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What’s the Difference Between Formosan and Subterranean Termites

Updated on: May 25, 2022

Termites may appear to the typical homeowner to be all the same – small, tenacious bugs that gnaw into the wood and cause structural damage. However, it’s different for pest control companies who understand which ones you're dealing with, and its importance in managing and eradicating the infestation. Formosan termites and the subterranean termites are two types of termites that are sometimes mistaken for one another, but there are clear differences between the two. 

So what are the differences between Formosan and subterranean termites? Some of their distinctions include appearance, size, preferred food source, desired habitat, colony size, levels of damage caused, and more. To best handle your termite and pest problems, it's best to be able to spot the differences, especially if you would like to handle them yourself. These pests are known for multiplying quickly and hatching multiple eggs per day, so being able to eradicate them quickly could potentially solve future headaches and costly damages. 


What’s the Difference Between Formosan and Subterranean Termites?

Due to its great destructive capacity, the Formosan termite is the most feared termite in the United States. This is the most ravenous, aggressive, and deceptive termite species among the 2,000 known species. While it’s classified as a subterranean termite, it differs significantly from the Reticulitermes or subterranean termite.

Formosan Termites

Formosan termites (Coptotermes formosanus) are termites that like warm weather and are found in large numbers across the southern states, including Louisiana, and even out east in North Carolina.

This termite was initially brought from East Asia and is also known as an introduced subterranean termite. These clever social insects have been detected as far north as the Canadian border, despite their origins in the southern United States. As a result, experts anticipate that Formosan termites will eventually become commonplace in the United States.

Formosan termites utilize mud tubes to supply moisture to their colonies, which they create in the soil. These termites consume wood and other cellulose-based materials, and their successful working colony members comprise reproductives, workers, and soldiers. Formosan termites are tenacious and violent in the defense of their colonies.

They may also do significant and hundreds if not thousands of dollars in damage in a short period of time since the queen can produce one to two thousand eggs in a single day.

Subterranean Termites

With reproductives, workers, and soldiers as well among their colonies, subterranean termites (Reticulitermes) have a remarkably successful functioning order that could rival Formosan termites.

They rely extensively on this operating order, particularly in the spring when swarmers are sent out to breed. The queen may produce thousands of eggs every day, which hatch into deadly termites, meaning they too are capable of destroying an entire structure in a short period of time.

Subterranean termites, like other termites, reside in underground colonies and spend their days looking for food. Their termite colony has a population of two million. Wood and cellulose materials make up a subterranean termite's diet, while the termites acquire their moisture via mud tubes.

Which of The Two Is Worse?

Some coastal property owners are terrified of the Formosan species of termite, and with good reason: once a colony of Formosan termites has established itself in an area, there has never been successful Formosan termite extermination.

This is due to the fact that they construct extensive tunnels between colonies. They also don't have to reside in the soil to survive. The termites may leave the secure and moist earth and carve out a new nest in their above-ground habitat whenever they locate a rich food supply.

How They Look Like

Despite the fact that Formosan termite workers are larger than subterranean termite workers, it can be difficult to discern the difference visually (particularly for property owners), a clear distinction is the colony's soldiers that assist homeowners to identify which termite they've encountered.

Soldiers have a bigger head than laborers and dark black pincers on the front. If you capture one of these troops and examine it under magnification, the huge head will seem oblong. You've got a subterranean termite if it's more rectangular in shape.

Meanwhile, the outward appearance of the two termites is a second distinction. The body of a Formosan termite is longer than the head, which has two short pinchers. Lengthy heads and bodies with long pinchers characterize subterranean termites.

The transparent orange tint of Formosan termites contrasts with the translucent gray/brown color of subterranean termites. In their swarmer phase, when they go out hunting for partners to reproduce their colonies, they have extended wings and resemble flying ants.

In addition, winged Formosans (also known as alates) are tan or brown in hue, whereas other alates are dark brown or black in color.

Where and How They Live

The fundamental difference between Formosan and subterranean termites, however, is that Formosan termites construct "cartons" that provide moisture to their nests. Unlike subterranean termites, they can develop nests without needing to return to the earth for hydration.

This little but useful feature helps Formosan termites to be exceptionally efficient in their job order since they can carry moisture to their nests without having to go back to the soil. Subterranean termites prefer to dwell underground, in contrast to Formosan termites. This is due to the fact that certain termite species require wetness in order to live.

They require a link to the earth in order to maintain their nest and tunnels moist enough to thrive, as well as to get materials for tunnels and nests. They may build above-ground nests if it has adequate moisture available. This is why most pest control companies would advise you to check for any water or liquid leaks that would attract termite habitation.

