is that they like to eat termites. Beneficial nematodes can also be used in the soil around structures and are very effective if the soil is kept moist. Encouraging biodiversity is important—as always. When healthy populations of microorganisms and insects exists, the competition keeps heavy populations of bad bugs to a minimum.


Some pest control operators are starting to use these alternative techniques. Many others will soon follow. The public is demanding these least toxic approaches, partly because of their safety but also because they work! Ask your pest control company about these techniques and other low-impact controls, such as electronic guns and high- or low-temperature devices that fry or freeze the pests.




Baiting programs are often the lowest toxicity approach for effective termite control. The downside to baiting systems, other than the cost, is the time required for the systems to begin affecting the colony. It can take 1 ½ - 2 years before a baiting system controls an actively feeding the colony. Therefore chemical control in active locations is sometimes needed to stop a current infestation. Fipronil products are considered to be the most effective and least toxic choice of the chemical products. Termidor, a fipronil product, is effective because it is a non-repellant protein molecule. It transfers through the termite colony by ingestion, contact and by termites feeding each other. The fact that Termidor is a protein product also limits its movement in the soil.



For more information about termite swarmers, visit Termite Biology from Mississippi State University extension. Also see Signs of termite infestation (same site).






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