Termites are some of the most dangerous, damaging pests you can come across. They are fast acting, spread wildly, show few signs of habitation, and can cause thousands of dollars of structural damage. In the U.S. alone, there are about 45 species of termites, each with its habitats and preferences.
While knowing the telltale signs of each species is a tall order, homeowners should be aware of some of the most common features of these wood-chewing pests. To help homeowners better understand the dangers and costs of termites, we’ve assembled some of the most important termite statistics and facts.
Termite Damage Facts
- Termites cost homeowners $5 billion each year in repair costs and prevention efforts.
- Termites cause around $40 billion in damage to agricultural resources and lumber each year.
- Around 600,000 homes in the U.S. are damaged by termites each year.
- Formosan termites, or “super termites,” are the most aggressive and destructive species of termites, with nests that can reach over 300 feet and include millions of termites.
- The largest Formosan termite colony, found in Algiers, Louisiana, possessed an estimated 70 million termites and weighed over 600 pounds.
The Cost of Termite Damage
U.S. Residents Spend $5 Billion Per Year on Termite Repairs and Prevention
Termites cost homeowners in the U.S. around $5 billion yearly for repairs and prevention. These destructive little pests are difficult to spot, as they live primarily inside the structures of your home, eating away at wooden support systems. Due to their stealthy nature and the damage they can cause, termites are known as the “silent destroyer.”
Termites, and Similar Pests, Do About $30 Billion Worth of Damage to U.S. Structures and Crops Each Year
Termites affect more than just structures and residences; they also cause damage to vital resources like crops and lumber. Termites cause around $40 billion in damage to agricultural resources, lumber, and U.S. homes annually. They are also a highly common pest found in 49 out of 50 states in the U.S. (the exception being Alaska) and are most common in southern and western states like Florida, the Carolinas, and California.
Homeowners Insurance Does Not Typically Cover Termite Damage
One of the worst things about termites is that most homeowners insurance policies do not cover termite damage. Homeowners insurance aims to cover accidental, immediate, and unforeseen damages to the home. Unfortunately, termites don’t qualify for any of these criteria. While termites may be difficult to spot, consistent maintenance and inspections can catch them, making them an unfortunate exception to most policies. However, some exceptions exist, such as termites causing fires by chewing into electrical wires.
Stats and Facts on Types of Termites
Formosan Termites Have the Largest Colonies, Reaching Up to 300 Feet and Containing Several Million Termites
Formosan termites are often called “super termites.” These wood boring terrors are the most destructive and aggressive termites you can run into, and they have the largest colony size of any other species. They are so destructive because of their larger than average colony size, reaching between 350,000 to well over a million termites within dens of over 300 feet in diameter. The largest Formosan termite colony, found in Algiers, Louisiana, possessed an estimated 70 million termites and weighed over 600 pounds.
The Subterranean Eastern Termite Is the Most Common Species in the U.S.
Termites in the U.S. fall into one of three broad categories: subterranean, dampwood, and drywood. Subterranean termites, specifically eastern subterranean termites, are the most common of the three types. These termites dig underground tunnels and burrows that protect them from the open air. These termites also tunnel into wooden structures that directly connect with the ground. Some species, like the Formosan, build small mud tubes that connect to your home’s wooden structure.
Conehead Termites Do Not Need Tunnels to Forage, Making Them Some of the Fastest Spreading Termites
Originally called “tree termites,” this type of termite has a distinct, pointy, cone-shaped head that makes them easy to identify. Their ability to travel outside their nests and tunnels makes them one of the most durable and fastest spreading species. Most termites need moisture and protection from their tunnels or nests to travel. This species, however, can travel and forage on the ground, similar to ants, allowing them to spread and infest locations much more quickly.
Termite Warning Signs
Discolored or Drooping Drywall
While termites aren’t interested in the chalky gypsum plaster inside drywall, they do love to feed on the paper shell. Drywall damage can be one of the more easily noticeable indications of a termite infestation. There are several signs of termites damaging your drywall, and these can include:
- Termite maps: As termites eat through the paperboard on drywall, they will leave little tracks, often referred to as maps.
- Sagging or drooping: As termites tunnel through the drywall and supporting structures, the overall stability of the drywall weakens. This weakening will then lead to a visible drooping or sagging.
- Pinholes: Termites can tunnel through drywall, creating small holes. These holes are about the size of a pen tip or pinhead and are occasionally filled with wood pulp.
- Discolored drywall: While this is less common, certain species of termite produce signs similar to water damage, specifically subterranean termites. The discoloration will look like small, brown, wet patches where the paint has bubbled up.
Stuck Windows or Doors
One of the earliest warning signs of incoming termite damage is stuck windows and doors. As termites begin to target and invade a home, they often go for easily accessible wooden structures, such as doorframes or windowsills. As termites begin to eat into these structures, they will begin to warp or swell. An abnormally stuck window or doorframe can be a vital early warning sign of a termite infestation and may warrant a pest inspection.
