Destructive Termites in Alabama
Identification of the main destructive species

IMPORTANT: It is critical to identify the species and know the habits of destructive termites in a local region in order to formulate an appropriate control program. The species that cause severe structural timber damage to homes in Alabama are (1) the Eastern subterranean termite and (2) the Formosan subterranean termite.
CONTENTS: learn about these termites; the area of their distribution in Alabama; the timber damage they cause; their destructive nature and capabilities; the life cycle of each species; the fascinating life of a queen termite and her king permanently by her side; the armoured termite soldiers and the colony's tireless workers that can travel long distances and through tight minute crevices and gaps to get at a timber food source; identify the swarming "reproductive" termites; and receive professional tips on how best protect your home from the world's most efficient timber recycler .... subterranean termites.

Eastern subterranean termites

DISTRIBUTION IN THE USA: The Eastern subterranean termite is the most common and widely distributed termite in the USA. It is commonly found throughout Alabama, and causes severe economic loss in densely populated areas.
AREAS OF HIGH RISK IN ALABAMA include Alabaster, Albertville, Alexander, Anniston, Athens, Auburn, Bessemer, Birmingham, Cullman, Daphne, Decatur, Dothan, Enterprise, Eufaula, Fairfield, Fairhope, Florence, Fort Payne, Gadsden, Gardendale, Hartselle, Helena, Homewood, Hoover Hueytown, Huntsville, Jasper, Leeds, Madison, Millbrook, Mobile, Montgomery, Mountain Brook, Muscle Shoals, Northport, Opelika, Oxford, Ozark, Pelham, Pell, Phenix, Pleasant Grove, Prattville, Prichard, Saraland, Scottsboro, Selma, Sylacauga, Talladega, Troy, Trussville, Tuscaloosa, Tuskegee and Vestavia Hills.

Identification of Timber Damage

Eastern subterranean termites are highly destructive to douglas fir and other common building timbers widely used in the construction of homes in Alabama. In large numbers, the subterranean worker termite will rapidly devour the internal spring wood sections; preferring to leave the harder summer wood sections.

As a result, infested timbers are often left as a thin external shell, with layered "honey-comb" hollow sections (as illustrated) packed with moist soil. Eastern subterranean termites thrive in a moist dark environment. Moisture and humidity control are essential for their survival.

Destructive nature of Eastern subterranean termites

The Eastern subterranean termite is a serious economic timber pest causing millions of dollars of damage throughout Alabama. It is estimated that more than 1 in 5 homes in the urban areas of most Alabama cities have been or will be attacked at sometime by these voracious little insects.

The life-cycle of subterranean termites

Biology of Eastern subterranean termites

Eastern subterranean termites are a highly social insect centred around a primary breeding nest. The colony consists of several general castes, each with a different role to perform, and interdependent upon each other for their survival... the queen, king, the winged reproductives (young kings and queens), soldiers and the destructive workers.

Queen, King and attendant Workers

Worker Termites - do all the damage

THE QUEEN TERMITE is an egg laying machine, her body is enormous compared to her off-spring and she can live more than 25 years and produce more than 2,000 eggs a day.

THE KING and queen live in a central chamber and are feed and attended to by the worker termites.

WORKER termites are by far the largest caste in the eastern subterranean termite colony and
the one that does all the damage. They carry out all work in the nest, including gathering food (timber and other cellulose), constructing tunnels, repairing and enlarging the colony nest, grooming and feeding the soldiers, the king, queen and young nymphs in the nursery.
IDENTIFICATION: Eastern subterranean worker termites are small in size, about half the size of match-head or 1/8" long. They are a creamy translucent colour, soft bodied, have no wings, are sterile, blind and work 24 hours a day for their entire adult life-span.

SOLDIER termites are the defenders of the colony, particularly against marauding ants - with whom they have been at war for more than 250 million years.
IDENTIFICATION: the soldier termite has an orange coloured, rectangular armoured head, with mandibulate pinchers which they use to crush the ants. On their forehead is a fontanelle (frontal gland hole) used to squirt a sticky latex to ensnare the ants. The soldier's mandible pincers are curved at about 70 to 90 degrees. The body of the Eastern subterranean termite is flat, with the width of approx 1/32”.
CONSUMER NOTE: If you open termite infested timbers or their mud tunnels or shelter tubes, it is the soldier termites that rush out to guard the area whilst the workers repair the breach. The identification of these insects as "termites" means an immediate professional inspection and protective measures are essential to avoid further ongoing or extensive damage. Remember: the standard home insurance policy in Alabama, does NOT cover the costs of repairs or replacement of termite infested timbers in a home.

