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A Guide to Subterranean Termites

swarm of termites up close

While all of these types of termites can cause significant damage to your home, subterranean termites are the most widespread, being present in every state except Alaska. We will arm you with everything you need to know about this destructive insect and give you the advice you need to keep them from invading your home.

What Are Subterranean Termites?

Subterranean termites are a family of termites composed of over 345 different species. They form massive colonies that can range from 60,000 to over 2,000,000 termite workers. Known for actively feeding 24/7, these groups are made up of three distinct subcategories:

  1. Reproductive termites, which breed to increase colony size.
  2. Workers, which do the primary damage to your home and are responsible for feeding the group.
  3. Soldiers, which protect the other termites from attack. 

These colonies take several years to establish themselves, but the queen of the colony can lay as many as 1,000 eggs a day! They typically swarm in the spring immediately following warm rainfall.

What does a subterranean termite look like? Here are some of the main traits:

  • White or brownish-black in color.
  • Around ⅛ inch long.
  • 6 legs and antennae.
  • Long, narrow, and oval-shaped.

Drywood Termites Vs. Subterranean Termites

At first glance, it can be hard to tell drywood and subterranean termites apart. However, there are some key differences you should know. 

Some of the main differences between drywood and subterranean termites:

  • Drywood termites occupy a smaller portion of the country, generally living in humid and coastal areas due to their need for moist air. Subterranean termites, on the other hand, can be found all over the country. 
  • Drywood termites tend to form smaller colonies ranging from 2,500 to 10,000 members.
  • Subterranean termites live beneath the ground while drywood termites live inside the wood they feast on. 
  • While they are similar in appearance overall, drywood termites grow larger than subterranean termites, with adults reaching anywhere from ¼ inch to ⅜ inch in length.

Both types of termites are bad news for your home, but it’s important to identify which one you’re dealing with to determine the best treatment plan. If you’re not sure, call up a professional pest control expert for advice at 515-518-8864

Signs of Subterranean Termites

Subterranean termites are best known for the mud tubes they create on the sides of homes, which are used as pathways for these insects so they can travel without risking being dried out by the sun. Unlike drywood termites, they will not leave piles of feces, as this excrement is used to construct their mud tunnels along with saliva and wood particles. 

Other signs of subterranean termites:

  • Soft wood.
  • Bubbling paint.
  • Hollow-sounding wood.
  • Discarded wings after a swarm has landed.

Getting Rid of Subterranean Termites

Is getting rid of subterranean termites hard? For the average person, yes. Because of the sheer size of these colonies, few DIY treatments are effective. These pests are notorious for feeding constantly, night and day, so you don’t want to risk investing in treatments that won’t stop these termites completely. When you work with a professional termite exterminator, you’ll have the advantage of having a range of treatment options to meet your home’s needs. With termites, it’s better to err on the side of caution. 

Common types of treatments for subterranean termites: 

  • Repellent liquid termiticide: This solution is often the most inexpensive professional treatment. Trenching, drilling, and soil injections are used to repel termites from your home. Common brands of repellent termiticide used by professionals include Tribute, Dragnet, Prelude, and Prevail.
  • Non-repellent liquid termiticide: While often slightly more expensive than repellent options, this treatment is generally more effective because it kills colony members rather than simply driving them away. Common brands your exterminator might use include Premise, Termidor, and Phantom.
  • Bait systems: This treatment plan is the most eco-friendly and least invasive termite treatment, as it does not involve drilling into your home’s foundation and does not risk water pollution as liquid treatments do. Likewise, bait systems generally come with warranties and guarantees from certified professional exterminators. They are generally installed in the ground around your home; worker termites will be drawn to the stations and then take the toxic bait back to their colony, destroying them from the inside out. 

Will Borax Get Rid of Subterranean Termites?

No, not really. While this approach is often suggested as a cheap, natural approach to termite treatment, it is rarely effective. While Borax, otherwise known as Boric acid, is generally found as a powder and is believed to poison termites when consumed, its effectiveness is up to question. It will not penetrate fully into a colony, and it takes significant time to even kill the termites that are exposed to it. Likewise, rain can reduce its effectiveness, so consistent and frequent applications will be necessary to see even a minimal effect. To protect your home from the expensive damage subterranean termites can damage, Borax won’t be a safe bet.​

What is the Best Treatment for Subterranean Termites?

Due to their sheer destructiveness, when you’re dealing with subterranean termites, it’s best to call in a professional. Working with a qualified termite exterminator can be the difference between eliminating a colony completely or suffering massive damage to your home and savings. 


Here at Miller Pest & Termite, we’re proud to provide quality termite control in Des Moines, Kansas City, and Omaha Areas. We utilize exterior treatments and termite monitoring stations, including the eco-friendly Sentricon® System, to eradicate termite colonies from the inside out. Give us a call today at 515-518-8864 to learn more about what we can do to help you protect your home. 

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