All types of termites have similar life cycles, beginning with the egg stage, followed by larvae, nymphs, and finally adulthood. There are, however, some key differences in the life cycles of drywood termites and subterranean termites.
Factors Affecting Drywood & Subterranean Termite Life Cycles
There are four factors that help to differentiate the life cycle of termites. For the purpose of this resource, we are focusing on drywood termites and subterranean termites.
The key areas where these termites differ from one another are:
Drywood termites nest inside the wood they infest, while subterranean termites nest underground. Drywood termites do not require contact with soil or moisture to survive, while subterranean termites need a moist environment to prevent desiccation.
Drywood termite colonies tend to be smaller than subterranean termite colonies. This is because drywood termites can only infest a limited amount of wood, while subterranean termites can expand their colony by building mud tubes to reach new sources of wood.
Drywood termites feed on dry wood, while subterranean termites feed on moist wood. This means that drywood termites can survive in wood that is not in contact with soil or moisture, while subterranean termites require soil contact to access their food source.
Drywood termites typically swarm in the spring or fall, while subterranean termites swarm in the spring. This may be due to differences in environmental conditions or resource availability.
Drywood Termite Life Cycle
During the spring or fall season, mature drywood termites will swarm in search of a mate to create their own colony. Environmental conditions like temperature, humidity, and light are all factors that trigger these swarms. As reproductive alates, they suddenly leave their nest with the hope of starting anew somewhere else.
Mating & Colonization
When two swarming termites finally connect, they trigger the beginning of a new colony. Then, searching for an optimal place to nest, such as structural wood, furniture or dead trees – the couple will start creating a tiny chamber and the female commences laying eggs inside it.
Every day, the queen drywood termite lays several diminutive white eggs directly on wooded surfaces. After approximately two to four weeks, these hatchlings will emerge and form a new colony.
In the near future, eggs will hatch and introduce small, white larvae without legs (otherwise known as nymphs) into your home or property. These newly-born bugs will feed on wood, gradually growing larger with each molt they experience.
After some nymphs reach maturity, they will transform into workers that are essential for the survival of the colony. These industrious creatures take responsibility for collecting food and nourishment, tending to the young, and taking care of their home nest.
Worker termites typically appear small with a vacant white covering and lack wings.
Other drywood termite nymphs will undergo metamorphosis to become soldiers who are responsible for shielding the colony against predators like ants or even other termite species.
Soldier termites, equipped with large heads and mandibles, tend to be larger than workers in comparison.
A select few of the nymphs will metamorphose into reproductive termites, otherwise known as alates. These are the ones that break off from the colony and swarm in order to create new colonies. Naturally, they come with wings that eventually fall away after swarming is done; their sole purpose is to initiate newer colonies.
As more eggs are laid and nymphs transform into workers, soldiers, and reproductives, the colony will increase in size and do so at an uncontrollable rate. This growth could happen within a single piece of wood or might even spread to other pieces nearby. This is the most dangerous time for property owners — when a single colony begins to expand and multiply at a very quick pace.
Depending on the rank, drywood termites have very different lifespans. While workers and soldiers typically endure for a few years, reproductive members of the colony can survive up to a decade. Drywood termite queens live the longest, though. Queens have an impressive lifespan that typically ranges between 10 to 20 years, making it possible for her to lay thousands of eggs in her lifetime.
As the colony grows, reproductive alates will swarm and disperse to create new colonies, effectively restarting this entire cycle.
Subterranean Termite Life Cycle
As spring approaches, mature subterranean termites emerge from their nest and take to the skies in swarms. These reproductive alates are searching for a partner with whom they can start a new colony. Temperature, humidity, and light dictate when these pests will swarm – conditions that signal it’s time to mate.
Mating & Colonization
When swarming termites come across one another, they will join forces to form a new colony. Following this union, the two will search for an optimal spot to construct their nest – which is usually situated close to timber sources in the dirt. They’ll make a minimal area within the ground and afterward, the female will lay her eggs inside it.
On a daily basis, the queen subterranean termite will lay multiple batches of dozens of small and white eggs in her new colony. Within 2-4 weeks after being laid, these eggs will soon hatch into tiny nymphs ready to start their lives!
From their eggs, hatch out small legless larvae in white color. These are known as nymphs and they start to consume the wood along with soil while undergoing various stages of growth during the molting process.
As some of the nymphs grow and mature, they develop into workers; their main responsibility is to ensure that the colony thrives by gathering food sources, attending to the needs of young ones, and constructing mud tubes. Workers are easy to identify by their size (small), color (white), and lack of wings.
For the colony to survive, some of its nymphs will develop into soldiers – stout defenders against predators such as ants and other termite species. These warriors possess large heads and mandibles that make them larger than workers in size; a necessary trait for success on their battlefields.
Among the nymphs, some will evolve into alates or reproductive termites. These are the ones who come out of their colonies to swarm and form new ones. Reproductives have wings that they lose after swarming as they take on the responsibility of creating entire new colonies.
The laborers are devotedly constructing mud tunnels to reach new wood sources and expand their homes. These tunnels offer protection from predators, in addition to providing a humid atmosphere for the termites to thrive within.
The colony will proliferate as more eggs and nymphs develop into workers, soldiers, and reproductives. If left unchecked, the infestation can spread to multiple areas of a building or other wooden structures –causing exponentially more damage.
Varying lifespans are based on the caste of subterranean termites; workers and soldiers can live for numerous years, with reproductives reaching up to a decade. Meanwhile, the queen subterranean termite reigns supreme at 10-30 years old and is capable of laying millions of eggs over her entire lifetime.
When a subterranean termite colony reaches its peak, reproductive alates will swarm in order to initiate new colonies. This cycle can repeat for many years and may produce colonies with millions of individual termites.