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Everything you need to know about termites

What are termites?

Types of termites primary king primary queen secondary queen mandibulate soldier nasute soldier

Image from Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc

Termites are small, pale soft-bodied insect that primarily feed on cellulose, a part of wood, but also damage paper, books, insulation, and even swimming pool liners and filtration systems.

While termite workers only measure approximately 1 cm to a few millimeters in length, their feeding habits are capable of causing costly damage to property.

Why are termites harmful? How can termites destroy homes?

Termites basically consume cellulose-based plant materials. Unfortunately, all homes can provide cellulose food for termite infestation. Though small, termites have the ability to damage properties such as house foundations, furniture shelves and even paper documents or books.

Termites have the nickname “silent destroyer” because they can be undetected yet thriving and breeding in your home without much signs of damage.

What do termites eat?


Image adapated from

 Termites seek out cellulose, the most plentiful organic compound found in nature. It is the main building block of plants and found in many materials humans use every day.

Termites feed on many of these materials to get the cellulose to get their nutrients: plants, plant byproducts, cotton fibers (your t-shirt, for example), paper products and, of course, wood.

Not surprising, each species of termite has their own dietary preference.

  • Subterranean termites prefer softwoods and leave the harder summerwood behind. Wood eaten by subterranean termites resembles a honeycomb, and many of its galleries contain dirt and fecal particles.
  • Dampwood termites generally stay close to the ground, but will choose moist, decaying wood anywhere it is found. Usually eats decaying tree stumps and logs. They rarely infest buildings.
  • Drywood termites seek out dry wood such as the wood in your home’s framing, structural timbers, hardwood floors and furniture. They do not make contact with the soil and are able to glean the water they need directly from the wood they inhabit. When drywood termites are eating wood, the damage looks smooth.

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Why do termites eat wood?

Termites eat wood to derive the cellulose and nutrients they need to live. Termites have protozoa and bacteria in their gut that allow them to break down the cellulose fibers in wood, which is difficult for other creatures to digest.

Types of termites and how they look like:

There are 3 main types of termites:

  1. Dampwood termites
  2. Drywood termites
  3. Subterranean termites

1. Dampwood Termites

Dampwood termites

Dampwood termites locate their colonies in damp, decaying wood, typically found in old trees, stumps and logs and known for attacking utility polls, pilings and fence posts.

How Dampwood Termites look like?

There are different species of damp wood termites in Singapore. The termites are generally larger than subterranean termites.

  • The swarmers can be up to 25 mm in length, including their wings and their soldiers being as large as 21 mm.
  • Damp wood termites do have a large head with pincers on the front.

Behavior of Dampwood termites:

  • This species needs regular contact with water and a high humidity to survive. This makes them very different compared to drywood termites
  • Dampwood termites do not create shelter tubes as compared to subterranean termites.
  • Dampwood termites can live completely within the wood that they are eating.
  • These termites plug openings into the wood they are infesting with fecal pellets to preserve humidity, and their cryptic behavior can keep them from being discovered for years.
  • Specialized organisms within their intestines help them digest wood. They usually infest felled timber, dead trees and stumps and then feast on the contents.

Where are Damp wood Termites commonly found?

Dampwood termites are mostly found in woods that has high moisture content and wood or wood materials that are decaying.

However, these termites are seldom found in homes as the wood in homes do not have moisture content in it. They also do not require contact with the soil and are mostly found in damp woods.

2. Drywood termite

Drywood termites

How Drywood Termites look like?

  • Drywood termites are different sizes depending on their caste. Soldiers are typically three-eighths of an inch long. Reproductives (both male and female) measure one-half of an inch in length.
  • A drywood termite is usually pale brown, though it can vary between dark brown and light, yellowish-tan.