SWARMERS or REPRODUCTIVE termites - scientifically called "alates" are commonly seen by homeowners in Alabama, when they swarm in large numbers, generally in the spring, during daylight. They have eyes, are poor fliers but can be swept hundreds of yards, by the wind. When they land, they drop their wings, find a mate to become king and queen of a new termite colony.
IDENTIFICATION: Eastern subteranean termite "swarmers" are about 3/8" in length, including wings. They have a dark brown body and a small fontanelle (frontal opening) on it's head. Their wings are a brownish grey, with two dark solid veins along the forefront of the front wings, which are distinctly larger than hind wings.
WHEN DO THEY SWARM? In the northern part of their range, swarming takes place in the spring, but without rain. In the southern areas, swarming usually follows rain. Occasionally, a few smaller swarms may occur during the summer. Swarming most often occurs during the morning following a warm rain shower whereby the soil temperature is around 70°F. The swarmers are emitted in their thousands when a mature termite nest is large and well established.
CONSUMER NOTE: If you find swarmer termites in or around your home, it is a sure sign a large nest is close by and that your home is at high risk of a termite infestation.
Colony nest development is slow in the first few months, with the egg-laying capacity of the new queen termite peaking after a few years, producing up to 10,000 offspring a year. The queen may live for many years and workers up to two years.
Several years are required before the termite colony reaches the typically mature size. In some locations an Eastern subterranean termite colony can contain several million termites foraging over a wide area (up to 12,000 square feet) and actively feeding on trees and freestanding poles as well as buildings and other timber structures.
The colony nests of Eastern subterranean termites are usually located in the ground below the frost line, but above the water table. Mud galleries or "shelter tubes" are constructed across hard objects in order to gain access to timber food sources.
Eastern subterranean termites constantly search for new food sources. They are known to enter buildings through cracks in concrete flooring or to travel under parquetry or tile flooring through gaps of less than 1/16" wide.
Where moisture regularly collects inside the wall or other cavities of a building, say from faulty plumbing or broken roof tiles, the Eastern subterranean termite can develop a subsidiary colony nest which may not require contact with the ground to ensure it's survival.

They build a central colony nest from which they construct underground tunnels that radiate within a 100 yard radius from a central colony nest in search of a timber (cellulose) food source.
termites can build a sub-nest in a wall cavity of a home
The picture on the left shows a termite inspector examining an above ground termite subsidiary nest built inside a wall cavity of a home.
Termites often build such nests if moisture is allowed to regularly collects inside the wall cavity, say from leaking pipes, shower recess, faulty plumbing, guttering, broken roof tiles, etc.
Termites - the silent destroyers of timber
Termites travel in humidified mud-shelter tubes or galleries...
The picture on the left shows a mud shelter tube that subterranean termites have constructed over a solid object, in this case, a brick foundation wall in the sub-floor of a cottage.
Subterranean termites travel in these mud shelter tubes as protection from predators, sun-burn, dehydration and to maintain a high humidity environment which is essential for their survival.
Eastern subterranean termites are highly secretive, preferring to enter a building through areas inaccessible to inspection, such as, through in-fill patios, fire heaths, expansion joints and cracks in concrete slab (on-ground) flooring.
Eastern subterranean termites can pass through a 1/8" crack or an expansion joint (eating through the rubber compound) between adjoining concrete on ground flooring. They can also travel under parquetry and floor tiles to get to the wall framing timbers.

Eastern subterranean termites symbiotic digestive system

Only the worker termite caste can digest timber by the use of symbiotic protozoa in their gut. Worker termites feed their partly digested semi-liquid food, regurgitated from their mouth or passing from their anus, to the other termites, a process known as trophallaxis.
Eastern subterranean termites have a well ordered social system with amazing engineering capabilities and an acute survival instinct; they obtain moisture from the soil and moist decaying timber, and communicate using pheromone signals.
The mutual feeding, constant grooming and close social habits of termites are used to advantage in modern termite control baiting systems.

Certain hi-tech termite baits are now on the market that have a delayed lethal effect on termites which readily pass on the bait to other termites in the central colony nest during the mutual grooming and feeding.
Eastern subterranean termites need to maintain a high level of humidity and temperature (75 to 95°F) in their central colony nest.
Eastern subterranean termites eat through the centre of susceptible timbers leaving nothing but a thin veneer of timber and/or paint. They will pack mud in cracks and joints in timber to prevent loss of humidity and resultant dehydration.

