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Top 10 Pests: Subterranean Termite

Argentine ant workers on leaf
Newly-emerged termite swarm

Photo © iStockphoto/Peggy Easterly

Subterranean Termite (Swarmers)

Scientific Name:
Reticulitermes flavipes (eastern subterranean termite) Reticulitermes hesperus (western subterranean termite)
Isoptera (termites)
U.S. Distribution:
Eastern subterranean termite occurs in eastern and central U.S. from the Canadian border south to Florida and west to Texas. Western subterranean termite occurs in the western U.S. from the British Columbia border south to Mexico and east to Idaho and Nevada.



This page has three tables, (1) Identification, (2) Look-alike Pests, and (3) Biology and Habits.


Match the Shape and Size Match the Color
Profile of argentine ant
Termite swarmer photo
  • Swarmer is 3/8-inch long (10 mm)
  • Antenna beaded and NOT elbowed (as in ants)
  • Thick "waist" not constricted as in ants and wasps
  • Four wings of equal size
  • No stinger
  • Wings smoky (eastern) to brownish-gray (western) and appear to "shimmer" in bright light
  • Dark brown to black body
Illustration © Pinto & Associates Photo Louisiana State University


Look-alike Pests

Look-alike Pest Differences

Formosan termite (Coptotermes formosanus)

Wings covered with fine hairs; color pale yellow to yellow-brown; larger--1/2-inch long
Drywood termite
(Cryptotermes spp. and Incisitermes spp.)
Front wings with 3 or more pigmented veins


Biology and Habits

Match the Food and Site Match the Habits and Damage
Hundreds of swarmers in window aerial view of neighborhood
  • Indoors, swarmers are attracted to light and may be found around doors and windows; sometimes only shed wings are found
  • Outdoors, swarmers may leave nest through mud swarming tubes ("castles") 4-8 inches above ground
  • Colonies are usually in the ground but can exist above ground if there is constant moisture
  • Reproductives don't feed while swarming; in an established colony, the king & queen are fed by workers
  • Worker termites (not swarmers) cause serious wood damage
  • Swarmers fly briefly, pair off, shed their wings, dig a soil nest, mate, and attempt to start a new colony
  • Swarmers (alates) are not produced before a colony is at least 3-4 years old
  • Swarms usually occur in spring (sometimes fall), often in the morning following a rain; there may be smaller secondary swarms as well
Photo © Pinto & Associates Photo by Phil Sloderbeck @ KSU

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