Excessively Squeaky Floorboards
Termites will attack floorboards, joists, support beams, walls, ceilings, and anything else they can get their pincers on. As termites wear down your floor’s support systems, the boards become more sensitive to movement and weight. They will rub against each other as you walk on them, producing a loud squeaking sound.
How to Prevent Termites
Keeping Moisture Away From Your Foundation
Termites love wet soil, so keeping your lawn clean and devoid of excess moisture is crucial to termite prevention. Ensure your gutters and downspouts are functioning properly and diverting water at least 3 feet away from your home. If you have any drainage systems in your backyard, you should ensure they are not clogged and drain water properly. Also, keep an eye out for appliances like window-mounted air conditioners that can leak and drip water along your walls.
Receiving Regular Termite Inspections Annually
Even to a well-informed homeowner, certain termite species are nearly impossible to detect through maintenance and day-to-day activity. Some species only dig into the home’s non-visible structures (such as between walls and within ceilings), making them functionally impossible to discover. To help safeguard your home, you should always schedule annual termite inspections through a professional pest control company.
Maintaining Distance Between Soil and Wood
Any wooden structure that makes direct contact with the soil is an open invitation for termites to make themselves at home. Termites will travel directly from their main tunnels in the ground, through the earth-to-wood contact point to the internal working of your home. To prevent this, ensure all wooden structures rest at least 6 inches above the ground. The best way to do this without tearing out the doorframes of your home is to dig the top layers of soil. Dig a small trench downwards, at an angle, away from the wooden parts of your home.
There are few pests out there that rival the destructive power of the termite. These tunneling terrors are present in nearly every U.S. state and cost homeowners over $5 billion annually. Their appetites also cause serious damage to our country’s agricultural and wood processing industries, inflicting over $40 billion of damage to crops, lumber, and residences yearly. While homeowners insurance won’t help you much in the case of termites, professional pest control companies can help prevent them through annual inspections.
- National Pest Management Association, Pestworld, “Five Termite Species all Homeowners Should be Aware of”
- United States Department of Agriculture “Learning What “Wood” a Termite Prefers“
- Nationwide “Does homeowners insurance cover termite damage?“
- Orkin “Types of Termite Colonies“
- The University of Florida “Types of Termites“
- National Pest Management Association, Pestworld “Conehead Termites“
- Orkin “Termite Damage to Drywall“
- Orkin “How to Identify Termite Activity”
- The University of Kentucky, College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment “Protecting your Home Against Termites“
- Orkin “Where do Termites Come From“
- The University of Florida “Termite Life Cycle“
- Orkin “Do Termites Bite“
Frequently Asked Questions
Where do termites live?
Termites will nest in different areas depending on their type. While some species within each category have unique nesting habits (like conehead termites nesting in trees), most termites within each of the following categories keep to their respective environments:
- Dampwood termites: Dampwood termites like to nest in wet soil and damp wood. They’re primarily attracted to areas of the home filled with darkness and moisture, like gutters, basements, and the kitchen. Dampwood termites need this moisture to survive and often require direct wood to soil contact to enter your home.
- Drywood termites: Unlike their dampwood cousins, drywood termites prefer dry environments. They nest on locations like firewood piles or deep within wooden structures like trees, furniture, or houses. Drywood termites are some of the hardest to spot once they get inside your home, as they only live deep inside wooden structures, producing very few easily visible signs of habitation.
- Subterranean termites: Like their name would suggest, subterranean termites like to live in the ground. They, like dampwood termites, require damp wood or soil moisture to survive. Certain species of subterranean termites, specifically Formosan termites, can create mud-like tubes connecting their nests to the wooden structures of your home.
What is the life cycle of termites?
Termites begin life as an egg laid by a queen and fertilized by a king. These eggs hatch into a young termite called a nymph, which then grows into a member of the worker or soldier caste. Once a colony reaches a certain size, the king and queen will produce a special kind of nymph which grows into a caste called alates. Alates have wings, and once the weather conditions are right, they will all go to the surface and fly off together by the thousands in a “swarming event.” During swarming events, a male and female alate will pair up, find a new location to start a colony, lose their wings (called dealates), and become the king and queen of a new colony.
How do termites spread?
Generally speaking, termites spread in two ways: through swarming events mentioned above and tunneling. As their nests grow, workers and soldier termites begin digging new tunnels and scavenge for food. During the scavenging, if termites locate a large, plentiful supply of food (like a tree stump, firewood pile, or your home), they will, much like ants, prioritize it and begin to move in.
Are termites dangerous for humans or animals?
Beyond structural damage to your home, termites do not pose any serious risk to you or your pets. While termites can bite, they only do so if handled and are not inherently aggressive. If you are bit, while it may be painful, termites do not carry any toxins or harmful diseases transmittable to humans. The same goes for your pets, as termites are not known to be dangerous to your household friends.