Top Ten Facts About Termites

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The last thing any property owner wants to hear are the words, "You have a termite infestation." That's because we know that termites can completely destroy a home or business by feeding on the wood, and the damage they do can be difficult to completely repair. But, beyond their potential destructive capability, most people don't know all that much about termites. Let's take a look at some facts you might not know about termites and see what they reveal about termite control. The more you know about termites, the harder it will be for these sneaky insects to eat away at your equity.

termite on a log outside a new jersey home

Fact #1: Termites don't just eat wood.

When a termite comes onto your property, it won't feed on only the wood of your home. Termites don't exclusively eat wood. They eat anything that contains cellulose. Cellulose is an indigestible carbohydrate found in many of the foods we eat, such as corn, cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, kale, cauliflower, and more. Cellulose is a basic building block in the cell walls of plants. What does this tell us about termite infestations? Well, if you have a garden, termites could create a big problem for you, since they don't only eat wood. And, a garden that is close to your home may add more incentive for termites to come into your yard and get into your home. If you find termites in your garden, there is a high probability that they are feeding on your home as well.

This fact also reveals that, when termites get into a home, they will eat more than just the wood. There are many other products that have cellulose in them including wallpaper, sheetrock, paper, clothing, cardboard boxes, and more. Sometimes, workers will exit a wall and enter into a pile of clothes or boxes to feed. This can cause widespread damage through these items. If you have items in storage, consider putting them in plastic totes.

Fact #2: A queen termite can live more than 20 years.

Many insects live for a very short amount of time. A male mosquito, for instance, is not going to live more than a week. This is not the case with termites and especially queen termites. A termite queen can live more than 20 years. Some estimate this to be as long as 50 years. That means this pest will live longer than your beloved pet. The lifespan of the average dog is between 10 and 13 years and cats can live upwards of 18 years. That means your termite infestation isn't going to go away anytime soon. In fact, termite infestations grow over time. Not only will the attacking colony grow to meet the challenge of consuming all the wood sources on your property, they will also release winged reproductives (called swarmers) to create new colonies around your home, increasing the amount of damage they do exponentially. Under the right conditions, catastrophic damage can occur in only a few short years. But, most of the time, it is a slow process. These are not temporary pests. They're in it for the long haul.

Fact #3: Termites never sleep.

termites eating through drywall inside a new jersey home

Termites are simple organisms that do not require sleep. While this may sound like a good thing, it is not. Don't picture in your mind's eye sleepless drones that burn themselves out in a couple of weeks. A worker termite can live several years. And, if they couldn't, those workers can easily be replaced by new workers. A single queen can produce as many as 30,000 eggs in one day! In her lifetime, that's over a hundred million potential termites produced by one colony. But, termite colonies do no stay one colony for long. They send out swarmers and replicate. Each colony is able to produce worker termites that never sleep. When they get into your home, they can consume the wood 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, under the right conditions. Every waking moment (which is all of the moments) those worker termites will be searching for food in and around your home. That is why it is so important to have a complete barrier around your home or business. Those hard-working, never-sleeping termites will find a hole in your chemical barrier if it is not installed by a certified and experienced professional. Trained professionals know how much product to apply, which products to use, how to space injections of the product, and when to administer the product again to ensure continued protection.

Fact #4: Termite swarms don't last long.

There are a lot of misconceptions about termite swarmers in New Jersey. One that is probably the least known is that swarms don't last very long. When termite swarmers exit a colony and take to the air, they only swarm for about 30 minutes. After that, they get busy shedding their wings, mating, and establishing new nests. This is important to understand because it gives insight into what it means when you see termite swarmers crawling on the outside of your home or, worse, crawling around on the inside. Since swarms don't last long, they don't travel far. So those swarmers probably came from somewhere on your property or somewhere nearby. That means you have an active and mature colony nearby that has probably already done some damage to your home.

Fact #5: Termite workers don't have functional eyes but they avoid light.

A worker lives its entire life in darkness. It has no need for usable eyes. But it does have simple eyes that can detect light. This sense may not help it get around but it serves it well by helping to prevent a worker from accidentally chewing a hole to the outside and exposing the colony to the drying effects of the sun.

It also helps them stay hidden when they feed on a home. Workers must sometimes create mud shelter tubes to go from the soil to the wood of a home. Since they prefer pitch darkness, these mud tubes (which are a sign of termite infestation) are usually created in places that are difficult to see into or climb into. Even in a crawl space under a home, which is already quite dark, termite workers may form shelter tubes inside concrete piers where they can elude a quick inspection. For this reason, experienced termite inspectors will use a flashlight and a mirror to look down into each and every pier. 

Fact #6: Termite swarmers love the light.

Male and female reproductives have the ability to see. They use this ability to find a mate and establish a new colony. And, since their job is to exit the old colony in search of a new place to be, they are drawn to the light. This helps them find their way to the surface and take to the air. Often, this will happen in the early morning when the sun begins to rise.

There are two things you should know about this attraction to light, as it relates to termite control. When you leave exterior lights on, or shades open at night, you may draw termite swarmers in close to your home. The closer a termite nest is to your home, the faster those termites will be able to damage your home. Second, termites that appear on inside window panes are not termites that go into your home. They are termites looking for a way out of your home.

Fact #7: There is more than one kind of termite.

colony of termites inside a new jersey home eating at the framing and structure of the home

Termites can be broken down into three classifications: subterranean, drywood, and dampwood termites. Of the three, subterranean termites are head and shoulders above the rest in terms of property damage. In the United States, subterranean termite damage costs U.S. property owners billions annually. That is more than drywood and dampwood termites combined. While it is not good to have any termites feeding on the wood of your home, a subterranean termite infestation is decidedly worse.

