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

Western Subterranean Termite (Reticulitermes hesperus) on piece of wood

Western subterranean termites can cause extensive damage to homes if left untreated. We’ll teach you everything you need to know about their life cycle, the signs of these destructive termites (mud tubes and discarded wings), plus where they are commonly found in the U.S. We will also tell you how to identify and get rid of western subterranean termites.

How to Identify Western Subterranean Termites

There are over 40 species of termites in the U.S. The most common type of termite is the subterranean variety, found in every state except Alaska. The western subterranean termite population flourishes in regions with a mild climate and plentiful wood sources. 

Arid-Land Subterranean Termites on sand
Photo Credit: Andrey Zharkikh / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Western subterranean termites (Reticulitermes hesperus) are most prevalent in, you guessed it, the western part of the United States. From Southern California and up to British Columbia, they live underground but feed on cellulose in wooden structures, such as houses, sheds, and decks. They’ll also eat paper, and if you don’t remove tree stumps, the deadwood can attract termites.

Termite Castes

graphic showing caste of termite
Photo Credit: Juan Rodriguez

Each caste has specific responsibilities. What a western subterranean termite looks like depends on its role in the colony. These social insects live in a caste system consisting of queens, kings, soldiers, and workers, which come in varying colors, ranging from dark brown to light cream.

On average, western subterranean termites are about 1/4 to 3/8 inch long, have oval bodies, and have straight, bead-like antennae.

  • Queens, kings, and swarmers: Reproductive termites are called swarmers. The winged reproductives leave the mother colony in a swarm to become queen and king of a new colony. They then establish and grow this new colony over time. The termite queen is the largest member of the colony and is distinguished by her big, white, worm-like body.
  • Soldiers: Western subterranean soldier termites serve as the colony’s defenders from natural predators like spiders, ants, beetles, and wasps. Soldiers are identified by their larger mandibles and brown heads.
  • Workers: The workers are the most abundant members of a termite colony and are the ones responsible for causing damage to your home. They are soft-bodied with a creamy translucent color and perform all tasks within the nest.

    Their duties include gathering food, building tunnels, repairing the nest, grooming each other, feeding everyone, and caring for the nymphs.

Pro tip: Termites and wood-destroying ants can appear similar. Find out how to tell termites and ants apart on Pest Gnome’s blog.

Life Cycle

Understanding the life cycle of western subterranean termites is essential for effective pest control and prevention strategies. If specific life cycle stages are targeted, the colony’s development and growth can be disrupted, minimizing potential damage.

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

  • Egg: The life cycle begins with the queen laying eggs. Termite eggs look like small, white, oval-shaped eggs. These eggs are carefully nurtured and protected within the colony.
  • Nymph: After an incubation period, the eggs hatch into nymphs. These nymphs resemble smaller versions of adult termites. As the nymphs grow, they molt, shedding their exoskeletons.
  • Adult: Once the nymphs have completed molting, they develop into mature adult termites. These adults take on specific roles within the colony, such as workers, soldiers, and reproductive individuals.

Signs of Western Subterranean Termites

Termites are a voracious pest, causing billions of dollars in damage in the United States annually. As a homeowner, protecting your investment by regularly inspecting your home for pests is vital. However, if you do see any of these signs, or live in a high-risk termite area, an annual termite inspection by a pro is essential.

Here are a few signs that western subterranean termites may be present

wings fallen off termites
Photo Credit: jaranjen / Canva Pro / License
  • Discarded wings: Winged termites shed their wings after mating, making this a clear sign of termite activity.
different types of termite tubes
Termite mud tubes
Photo Credit: Juan Rodriguez
  • Mud tubes: Termites create tunnels with mud, saliva, and other materials to travel between their nest and food source. Tubes like these help maintain moisture and provide protection.
soldier termites exhibiting acoustic waves
Photo Credit: ApisitWilaijit / Canva Pro / License
  • Hollow-sounding wood: Tap on wooden surfaces and listen for a hollow sound. Termites eat the cellulose in wood, leaving it hollow and weak. In termite-damaged wood, you’ll often find maze-like tunnels inside it or on wooden surfaces, such as furniture or walls
  • Termite swarmers: The winged termites, also known as swarmers, are responsible for starting new colonies. If you see termite swarmers, it is highly recommended to get a termite inspection to prevent a colony from setting up shop in your walls.
grayish film on a damaged wood floor
Damaged floors
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  • Sagging or buckling floors can indicate structural damage caused by termites. You may also find that doors and windows begin to stick as a result of termites tunneling in the frames.
  • Small holes in drywall or wallpaper where termites create entry points. To identify termite holes, you’ll have to look closely as the holes are tiny. 

