Where Do Termites Live?

  • Written By Dan Edwards on July 12, 2018
    Last Updated: November 24, 2020

Knowing where termites live can be useful. By blocking access to potential termite habitats, you can prevent infestations in and around your home. In this article I have detailed the three main species of termite, and where each prefers to live.

Recap: What Are Termites?

Termites are social insects that reside in colonies. Termite society is divided into three different classes: workers, soldiers, and reproductives.

The termite king and queen are the founders of the entire colony. They, along with the alates, are known as primary reproductives. They do not leave the nest. Termite alates are reproductive adults that are only produced by mature colonies. Any alate has the potential to be a king or queen (depending on the gender).

Termite alates leave the colony at certain times of the year. If they survive departing the nest and finding a suitable location, they start new colonies.

Secondary reproductives spend their lives inside the colony. They are also known as supplemental reproductives. In the event the king or queen dies, a secondary reproductive will assume reproductive duties.

Soldiers are sterile, blind termites that can be male or female. This caste defends and protects the colony. Soldiers either have strong jaws (mandibles) or the ability to excrete a toxic chemical. They can exit the nest if needed, to defend it.

The final and largest caste consists of workers. Worker termites are sterile and blind, as soldiers are. They feed, groom, and care for the other social classes. Workers perform nest construction and maintenance duties. They forage outside of the nest for sustenance and resources.

Where Do Termites Live?

There are three main species of termite that are considered pests in the U.S. These are: dampwood, drywood, and subterranean termites. Each type of termite prefers a specific habitat. All termites require cellulose to survive, which is found in wood. For this reason, despite their differences, these pests build their nests in or near wood – and they don’t always resemble those huge termite mounds you see on television.

Dampwood Termites

As their name suggests, dampwood termites build their nests in damp or wet wood. While they require at least some moisture, these termites can extend their nests to nearby dryer wood if necessary.

Wood that is rotting or saturated with moisture is ideal for dampwood termites. If the wood is directly in contact with soil, that is preferable.

Outdoors, dampwood termites will nest in sites such as decaying trees. If you live in a wet climate, neglected wood in your yard is a prime site for dampwood termites. This

includes wooden porches.

Inside your home, these termites will settle in similar areas. If you have leaky pipes that dampen nearby wood, you are at risk of attracting dampwood termites. As dampwood termites also require high humidity, they nest deep inside the wood rather than near the surface.

Drywood Termites

Drywood termites make their nests in dry wood. They do not need to have free access to moisture, unlike the other two types of termites.

The drywood termite can burrow deep inside wood. Infestations are difficult to detect until the colony produces swarmers, or you see termite feces. By this stage, the infestation is usually advanced.

They tend to disperse themselves widely throughout an infested structure. Rather than being centered in one place, they extend their nests through networks of galleries and tunnels. In one home, there can be several separate colonies of drywood termite.

While they can be found anywhere in a wooden structure, they are partial to higher areas. In your own home, this can include the attic and upper floors.

Subterranean Termites

Unlike drywood or dampwood termites, subterranean termites do not reside in wooden structures. Instead, they live underground.

Similar to dampwood termites, these termites cannot survive in dry environments. They require constant access to moisture in order to survive. Without moisture, subterranean termites would dehydrate and die. For this reason, they build their nests in damp soil.

In addition to the moisture in the soil, there are other advantages of building their nests below ground. There, the bulk of the colony is shielded from predators, such as other insects and reptiles.

The soil can also be used to construct tunnels above ground. These shelter tunnels allow worker termites to travel directly from the nest to the structure they are invading. Once they’ve invaded a wooden structure, they bring the food back to the underground nest to feed the colony.

There are some circumstances in which subterranean termites can live above ground. As long as there is sufficient humidity and the termites can access water freely, they can thrive. When subterranean termites live above ground, this is known as an isolated infestation. These can occur in locations on your property such as an attic with a leaking roof.