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Unlike drywood and dampwood termite species, which cannot be found in the northeast, subterranean termites live in the soil beneath the ground surface. Subterranean termites are the most destructive and economically damaging group of termites, and multiple pest species can be found throughout the United States, but the most destructive species in the country, the eastern subterranean termite, is the only species found in Massachusetts.

Eastern subterranean termite colonies contain as few as 50,000 individual termites to as many as one million individual termites, and colony members are divided into three primary castes. These castes are known as workers, soldiers and reproductive royal pairs (queen and king). As colonies mature, an addition caste of secondary reproductives are produced in order to assist with reproduction when necessary.

The dirty white-colored workers are responsible for excavating structural wood, which they transport back to the colony in order to feed soldiers and the queen. Soldiers are unable to feed on their own due to their oversized mandibles, which are ideal for colony defense purposes. Since queens have a greatly distended abdomen, which makes them largely incapable of moving, they must be fed by workers. This occurs so that queen’s can accommodate the 5,000 to 10,000 eggs they produce per day over the course of their decades long lifespan.

Unlike the queen, workers live for a period of around 5 years, while soldiers typically live for 2 to 3 years. The vast majority of termites within subterranean termites colonies are workers, and in addition to excavating structural wood, workers are responsible for nest construction, as well as the construction of “mud tubes,” which provide workers with direct access to above ground wood sources. The presence of mud tubes running vertically along the foundation of homes proves that subterranean termites have established an infestation.

Have you ever encountered signs of a subterranean termite presence on your property?