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Behavior of Drywood termites:

  • Drywood termites eat across the grain which destroys both the soft springwood growth and the harder summerwood growth.
  • Most subterranean termites avoid the harder layers of wood, eating only the softer layers. Because they eat across the grain, the tunneling can lead to a building or tree collapsing if the colony’s network of tunnels grows too extensive.
  • Drywood termites does not need moist soil or water nearby in order to thrive.
  • Because they don’t need water, these termites are often found in dry wood above ground level.
  • As with other species of termites, drywood termites are organized in a caste system.

Where are Dry wood Termites commonly found?

Drywood termites create colonies in wood, with no connection to the ground necessary. They are often found in attic wood and need very little moisture.

3. Subterranean termites

Subterranean termites

How Subterranean Termites look like?

Subterranean termites are can range from creamy white to dark brown and black depending on their caste. They may have rounded wing tips with all 4 wings being the same size. They have a thick waist, straight antennae and shorter legs.

Interestingly, the size of subterranean termites depends on its caste. Workers measure one-eighth to three-eighths of an inch in length. Soldiers are as long as workers, but have larger heads with powerful mandibles. Both supplementary and primary reproductives measure about 1 inch in length.

Behavior of subterranean termites:

  • There are three main types of subterranean termites – workers, soldiers and swarmers. Some termites have eyes while some do not.
  • Worker termites live their entire lives in dark tunnels, both above and below ground. Thoguht without eyes, they can still tell the difference between light and dark.
  • Subterranean termites build shelter tubes or mud tubes to reach food sources and protect themselves from open air and to protect themselves against predators.
  • Subterranean termites swarm in the spring when groups of reproductive termites go off to start new colonies.
  • As their name indicates, subterranean termites live several feet below ground in bustling colonies.

Where are Subterranean Termites commonly found?

Subterranean nest in soil to get the moisture, but may also nest in wood that are damp. The best method of subterranean termite control is to avoid water accumulation near your home’s foundation. Reduce humidity in crawl spaces with proper ventilation.

Most importantly, eliminate wood contact with the soil. You can view more in our article about preventive measures against termites.

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The life cycle of termites

Termite lifecycle

1. Mating Flight

The lifecycle of the termite begins with a mating flight where reproductive males and females leave their colonies and procreate.

After fertiziliation, winged termites shed their wings and proceed to form new colonies. These insects then become the king or queen termites of their newly established colonies. The queen and king termites are at the center of the termite life cycle and are responsible for reproduction.

2. Eggs

The fertizilized queen will lay her eggs, after which pale white larvae will hatch from the eggs.

3. Molting

Eggs hatch into larvae will develop into workers, soldiers, primary reproductives and secondary reproductives.

The termite growth process begins with a process called molting. First, a termite develops a soft exoskeleton under its current, hard exoskeleton. Then, once the termite has reached maturity, its outermost skeleton splits open, and the new exoskeleton enlarges and hardens.

This molting process continues throughout a termite’s life cycle based on the colony’s needs.

4. Larvae

Interestingly, termites in colonies live in a caste system. Over the course of several molts, these larvae grow to assume a role in one of the three termite colony castes: workers, soldiers and reproductive termites (also known as alates).

5. Castes

Each caste has a different physical appearance, so termites from the same colony have different physical appearance and sizes depending on their roles in the colony.

In fact, research has indicated that castes in the termite life cycle are not rigidly set, as termites belonging to one caste may develop into another caste if the colony requires it. Thus, a soldier termite may become a worker or a reproductive termite if the colony experiences a shortage of one or the other.

6. Termite Life Cycle: Reaching Maturity and Swarming

The termite life cycle also includes swarming. Once reproductives become fully mature termites capable of reproducing, they develop wings and functioning eyes. The bodies of these termites, now called alates, also become harder and darker to help the swarming termites withstand exposure to light and less humid air.

7. Life Span

Workers and soldiers live approximately one to two years. Queen termites may survive for over a decade under optimal climate conditions.

