Termites Look Different Depending on their Role in the Colony

Termite colonies have workers, soldiers and reproductive members. Each group has special physical characteristics that identifies what termites look like.

It’s essential to know which termite group is causing problems because each one is quite different biologically and, therefore, requires different methods of control. Identify the species to help both prevent termites and exterminate them.

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Worker termites are generally light in color, white to yellow. They don’t have eyes or wings as they spend their lives digging inside tunnels and in the wood they consume. It is more useful to identify what the soldiers or reproductive termites look like to determine a termite treatment plan.
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Soldiers have enlarged dark reddish-brown heads with huge mandibles to protect the colony from intruders like carpenter ants. This is a Formosan termite soldier, a more aggressive and destructive subterranean species spreading across Texas. Formosan termites have rounded heads whereas a native subterranean has a rectangular head.


The king and queen reproductive termites are the swarmers, and the largest in the colony at a size between1/4 and 3/8 of an inch. These termites look like a brownish yellow to dark color with flattened bodies and large eyes. They have two pairs of narrow, equal-sized translucent wings. Their darker brown color allows them to leave the colony without losing moisture.

Flying Ants vs. Flying Termites

There are a lot of interesting termite facts that may help you prevent and identify termite species. Termites with wings are often confused with other species, such as flying ants. But ants and termites have basic differences that make them easy to identify.

  • Antennae
    Termite antennas are straight, while ant antennae have a bend in them like the elbow of our own arm.
  • Body Shape
    Ants have three separate body parts with a very narrow and easy to see 'waist' between the thorax and abdomen. Termites look like one large lower abdomen section and no waist.
  • Wings
    The four wings on flying termites are all the same size and shape. Wings on flying ants feature one larger and one smaller wing on each side.
  • Color
    While most ants are darker in color, worker termites look like a light colored and almost transparent insect with no eyes.
Flying Ants vs Flying Termites - Austin TX - YardDoc 395x300
Flying Ant

Flying Termites

Termites of all Texas species include a flying, reproductive caste. New colonies are created when these winged termites swarm. Swarming typically occurs within ten days of rain. A single colony may have several swarms in a year, and not all colonies will swarm every year. It usually takes a new colony two to three years to start doing serious damage to structural wood.

After swarming and establishing a new home, reproductive termites shed their wings. One of the first signs of termites is discarded wings near window sills, door entries, exterior lighting, and vents.

Types of Termites in Austin, TX

There are four prominent types of termites found in the Travis County area according to Texas A & M University, and each has its own unique characteristics.

  • Native Subterranean
  • Formosan Subterranean
  • Drywood
  • Agricultural

Subterranean Termites

There are both native and Formosan subterranean termites in Austin. Subterranean colonies live underground in moist soil or near a water source. To get to wood that is not in contact with the soil, they build mud tubes or tunnels to access the wood. As they burrow up into wood, they leave behind hollow trails and spaces inside beams and boards.

Not native to Texas, but rapidly spreading, is the Formosan variety of subterranean termites. They were introduced in the 1950s through contaminated soils and wood. Known as 'Super Termites', Formosans grow larger, form larger colonies, and cause a lot more property damage faster than most other termite species.

Drywood Termites

Unlike Subterraneans, Drywood termites do not nest in the ground. Instead, they enter a structure through vents, cracks under eaves, and any small space they can to reach dry wood. They build their colony’s home right into the dry wood, consuming wood as they go, and depositing fecal pellets behind them.

Drywood termites do not need a water source because they can make their own water from the wood they eat. It's a process called oxidative metabolism. Drywood termites can live in any wood source, from baseboards to structural beams to furniture. They are harder to exterminate.

Agricultural Termites

Also known as grass or desert termites, agricultural termites are not harmful to your home because they do not consume wood. Instead, they feed on agricultural waste like dead grass and hay.

Comprehensive Termite Inspection

If you suspect termites on your property, call YardDoc pest control for a thorough inspection by a certified technician.

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