The three principal types of termites in Florida are subterranean (nest in the soil), damp wood (infest damp wood), and dry wood termites (infest dry wood). Subterranean termites are the most destructive and frequently encountered kind of termite found throughout the state. Although they nest in soil, subterranean termites can attack structures by building tubes that connect their nest to wood in structures. Aerial nests can occur without a ground connection if all castes of the colony are present and moisture is available.
Subterranean termites are social insects that live in colonies consisting of many individuals. The colonies are composed of workers, soldiers and reproductives). The workers, which are about 1/8 inch long, have no wings, are white to cream colored and very numerous. Soldiers defend the colony against insects, like ants, that can attack the colony. Soldiers are wingless and white in color with large brown heads and mandibles (jaws). King and queen termites perform the reproductive functions of the colony. They are dark brown to black in color and have two pairs of wings about twice the length of their body.
Subterranean termites feed on wood or other items that contain cellulose, such as paper, fiberboard, and some fabrics derived from cotton or plant fibers. Termites have protozoa in their digestive tracts that can convert cellulose into usable food.
Subterranean termites nest in the soil to obtain moisture, but they also nest in wood that is often wet. They easily attack any wood in contact with the ground. If the wood does not contact the soil, they can build mud tunnels or tubes to reach wood several feet above the ground. These tunnels can extend for 50-60 feet to reach wood and often enter a structure through expansion joints in concrete slabs or where utilities enter the house.
Winged reproductives emerge from colonies in great numbers usually in the spring and during the daylight hours. Usually termites are first noticed by the presence of winged reproductives. Mating occurs during these flights, and males and females form new colonies. Winged termites can be distinguished from flying ants by their thick-waist, straight antennae and wings of equal size.