Eastern Subterranean Termites: How to Identify and Get Rid of Them

Eastern Subterranean Termite - Reticulitermes flavipes and Rove Beetle

The eastern subterranean termite can be found from Texas up to southern Minnesota and from Colorado to the East Coast. These termites cause significant damage to wood structures. Discarded wings and mud tubes are signs of their presence. Here’s how to identify and get rid of eastern subterranean termites.

How to Identify Eastern Subterranean Termites

In the United States, there are more than 40 species of termites. The subterranean termite is the most prevalent type of termite and is found in every state except Alaska. The eastern subterranean termite (Reticulitermes flavipes) is the most common species of subterranean termite in the United States.

graphic showing Subterranean Termites in a house
Photo Credit: Juan Rodriguez

Here are a few tips on how to identify an eastern subterranean termite: 

  • They are typically small, measuring about 1/8 to 3/8 inch in length, and have a creamy white to dark brown color. 
  • These termites live in colonies underground and build mud tubes to travel between their nests and food sources.
  • Eastern subterranean termites are highly vulnerable to drying out and must stay in contact with the soil or another moisture source to survive. 
  • In southern forests, these termites play a natural and important role in the ecosystem by helping to break down fallen trees and branches. 
  • They become pests when they enter our wooden buildings or damage other structures, which they easily do.

Termite Castes

In termite colonies, different castes or social classes, including workers, soldiers, and reproducers, work together to maintain their nests. Workers build and maintain the nest, soldiers protect the colony, while the kings and queens continuously grow the colony.

graphic showing caste of termite
Photo Credit: Juan Rodriguez
  • Workers: Eastern subterranean termite workers are the most abundant (from 96-98% of the colony) and perform various tasks. They build and maintain the nest, collect food, and care for the other termites in the colony.
  • Soldiers: Larger than worker termites, soldiers have yellow-brown heads and strong mandibles. They defend the colony against threats like wasps, ants, or other termites. Termite soldiers depend on workers for food.
  • Kings/Queens: The reproductive males are called termite kings, and they establish new colonies with a queen. The reproductive females, termite queens, grow the termite population. Queens in mature colonies can lay thousands of eggs daily.

Pro tip: Wood-destroying ants and termites can look very similar. Visit the Pest Gnome blog to learn how to distinguish between termites and ants, as well as other helpful tips.

Life Cycle

Eastern Subterranean Termite (Reticulitermes flavipes)
Photo Credit: Ryan Watson / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 4.0

To effectively control and prevent eastern subterranean termites, it is helpful to understand their lifecycle. A colony’s development and growth can be interrupted by focusing on specific stages of the termite life cycle, thereby limiting potential damage.

The life cycle of eastern subterranean termites consists of several distinct stages, each playing a crucial role in the development and growth of the colony.

  • Egg: The queen lays eggs to start the life cycle. Termite eggs are whitish, tiny, and oval-shaped. Within the colony, these eggs are carefully tended to and safeguarded.
  • Nymph: The eggs hatch into nymphs following a period of incubation. These nymphs resemble adult termites in their tiny forms. The nymphs shed their exoskeletons through molting as they mature.
  • Adult: After molting multiple times, nymphs become fully-grown adult termites. Within the colony, these adults assume specialized jobs as workers, soldiers, and reproducers.

Signs of Eastern Subterranean Termites

The first step in protecting your home is to check for signs of termite activity. Some signs set them apart from other insects that look like termites.

  • Termite swarmers: Swarmers are winged termites responsible for establishing new colonies and often come out on warm days after it rains in the spring. If you notice termite swarmers flying near your home, it is strongly recommended that you undergo a termite inspection to prevent a colony from establishing itself in your walls.
different types of termite tubes
Photo Credit: Juan Rodriguez
  • Mud tubes: When subterranean termites travel from their nest to find food, they build tunnels made of mud, wood fragments, and saliva. Termite tubes provide protection, help them retain moisture, and can indicate the entry points of termites.
  • Discarded wings: After mating, swarmers shed their wings. Finding wings, especially around windowsills or other potential entry points, indicates termite activity.
wings fallen off termites
Photo Credit: jaranjen / Canva Pro / License
  • Hollow-sounding wood: Termites devour the cellulose in wood, leaving it hollow and weakened. Listen for a hollow sound when you tap on wooden surfaces, as this could be a sign of termite infestation.
  • Maze-like tunnels: If you find maze-like tunnels in wood with rough edges, possibly filled with mud, it is a clear sign of termite activity.
grayish film on a damaged wood floor
Photo Credit: Ethen Dell / Canva Pro / License
  • Floors that sag or buckle are a common sign of termite damage. Termites that eat away at your floor joists can cause damage to the point that your floors no longer have structural support. Also, check for signs of termites in your ceiling.
  • Tiny holes in walls where termites have created entry points in the drywall or wallpaper. The holes are small, so you must look carefully to identify termite holes.