When it comes to protecting a home from termites, it is vital to get inside the mind of a termite and think from the ground up because that is how subterranean termites think. In our service area, subterranean termites don't live inside man-made structures. They live nearby and attack these structures from the ground. If you're looking to find signs of a termite infestation, you're probably going to have to dig. By digging in the right locations, you may undercover this type of termite right below the surface.

What are the right locations? Termites establish themselves under wood or inside wood. If you have a stump or a log in your yard, they may be inside or under these two prime locations. If you have mulch around your home, they may be in the soil, under that mulch. Termites will be drawn to moist, dark locations and areas where untreated wood is available. If you have a shed or outbuilding, this might be the first place subterranean termites attack. In areas where there is leaf litter or sticks, termites may create a nest under the ground beneath. This nest will remain after the leaves have been raked. So, any spot on your lawn can have a colony. These colonies will usually be deep under the ground. If you find termites when digging, it will usually be termite workers and soldiers. Uncovering a king, queen, or termite larvae is a sign of an extreme infestation.  

Fact #8: There are no dead-beat dads in a termite colony.

Winged swarmers are made up of male and female alates. The females will go on to be the queen of a new colony. But she doesn't begin her new nest alone. The male she decides to mate with becomes the "king" of the colony and stands by his queen. Both of these termites live in the heart of the colony their entire lives. While the role of the king is somewhat mysterious and not fully understood by scientists, it is clear that he has an important role to play.

Understanding how important the king is to his queen won't help you protect your property from termite damage, but the way these two termites mate can give you a warning sign to look for. Before the queen creates her new nest, she and her king will shed their white wings and mate for the first time. Since termite swarms only last several minutes, these shed wings may be the only sign that termites are present on your property.

Look for termite wings around the perimeter of your home, garage, shed, and other outbuildings. These wings will be white and uniform in length. Termite swarmers are larger than other termites but still quite small. That means their wings are going to be small. Fortunately, there should be many wings littered in one place. One great place to find wings is in spider webs. The webs created by spiders are nature's sticky traps. They're useful tools for examining pest pressures around a man-made structure. 

Fact #9: Termites communicate with smells and sounds.


There are many smells that can affect the behavior of termites. As mentioned above, the smell of pathogens during grooming can make termites act defensively. But termites also use smell to communicate with each other. The queen, in particular, produces pheromones (chemicals released from special glands that have a scent to them) to inspire worker termites to develop into soldiers or swarmers. A worker termite releases pheromones from a gland on the underside of its abdomen to mark trails for other workers to find food. Worker ants do this same thing. Scents are very important to termites as they have a powerful impact on a colony. This is important to understand when applying DIY methods to control termites. When done wrong, DIY termite control can make the problem worse. When a threat is perceived, it can cause alates to develop reproductive organs and begin to assist the queen in the production of offspring. It is also possible for budding to occur. This is when a colony splits into two or more colonies. Thus expanding the foraging territory of the original colony.


While you're not likely to ever hear termites, they do make sounds. These sounds are usually subtle and only perceptible if you use something to amplify the sound, such as a stethoscope. In rare cases, when many individual termites are in one location, it is possible to hear them without amplification. What does it sound like? Some describe it as a rustling or clicking sound. This is the sound of soldier termites hitting their heads against tunnel walls to warn other termites of a potential threat.

Fact #10: Termite workers are the only termites that eat food.

termites eating through a new jersey homes wall

In a colony, there is a queen, a king, larvae, nymphs, male and female reproductives, soldiers, and workers, but only the workers eat food. The rest of the colony get their food through a process called trophallaxis. We won't gross you out with all the details but, essentially, it is a process of sharing food and fluids from termite to termite. During this process, they also groom each other. They do this for more than just hygiene. Grooming allows each termite to inspect for dangerous odors. If odors are detected, the termite workers will begin to avoid the location the "dirty" work has been. This is how they avoid threats.

The manufacturers of Termidor, America's #1 termite control product, understand this behavior and use it against those termites. When a termite worker passes through Termidor termiticide, it gets it on its body but, since the odor of Termidor is designed to be undetectable to termites, that worker doesn't realize it has been exposed to a colony-destroying agent. It then ingests this agent when it grooms itself and shares it with others who groom him. That worker will also share the ingested agent through trophallaxis. Slowly, it works its way back through the workers and soldiers and into the heart of the termite colony, infecting male and female reproductives and eventually the queen. When the queen dies, and there is no female reproductive to take her place, the colony dies with her. Read more about the effectiveness of liquid termite treatments.

Arrow Premier

If you’re looking for a program that protects your home and family from common household pests PLUS termites and other wood-destroying insects, we recommend Arrow Premier. With this program, you get quarterly pest control and a wood-destroying insect program in one package! 

  • Protects your home all year long.
  • Consists of full interior and exterior inspections and treatments.
  • Covers your entire property* including the attic, mailbox, play set, shed, and fence.
  • Includes a certified termite inspection and ongoing termite control.

Pests targeted with Arrow’s Premier includes cockroaches, silverfish, spiders, earwigs, clover mites, millipedes, centipedes, crickets, ground beetles, boxelder bugs, ants (including carpenter ants, pharaoh ants and acrobatic), fleas (inside only), pillbugs, sow bugs, fruit flies, stored product pests, bees, wasps, hornets, carpenter bees (no higher than 10ft), mice, and rodents PLUS termites

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