Reticulitermes flavipes


Physical characteristics: Kings and queens measure 0.4 inches (10.2 millimeters) from head to wingtips. Their bodies are black, except for their yellow leg segments. Soldiers have a long, straight-sided, almost rectangular yellow head with a pale spot on top. Their thick, black, toothless jaws are strongly curved inward at the tips. Workers are about 0.2 inches (5.1 millimeters) long, with creamy white bodies.

Geographic range: These termites are native to the forests of the eastern United States, from Maine south to Florida and west to Minnesota and Texas; they were introduced into Canada in southern Ontario and Quebec.

Eastern subterranean termites eat the wood of many kinds of trees, preferring the outer portion of the trunk. (©James H. Robinson/Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

Habitat: This species is found in deciduous (di-SID-joo-wus) hardwood forests, meaning forests of hardwood trees that loose their leaves in cold or dry weather.

Diet: Eastern subterranean termites eat the wood of many kinds of trees, preferring the outer portion of the trunk. Small, paper-thin layers of a dried paste made from their droppings divide their galleries. When working above ground in buildings and trees, they build protected tubes or shelters made from small bits of soil and saliva, lined inside with a paste made from their droppings.

Behavior and reproduction: Workers forage (FOR-ihj), or search, for food in shallow, narrow tunnels in the ground that connect stumps, logs, and roots. They also climb living trees to reach dead limbs or other areas with dead or rotten wood, and they attack landscaping items made of wood, such as fence posts, firewood piles, wood-chip mulch, scrap lumber, and flower planter boxes. From these items they invade nearby homes, sheds, and other structures. Since they feed inside exposed timbers or concealed wood frames, they can cause considerable damage over the years before they are found.

These termites do not build a nest structure. Instead, large, mature colonies consist of loosely connected galleries occupied by an extended family, with several kings and queens producing broods that contribute to the overall colony. Colonies expand, shrink, and move as foraging areas run out of food and new sources are found. The termites make their egg and nursery chambers inside logs, stumps, and other large items of wood that have plenty of moisture. Timbers in homes and other buildings are usually dry, and termites seldom use them as sites for their egg laying or for raising their broods. In winter they move down into the soil, beneath the frost line.

Eastern subterranean termites and people: This is one of the most important and destructive termite pests in eastern North America. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent every year to control them and repair the damage they do. Shelter tubes crossing over the foundation of a structure are the clearest signs of their presence in homes and other buildings.

Conservation status: This species is not endangered or threatened.

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