What are the different types of termites?

Termites are often known as silent destroyers because colonies of termites can thrive inside a home without any visible sign. Sometimes, entire apartments and building blocks are infested with termites, which go unnoticed by the property managers. These termites consume a cellulose-based plant material that is common in almost every major geographical area around the world. In fact, cities with lots of skyscrapers are a perfect breeding ground for termite infestation.

If your house or office is showing these signs, you might have a termite infestation on your hands!

Singapore has lots of skyscrapers and is prone to termite infestation.
Singapore has lots of skyscrapers and is prone to termite infestation.

What do termites look like?

Termites are a class of insects. Most of them are approximately ¼ to ½ inch long with a soft insect-like body and a straight antenna protruding from the front section. There are over 2000 different types of termites but all of them can be classified into only three or four major groups.

In a termite colony, the king and the queen can grow up to one inch long. The colour of these termites varies from white to light brown. Often, workers are lighter in colour and stay inside the colony whereas swarming termites are darker in colour. Among these are termites that fly, which are distinguished by two pairs of prominent wings.

Termites with wings are also known to reproduce, and they can spread their eggs to different parts of an apartment or a house.

A closeup of a termite.
A closeup of a termite.

What’s the difference between Termites and Ants? They’re both insects!

It often gets difficult to tell the difference between termites and ants if your house is infested by carpenter ants or a similar variety. As a first step, you should look for any dead insects in your house because it will allow you to observe the characteristics closely without disturbing the colony or a single insect.

The most noticeable difference between termite and ants is the elongated wings of termites. Any ant with wings will have smaller wings appropriate to its body. In contrast, termites with wings will have a larger set of wings than their body.

Another easily observable physical characteristic of termite is its angular shape without distinct segmentation of the body. On the other hand, an ant’s body is always segmented, which is visible by its thin narrow waist in the centre. In fact, you can tell the ant by looking at its body because it will be composed of three distinct parts.

Similarly, another difference between termites and ants is the antenna. An ant’s antenna is always bent or elbowed compared to the straight antenna of the termite. If it’s a carpenter ant or a similar variety, you will see them openly foraging for food as they are always reddish or dark-coloured.

While termite swarmers are also dark in colour, they do not look for food as ants do. In fact, an ant colony is easily detectible because there are definite signs of holes that have wood shavings below the holes.

f you’re lucky enough to detect the colony, try to look for worker termites because there will be plenty of creamy white workers in these colonies. Never try to disturb the termite colony because it can easily spread to other areas. Instead, you should wait for the pest control to come and deal with the issue.

If you’re still confused or want more information on the difference between ants and termites, HowStuffWorks has a great article on the physical and behavioural differences between ants and termites.

Physical characteristics of ants vs termites
Key physical characteristics of ants vs termites

What are the warning signs of a termite infestation?

While termite infections may remain invisible until the colony grows to a size that is easily detectable by a human observer, there are some tell-tale signs of infestation. For instance, if you observe a swarm of small winged insect around your home or apartment, it is a possible sign of termite infestation. It is also common to observe discarded wings from the flying insect. Before calling the professionals, you may be able to locate the exact spot of infestation by following the termites that fly.

If you see a cracked paint or paint that seems to bubble out of its foundation, it may be a termite infestation. Another visible sign of an infestation is a hollow wood. If you feel that a part of the wood feels hollow when tapped, it means that termites have fed on the wood making it hollow from inside. Similarly, if the termite colony grows to a larger size, you will likely notice mud tubes that are thin mud lines on walls, wooden beams, and crawl spaces.

White paint peeling off a wall due to termite infestation.
If your wall (or wooden table) looks like this, it screams termite infestation.

What are the different types of termites, then?

It always helps to acquire the basic knowledge about termites because it will encourage you to discuss your findings and concerns with pest control professionals. As previously discussed, termites can be divided into three main categories.

These three termite categories are subterranean termites, drywood termites, and dampwood termites.

If you really want to observe the termites, you need to look only at termites with wings. These termites are also known as soldiers and swarmers. Usually, worker termites in a termite colony look all the same; therefore, it is not very helpful to observe workers. You may also be able to differentiate between the types of termites in the termite colony just by looking at the damaged wood consumed by termites and the location of the nest.

Damaged planks of wood. Note the little holes in them – this is a common sign of a termite infestation in wood.

Type 1: Subterranean Termites

These subterranean termites are identified by swarmers that have two identical pairs of wings. These swarmers are dark-brown or black in colour, and they are usually ¼ or ½ inch long. On closer observation of the colony, you will also notice a creamy white coloured soldier that has a brownish coloured head. These soldiers don’t have any wings because they just protect their colony from outside attacks. Large jaws provide them with the necessary weapon to defend their colonies. Similarly, workers are the smallest of the bunch as most of them are either ¼ inches in length.

Type 2: Drywood Termites

The worker termites look similar in almost every termite colony; therefore, it seems logical to discuss the appearance of swarmers and soldiers. You can easily distinguish between the subterranean termites and drywood termites by looking at termites with wings.

Swarmers of a drywood termite colony quickly dispose of their wings, which is evident once they die. When looking at dead swarmers, you will likely not notice any attached wings in a swarmer body because they shed their wings quickly. On the other hand, dead swarmers of the subterranean termites may or may not have wings attached to them.

Soldiers, swarmers, and workers in a drywood termite colony have a large mouthpart compared to subterranean colonies. You can also distinguish between a subterranean termite and the drywood termite by looking at the size of the insects. Mostly drywood termites are larger than ¼ inch, which means that workers and soldiers are also between ¼ inch and ½ inch in length.

Unlike subterranean termites, these pests do not build their nest on the ground. Instead, the colonies thrive in a moist and humid environment. This makes it perfect for termites to thrive in Singapore!

If your flat is in an especially humid location (which is increasingly common nowadays), it will offer a perfect environment for hordes of termites that will chew tunnels inside the wood or other wooden objects.

These pests enter the home either through infested wooden furniture or a plank of exposed wood.

Don’t these look familiar? These jungle-native trees fit perfectly into humid Singapore.

Type 3: Dampwood Termite

Dampwood termites are often the easiest to recognize due to their larger size. Almost all winged swarmers, soldiers, and workers are often larger than ½ inch making them clearly visible through the human eye. In fact, any dead or alive swarmers are visible as dampwood termites that fly are often as large as one inch.

If you think that there are large termites in your house, these are most likely dampwood termites. Another common trait of dampwood termites is the presence of large head and pincers on the front, which should be easily detectable by anyone whose house gets infested with dampwood termite.

Your house or apartment is in danger of the infection if it’s located near the water or there are lots of green spaces with water. These termites impact wood or other natural material that rests directly on the ground. Dampwood termites are mostly attracted to lumber, fallen wood, and logs that are in contact with the ground because they offer the perfect resting place in a damp condition. Plus, if your home is damp and humid, it increases the chances of a mould infestation.

Sometimes, roof leaks and cracked drainpipes can also provide adequate conditions for the colonies of these termites to thrive. Accordingly, any support beams such as pillars and foundations are directly vulnerable to infestation, particularly if the support beam is exposed to damp conditions in an outdoor environment.

Unlike the two other major types of termites, the activity of dampwood termite is silent and secretive because they cover their entry holes with their own faeces. A wood decay, leaks, and fungus is often the first sign of the infestation.

Now that you’ve read this article on the differences between the types of termites, you may be worried that you have a termite infestation.

We here at Zenith Lab are termite pest control specialists in Singapore and use the latest technology to remove your termite infestation in a manner that is safe for the elderly, kids and pets. 

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