Comparison of Subterranean and Drywood Termites

Written by Vivienne E. Harris, Ph.D., (dec.)
Reviewed and edited by Faith Oi, Ph.D., University of Florida
Updated by BJ Jarvis, Pasco Cooperative Horticulture Extension Agent

 NOTE:  The bottom line with termites is that most of us have a hard time differentiating between the types of termites, and it is important to know these differences as each type is treated differently.

Eastern and Formosan Subterranean Termites

Drywood and
Some Dampwood Termites

  • In ground (20% aerial; no ground connection)
  • Travel to structures through ground
  • Make mud tubes (a covered highway) - protection from dehydration and predators when leaving ground.
  • Inside the wood they infest (structural wood; furniture); don't require soil contact
  • No mud tubes
  • Can arrive and infest from air
  • Require much less moisture than subterraneans
  • Two dark thick veins
  • After indoor flights, dead alaates found often with wings still attached
  • Daylight swarming (native eastern subterranean termites)
  • January to May (smaller swarm in the fall)
  • Three or four dark thick veins
  • Shed wings within minutes of landing; so usually find wings and bodies separate
  • Night swarming (most species)
  • Varies with species

Alate (reproductive)
of the West Indian drywood termite


Drywood Termite Wing

Drywood termite wing (note dark thick veins)


Native eastern subterranean termite


  • Rectangular head (*but see below)
  • Pronotum (hard plate on back of the exoskeleton) narrower than head
  • Mandibles don't have "teeth"
  • Head round in some species but variable
  • Pronotum (hard plate on back of the exoskeleton) wider than head
  • "Teeth" on mandibles of some species
  • Eat along grain of wood
  • Eat spring wood only (softer)
  • Eat across and along grain of wood
  • Eat spring wood and hard summer wood
  • Usually moist; no ridges; used to line galleries and tunnel
  • Contain lignin (undigested wood)
  • Incorporate feces into mud tubes (carton = chewed wood, feces and soil)
  • Dry and hard, six-sided (color varies; color not associated with type of wood eaten)
  • Rectal pads can reabsorb H2O from feces before expulsion.
  • Kick holes - where fecal pellets are pushed out from wood - see small piles on floor
Formosan Subterranean Termites
  • Large colonies (to 10 million versus a few thousand to 5 million for eastern subterranean termites)
  • Build nests made of carton (native subterranean termites don't build as much carton)
  • Nests are large rock-like masses, usually below ground, but if plenty of moisture and no extreme temperatures, can be in structures - common in chimneys and wall voids (nest fills void)
  • Swarm in evening (dusk), April-June, (smaller swarm in Fall)
  • ALATES have hairy wings
  • SOLDIERS have oval* heads with fontanelle (soft spot) on front top end (small pore)

Formosan subterranean termite
(Note the small hairs on wings of swarmers)


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Subterranean termites

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