What are Subterranean Termites?

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  • Written By: K T Solis
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 02 October 2019
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Subterranean termites are types of insects that feed on wood. These insects are found in every U.S. state with the exception of Alaska. They are one of the most destructive kinds of insects since they can destroy homes and other wooden structures.

The termites make their nests in the soil and live in well-organized colonies. Colonies consist of three major types of subterranean termites. The three groups include soldiers, reproductives, and workers.

Each group has a specific job to do. For example, soldier termites protect the colony from other invading insects. Reproductive termites are in charge of producing young. Worker termites do most of the general tasks, including tending to the eggs, building tunnels, gathering food, and feeding other members of the colony.

Although the termites make their nests in the soil, they can build mud tunnels or tubes to reach toward wood structures. Subterranean termites are capable of building tunnels that can reach up to 60 feet (18.3 m) in height. They may also enter a building by scampering through cracks in a foundation. Once they arrive at the wooden structure, they begin to feed on it. These termites eat paper and cloth manufactured from plant fibers and cotton as well.


Homeowners can detect if their houses are infested with subterranean termites through several methods. The easiest way to detect their presence is to determine if reproductive termites are swarming near window sills within the home. Termites are attracted to light indoors. If a homeowner notices swarming reproductive termites within the house, subterranean termites are present in the home.

A second way to detect the presence of this pest is to tap a hammer or screw driver against a wall in order to check for wood damage. If the noise sounds dull, a pointed tool can be used to dig inside the wall. This will often reveal the presence of termite tunnels.

The third way to determine if subterranean termites are present in the home is to examine the house for mud tubes. Built from wet soil, these tubes are used by the termites to protect themselves from predators and the elements. Homeowners should check crawl spaces, exterior areas of the home, and foundations for the presence of these tubes that enable the termites to invade buildings.

When building a home, remove wood debris during construction, as this a source of food for subterranean termites. Concrete foundations devoid of cracks will also deter the infestation of these types of termites. Constructing brick or hollow foundations have the opposite result; termites are attracted to structures that make it easy for them to build internal tunnels.

Home builders can take further steps to avoid subterranean termite infestation by never permitting wooden structures to touch the soil. Anyone who constructs a house should take steps to divert any water to gutters, splash blocks, and downspouts. If water is allowed to accumulate near the home, termites will be attracted to the structure. Chemical barriers are another effective way to keep termites from invading; termiticide and a vapor barrier can add an extra line of defense against these destructive pests.

Despite these measures, a home can still become the victim of termites. If this occurs, the homeowner should hire a pest control company to deal with the problem. Termite baits and pesticides are two methods the pest control company may employ in order to rid a home of subterranean termites.


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