As noted above, termites constantly groom and feed each other. A valuable technique for the termite controller is to instal and monitor a termite baiting system next to any live activity found in and around the premises where termite foraging is most likely to occur. Subsequent inspections (preferably monthly) may reveal dead or sick worker termites, they change colour to a mottle look, and spread of the termite bait to other termites leading to elimination of the colony.
The termite baits are designed to be non-repellant to the termites and has a unique delayed effect. Time enough to be passed onto the other termites in the colony including the queen, with a sufficient dosage leading to the elimination of the entire colony. This process is explained in detail in the Termite Control section of this website.

If you find these termites do NOT disturb them

Eastern subterranean termites have acute survival instincts. If they are shaken up or disturbed, the termites often will abandon the associated area and move on to secretly cause damage in other areas in the building. If you find eastern subterranean termites in or around your property, it is essential that you do NOT disturb them and promptly arrange for a professional inspection and application of a termite bait to the live termites, if present in abundance.

Subterranean Termites...
Mother Nature's most prolific builders

This picture shows a large above ground termite nest found in the Northern Territory of Australia. In the USA, most of the destructive subterranean termite species build their nest completely below ground level. A large Eastern subterranean colony in an urban environment in Alabama is most often unseen, until a serious problem is encountered.

Modern termite control methods include termite baiting systems; the installation of a treated soil barrier or eradication zone around the base of a building; and a range of cultural and home maintenance measures to make your home less susceptible to subterranean termite infestation.

Find Out How to Protect Your Home
Click on ... Termite Control

Formosan subterranean termites

AREA OF DISTRIBUTION: The highly destructive Formosan subterranean termite, (Coptotermes formanosus) is native to China, but has become entrenched in southern parts of USA including Alabama.
Formosan subterranean termites are a serious timber pest in and around the coastal regions of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, southern California, and Hawaii as well as, some inland towns and cities in these states.
DESTRUCTIVE NATURE: Formosan subterranean termites are the most aggressive and destructive timber pest in the United States. They are known to cause major structural timber damage to homes and buildings within a few months. A Formosan termite colony may develop to several million termites, foraging or consuming timber food sources with a 400 feet radius from the colony nest.
Principal food sources include buildings, trees, landscaping timbers, poles and other timber structures, including ships and barges. Infestation can occur to living trees, such as oak, cypress, pine and maple. Formosan subterranean termites often cause power failures by chewing through electrical cabling. Indeed a highly destructive voracious timber pest.
IDENTIFICATION OF TIMBER DAMAGE: Formosan termites eat mainly the spring wood of susceptible timbers, most often leaving the summer wood sections. Timbers infested by Formosan termites usually have layered sections packed with moist soil, particularly in high activity areas.
BIOLOGY & HABITS - FORMOSAN TERMITES: Formosan subterranean termites have a closely related life cycle, biological profile and habits as Eastern subterranean termites. They typically live in the ground with a queen termite, a king, soldiers and worker termites. A large mature nest will periodically emit swarmers in large numbers over a wide area to find a mate from another colony nest to start up a new colony.
WHEN DO THEY SWARM? Formosan subterranean termites swarm in huge numbers in late spring or summer; usually following a warm rainy day. They prefer to swarm in times of high humidity in the evening hours from dusk to midnight.
IDENTIFICATION OF SWARMERS: The swarmers are attracted to lights and are about 1/25'', including wings. Their body color is pale yellowish brown. A fontanelle (frontal gland pore) is present. The swarmers have four wings of equal size with dark hard veins in the front portion of the front wing. The wings are a translucent, slightly milky color and covered with tiny hairs.


Left.......Eastern Subterranean Termite - rectangular head

Right.....Formosan Subterranean Termite - rounded head

Both the Eastern and Formosan subterranean soldier termite have a small hole on their forehead, from which they may emit a white sticky latex to ensnare their enemies, primarily ants.
Formosan subterranean termites typically construct mud galleries or "shelter tubes" across hard objects in order to gain access to timber food sources. They are known to enter buildings through cracks in concrete flooring or to travel under parquetry or tile flooring through gaps of less than 1/16" wide. The space between the foundation and the first mortar joint is often enough space for termites to enter a home.
Formosan subterranean termites can establish secondary colonies in moist wood in wall cavities and even roof voids in upper stories of high rise buildings and do not need soil contact if there is a nearly constant moisture source, such as, from faulty plumbing, shower recess or broken roof tiles.
Due to it's size and aggressive foraging behaviour, a colony of Formosan subterranean termites can cause more damage than any other termite in the United States ... a large infestation can destroy the structural timbers in a home within several months.
Modern termite control methods include termite baiting systems; the installation of a treated soil barrier or eradication zone around the base of a building; and a range of cultural and home maintenance measures to make your home less susceptible to subterranean termite infestation.

Find Out How to Protect Your Home... Click on Termite Control
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