Termite Warning Signs

You have previously mentioned about 8 tell-tale signs of termite infestation, here is a brief summary of 5 of the most common signs:

  • Wood damage, which can appear in the following forms:

hollow wood damagaed by termites

  • Cast-off wings from termites, usually appearing around windows and doors

cast-off termite wings

  • Mud tubes (also known as shelter tubes), made out of dirt or wood particles.

subterranean tunnels mud tubes

  • Subterranean tunnels within wood or soil

subterranean termite wood damage

  • Pallets of excrement, usually wood-colored and small feces disposed by the termites

Termite Pellet Mound

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How Do You Get A Termite Infestation?

Termites are primarily drawn to wood and ther cellulose-based materials, but the factors below can accelerate if not cause termites to infest as well.

We have covered in detail on how you may get a termite infestation, here are the 3 main factors which causes them:

  1. Moisture: Some types of termites live only in moist conditions. Having a dark, moist place may attract them to start a nest and breed.
  2. Wood and wooden structure that comes into contact with your home: Termites can find their ways into your home through these contact points.
  3. Openings in your home foundation, roofs or walls: Termites usually shun away from light and travel through mud tubes or cracks and openings in a home.

Prevention Tips To Protect Your Home

We have covered in details regarding the preventive measures you can take against termites for your home, here is the summarised version of them:

Eliminate moisture problems

Subterranean termites thrive the most in moist, dark areas. Eliminating moisture problem not only prevent most termites from breeding in these areas – it also prevent bacteria build up in your home and other insects from breeding.

Removing contact between wood materials and home exterior

Termites like to travel through the wet, moist soil as well as through connective mud tubes. Periodically check and remove any any stumps, vines, mulch, trellises or other exterior wood that is in close proximity to your home. If you stay in a landed property, note that your roof may be vulnerable to termite infestation.

Constant monitoring and professional inspections

Termite damages may be hard to detect. Having periodic monitoring reduces the chances of termite infestations and allows you to take action before the infestation worsens. Engaging a professional pest control company to do regular inspection can help prevent the build up of termites and eliminate them before the problem worsens.

Termite Inspection & Removal

Most of these tests can be easy for homeowners to do themselves. However, pest control professionals have extensive knowledge about termite biology, habits, and building methods, they can perform more complete and efficient examinations. They also have the best tools to find termite nests, determine the extent of the damage, and provide termite control.

Should you face any problems, feel free to contact our list of verified professional pest control company which they would gladly consult you regarding your problems.

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DIY termite control methods

We have summarized ten ways of DIY termite control methods you can use at home.

In brief, they are:

  • Eliminate or reduce moisture in and around the home.
  • Repair leaking faucets, water pipes and exterior AC units.
  • Repair fascia, soffits and rotted roof shingles.
  • Replace weather stripping and loose mortar around basement foundation and windows.
  • Divert water away from the house through properly functioning downspouts, gutters and drainage system.
  • Have a periodic inspection of your home for signs of mud tubes, uneven or bubbling paint and wood that sounds hollow when tapped.
  • Monitor all exterior areas of wood, including windows, doorframes and skirting boards for any noticeable changes. You can view here for visible signs of termite damage.
  • Maintain an 20-30cm gap between soil and any wood portions of your home.
  • Scheduling a professional inspection annually. Wood-boring insect damage is not covered by homeowners’ insurance policies. Click here to view the list of pest control professionals.
  • Keep external wood/wood-material items away as far away home.

Find reliable pest control companies in Singapore

SGHomeNeeds provides a list of reliable pest control companies in Singapore. Pest control companies typically deals with the following infestations:

  • insects: ants, bed bugs, termites, wasps, fleas, lizards, cockroaches
  • rodents: mice, rats

If you are looking for pest control professionals to match your personalised requirements, you can contact SGHomeNeeds HomeMatch for a more quick and fuss-free experience.

Read more about how to select a good pest control company in Singapore.

Find out more about frequently-asked questions when engaging a pest control professional.

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