Between 20,000 and 5 million termites can live in a termite colony. Formosan queens produce young quicker than any other termite species, hence Formosan termite colonies are often bigger. There will be more younglings to feed as a result of this. Both of these termite species are capable of establishing a colony on the earth, typically beneath the frost line. Formosan termites, on the other hand, are remarkable in that they may establish a satellite colony on a structure's second level. To preserve moisture in their nests, Formosan termites coat them with excrement. However, subterranean termites don't have this problem, they use neighboring ground nests to enter and exit a building.

Formosan termites are able to do greater harm since they may build a nest within a structure. Only if a subterranean termite colony is immediately under a building can it compete with a Formosan colony. Because of the close proximity to your home, pulling up some mulch near your foundation and finding hundreds of white-winged insects indicates a major infestation.

What They Eat

Termites all consume the same thing: wood, thus your house's structure, bookshelves, shelving, and furniture are all vulnerable to termites. Formosans have been reported to attack various types of live plants as well as non-cellulose materials such as plaster, asphalt, plastic, and thin sheets of soft metals, in addition to the cellulose in wood. Subterranean termites eat only softer wood than dry wood termites and prefer to construct tunnels in wood that run parallel to the grain.

To go around above ground and seek food, subterranean termites utilize mud tubes. The tubes assist to keep the termites safe from predators by maintaining a humid environment for them. A combination of earth, wood, saliva, and excrement is used to make these tubes.

They’re dark brown in color and may be discovered along with a property's foundations, as well as along floor seams inside the structure, where termites enter from the surrounding ground. These mud tubes could potentially be an indicator that you have a subterranean termite problem.

Kinds of Damage Caused

What distinguishes these termites from others is the amount of wood they devour collectively, rather than how much wood they consume individually. Several million Formosan termites can be found in a single colony (as opposed to the several thousand or hundred thousand usually found in common subterranean and dry wood colonies).

The damage caused by a swarm of millions of termites eating on a single structure may be devastating. Termites do billions of dollars worth of damage to homes and businesses each year.

However, between these two termite types, the Formosan termite will emerge victorious in the contest of who does the most damage. Over the course of a year, Formosan termites in Louisiana alone caused $500 million in structural and property damage.

The state of Hawaii usually budgets annual control expenses in the order of $100 million to battle the harm caused by these pernicious insects. Florida, too, sets aside $60 million every year to cover the cost of Formosan termite damage.

Formosan termites are more difficult to eradicate because they don't reside in the soil. This limits the treatment choices available to pest control specialists, making infestations more difficult and costly.

Controlling These Termites

While there are variations between Formosan termites and Reticulitermes termites, they are both technically subterranean termites that are managed using the same termite-control procedures. Bait treatments are a great solution to keep your home safe against Formosan and other subterranean termite species.

Baiting is so effective because it mimics and targets subterranean termite behavior. Termites will emerge from the earth to feast on your property and you should place them close to these entrances to their colonies. Termite workers attract other termites to feast on the food they locate and take them back to their colonies where the slow-acting poison will start to kill these termites.

Trophallaxis is the mechanism through which termite workers exchange their food with other termites as they eat. This aids in the movement of the active substance from one termite to the next throughout the colony.

Since the active element isn't a toxin, the termites are unaware that they're in danger. They are delighted to share it with the rest of the colony. They share a substance that keeps them from molting when they ingest it and termites die if they’re unable to molt.

Termite Prevention

Dead trees, junk timber, and cardboard should all be removed from your yard and trim your plants and landscaping to a minimum of one foot from your house. Repair any leaks in outdoor faucets, water lines, indoor fixtures, drains, and appliances.

Keep mulch as far away from your property as possible if you use it in your landscaping. Any cracks in your walls or foundation should be repaired and termite checks should be done on a regular basis.

Most homeowners won't be able to distinguish between Formosan and subterranean termites since both create tunnels in the soil, unlike dry wood termites, which live within the wood.

Unfortunately, recognizing termite indications can be difficult, and infestations are frequently overlooked until it’s too late. Knowing the difference between drywood and subterranean termites, as well as the indications to watch for, will help you defend your house against these wood-eating insects.

If you observe winged termites fluttering about your doors and windows, you're probably dealing with an infestation. If termites have already infested your property, the first thing you should do is hire a pest control firm to do a complete examination and then have termite control treatment performed.

The expense of termite treatment will not look exorbitant when you consider the amount of damage termites may cause to your home's foundation and furniture.

PermaKill Exterminating - The Best Pest Control Service To Get Rid of Subterranean and Formosan Termites

Pest control experts

A skilled eye is required to detect concealed termite infestations. PermaKill Exterminating’s team of termite exterminators carefully examines the extent of damage and infestation in order to recommend the best treatment plan and professional service for your property.

PermaKill Exterminating is the best professional pest control company for any infestation problem you might have. We have the right tools, methods, and techniques to prevent and stop all kinds of pests and insects from invading and taking over your space. PermaKill Exterminating has a slew of other services to free your home from pests, no matter the termite type or termite species. Contact PermaKill Exterminating today to receive a free quote.

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