How To Look At A House

McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of  

site-built, mobile/manufactured and modular homes

I think I have termites. What does a termite look like?

Friday, October 19, 2018

Termites look like tiny, but plump, white ants. “Teeny tiny white gummi-bears” is another description, and they are about 3/8” long. Considering how much damage they do, termites are much smaller than you would expect. Two termites will fit side-by-side on the head of a match.

   Because most photos of termites are taken under high-magnification, like the one above, you would expect them to be the size of household ants. Which is why people often think they have observed termites in a home. But they are much smaller. Also, note that the termite in the magnified photo above does not have the tight waist between segments like the swarming ants in the photo below.

    Unfortunately, it is not likely that you will see a termite, even in a home with a large infestation. They are susceptible to death in dry open air, and stay within wood or construct mud-tube tunnels as passageways to maintain the moist, humid environment they need to survive.

   Even termite inspectors only see “live” termites occasionally, and then just when probing areas of damaged wood. Instead, we look for “evidence and damage” to confirm their presence: wood with galleries (eaten-away tunnels in wood), mud tubes (which look like sandy varicose-veins running up a wall, like in the photo below), fecal pellets (with a distinct, identifiable shape under a magnifying glass), kick-out holes (through which they discard fecal pellets) and discarded wings from swarming termites in the spring.

   If you suspect a termite infestation in a house you are looking at, it is more productive to look for evidence of their presence rather than trying to locate a live termite. For more information about subterranean termites, we suggest reading a fact sheet by the University of Florida’s IFAS Extension Service at: An IFAS fact sheet about drywood termites is at: However, the signs of termite infestation in the structure of a home are often too subtle to recognize for the untrained eye, so it’s best to have a Florida-licensed pest control operator, like us, examine the home for you if you are worried about a termite problem.

    Also, see our blog post What do termites eat?

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •  

To learn more about termites, see these other blog posts:

Should I be worried about termites if my neighbor's house is being tented?

Is the WDO (termite) inspector allowed to poke holes in my wood siding and trim? 

Do carpenter ants cause structural damage to houses in Florida?

How long before closing can you have a WDO (termite) inspection done?

How long does Bora-Care® last? 

 Why is it a mistake to store lumber in the crawl space under a house?

Does the presence of carpenter ants in a house indicate that there are probably also termites? 

How do termites infest a house and remain hidden while doing major damage?

Are homes in Florida required to have termite protection? 

If termite damage appears to be old, does that mean that termites may no longer be present?

How do I know if my WDO/termite report is "clear"? 

When do termites swarm in Florida?

Does a recent termite company inspection sticker mean there are no termites? 

Can a mobile/manufactured home get termites?

Do I have to tent the house if I have termites? 

What is the difference between a subterranean termite and a drywood termite?

What are the green plastic discs in the ground around the house? 

What is a termite shield?

How do termites get into a concrete block house? 

Do termites eat concrete?

What is a clean WDO?  

How do I treat wood rot  that's listed in my termite-WDO report? 

Do I really need a termite-WDO inspection? 

What's causing those holes in the fascia?

Does wood chip mulch in the yard attract termites?

I'm buying a concrete block house. Do I still need a termite inspection? 

• I saw a little termite damage on the baseboard. Should I be concerned?

   Visit our TERMITES, WOOD ROT AND PESTS page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.  

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