Where Eastern Subterranean Termites are Common

Eastern subterranean termites are commonly found in the following states, where environmental conditions help them to thrive:

How to Get Rid of Eastern Subterranean Termites

Depending on the extent of the infestation, getting rid of eastern subterranean termites can be challenging. Do-it-yourself (DIY) solutions like using borax for termites may not be as successful in eliminating a termite infestation as professional treatments. Also, some DIY pest control can be dangerous, so always use caution and follow label directions carefully.

Here are some ways that professional termite control services to get rid of eastern subterranean termites:

termite bait on grass
Photo Credits: Bignai / Canva Pro / License
  • Chemical treatments: Experts apply liquid termiticides to create a chemical barrier around your property.
  • Termite bait stations: They can place termite bait stations around your property to get rid of termites and prevent future infestations.
  • Heat treatments: Using specialized equipment, all the wood in a structure is heated, effectively eliminating termites in the building. However, a second control method, either bait stations or termiticides, will be needed to reach the termites in the underground nest, eliminating the underground portion of the colony. 

Note: When it comes to termites and homeowners insurance, most policies don’t cover treatments or termite damage, leaving you with costly repairs, particularly if they damage load-bearing beams. It’s possible to avoid these costs by taking steps to keep termites away from your home.

How to Prevent Eastern Subterranean Termites

repairman seals crack in the wall
Photo Credit: Kurgu128 / Canva Pro / License

Prevention is key to controlling subterranean termites. You can take the following steps to ward off termite infestations:

  • Seal cracks and crevices in your home’s foundation to prevent termites from getting inside.
  • Ensure good ventilation or install a dehumidifier in crawl spaces and attics to reduce humidity. Be on the lookout for signs of termites in your attic as well.
  • Keep water away from your home’s foundation, as moisture attracts termites. Regularly clean your gutters, splash blocks, and downspouts to prevent water build up.
  • Store your firewood off the ground with metal or concrete stands and at least 30 feet away from your home to prevent termites in firewood.
  • Purchase a termite bond from a termite control company. Termite bonds ensure annual inspections and cover treatments if termites try to move into your home. 

FAQ: Eastern Subterranean Termites

How Much Does Subterranean Termite Control Cost?

The average cost of termite treatments is $558 but can range in price from $275 to $863. Factors such as how severe a termite infestation is, what types of termites are present, and what kind of treatment is necessary can affect the overall cost.

Are Eastern Subterranean Termites And Formosan Termites The Same?

No, eastern subterranean termites and Formosan termites are not the same. While both species can be found in the same areas, they have distinct differences. Formosan termites have the following characteristics:

  • Caramel to brownish-yellow color with oval heads 
  • Primarily active at night in late May to early June
  • Are attracted to light; other subterranean termites are not
  • Soldiers exude a white, glue-like secretion as a defense mechanism; native subterranean soldiers don’t do this.
  • Construct carton nests in concealed, moist areas

Do Termites Make Noise?

Yes, termites make noise. While their noise isn’t loud, you can hear them chewing through the wood or making a head-banging sound to communicate with each other.

When to Call a Pro

Get in touch with a reputable termite control service right away for an assessment if you notice any signs of termite activity in your house. Taking care of these dreaded pests alone can be difficult, particularly if a large colony exists. 

Pest Gnome can put you in contact with a local termite control expert to handle your pest problem as soon as possible to save money and your home.

Main Image Credit: Judy Gallagher / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Raven Wisdom

Raven Wisdom is a writer with a passion for pest control, gardening, sustainable living, and making a positive impact in the world. When she's not defending her garden from critters in the wilds of West Texas, Raven can be found writing, wrangling two kids in a neurodivergent family, and supporting her local animal rescues.