Western Subterranean Termite Damage

If western subterranean termites are not detected and treated promptly, they can cause extensive damage to homes and wooden structures. These termites eat wood, gradually weakening it and creating tunnels and galleries within. These cavities can lead to sagging floors, weakened beams, and eventually structural collapse.

The cost to repair termite damage ranges between $550 and $3,000, with many homeowners paying an average of $2,600. However, if the termites have caused significant structural damage, the cost of repairs can reach over $25,000.   

Note: Termite damage and treatment are not covered by most home insurance policies. As a result, you may need to make expensive repairs, especially when load-bearing beams need replacing. By taking proactive steps, you can avoid costly repairs and ensure the long-term stability of your home.

Where Western Subterranean Termites are Common

The western subterranean termite population, found along the Pacific Coast from California to British Columbia, poses a significant threat to homeowners and property owners due to their ability to cause extensive damage to structures if left unchecked. It is crucial for residents to be aware of potential risks and take necessary precautions.

How to Get Rid of Western Subterranean Termites

It is important to note that termite control can be complex, and some do-it-yourself (DIY) pest control can be dangerous. Also, DIY options, like using borax for termites, may not be effective in eliminating a termite infestation. Consulting with a professional pest control service is highly recommended for effective and long-lasting termite control.

Getting rid of western subterranean termites requires a comprehensive approach to eliminate the existing infestation and prevent future ones. Here are some effective methods to get rid of termites:

pest worker installing termite bait station
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  • Termite baits: Baits are used to target termite colonies by providing a poisoned food source that is taken back to the colony.
  • Chemical treatments: Termite control professionals use liquid termiticides to create a chemical barrier around your property.
termites tenting on a house
Photo Credit: Bill Oxford / Canva Pro / License
  • Heat or fumigation treatments: Professionals may use heat or fumigation (also called termite tenting) to eliminate the termites in your home; however, these treatments must be combined with other control methods, like bait or termiticides, to kill a subterranean colony since most of their nests are below ground.

How to Prevent Western Subterranean Termites

Subterranean termite control relies heavily on prevention. By taking these precautions, you can limit the likelihood of termite infestations and safeguard your property from damage. Here are some precautions you can take to prevent termite infestations:

person fixing leakage of a gutter
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  • Avoid water accumulation near the home’s foundation, as termites are attracted to moisture. Ensure that downspouts, gutters, and splash blocks are functioning properly to divert water from the foundation.
  • Reduce humidity in crawl spaces by providing proper ventilation or installing a dehumidifier to create a less appealing environment for termites.
  • Do not bury wood scraps or waste lumber in the yard, as it can attract termites. Dispose of these materials properly or consider the cost of a yard cleanup service to haul it all away.
repairman seals crack in the wall
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  • Seal cracks and crevices in the home’s foundation to prevent termites from entering. This creates a barrier and keeps them out.
  • Protect your firewood by storing it off the ground and away from your home. To prevent termites in your firewood, keep logs and kindling at least 30 feet from your home, and use concrete or metal stands.
Man inspecting for termites in a crawl space
Termite inspection
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  • Buy a termite bond from a termite control provider. Termite bonds include annual inspections and treatments if termites attempt to enter your house.

FAQ: Western Subterranean Termites

How Much Does Termite Control Cost?

Most homeowners pay $558 on average for termite treatment, but can cost between $275 and $863. Various factors come into play when evaluating the total cost of termite treatments. The price will vary depending on the extent of the infestation, the type of termites, and the treatment needed.

Are Western Subterranean Termites Dangerous?

Western subterranean termites are not dangerous to humans, but in terms of property damage, they pose a significant threat. Termites also jeopardize the structural integrity of homes and can weaken the wooden support beams and framing, leading to expensive repairs or hazardous living conditions.

Do Termites Make Noise?

Yes, termites make noise during two activities: communication and eating. To communicate, termite soldiers hit their heads against tunnel walls to create vibrations, a behavior known as head-banging. When termites eat wood, they produce a chewing sound.

When to Call a Pro

If you see signs of termite activity in your home, immediately contact a professional termite control company for an inspection. It can be challenging to deal with these dreaded pests on your own, especially if you have an infestation.

Let Pest Gnome connect you with a local termite control professional to take care of your pest problem quickly to save your home and spare your bank account. 

Main Image Credit: Ken-ichi Ueda / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 4.0 DEED

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.