Are Termites Active in Winter? Debunking Myths & Uncovering the Truth

Termites are often associated with warmer months, raising concerns about their activity during winter.

Homeowners might wonder if these wood-destroying pests take a break when temperatures drop or if they need to remain vigilant year-round.

Surprisingly, termites are active even in the winter, but to a lesser extent than in other seasons.

Subterranean termites, the most common type in the United States, usually reside below ground and maintain their colonies within the soil.

Are Termites Active in Winter
Giant Robber Fly eats Termite Alate

The soil’s insulation helps them to tolerate colder temperatures and continue their activities, albeit at a slower pace.

The primary factor affecting termite activity in winter is the availability of food sources, such as decaying wood or wooden structures.

When these resources are scarce due to seasonal changes, termites may slow down their activities, but homeowners should still take preventive measures to avoid infestations.

So, regardless of the season, it’s essential to keep an eye out for signs of termite damage and take appropriate action.

Are Termites Active in Winter?

Effects of Cold Temperatures

Termites are cold-blooded insects, which means their activity level is affected by the temperature.

In colder temperatures, termites may slow down their activity or even become dormant.

However, some species of termites, like subterranean termites, can still remain active in winter by living below the frost line in soil.

An example of how termites adapt to cold temperatures can be observed in the way they build their nests.

Some species create insulated structures that help maintain a constant temperature inside, protecting the colony from external temperature fluctuations.

Termite Behavior in Cooler Climates

In cooler climates, termites might exhibit different behavior patterns compared to warmer regions.

For instance, certain species might forage deeper inside the soil in search of higher temperatures.

In addition, some termites will venture inside heated structures, such as homes and buildings, to escape the cold, potentially leading to infestations.

BehaviorWarmer ClimatesCooler Climates
NestingShallow soilDeeper soil
ForagingClose to surfaceDeeper in soil
SurvivalAdapted to heatSeek warmth internally
  • Pros of termites’ activity in winter:

    • Weaker colonies may die off, preventing further damage and infestations.
  • Cons of termites’ activity in winter:
    • Heated structures become more attractive to termites, potentially leading to increased infestations in colder months.
    • Relying on cold temperatures alone for termite control might not be effective, as some species can adapt or find warmth elsewhere.

In summary, while the cold temperatures in winter may have some effect on termite activity, it’s important to remain vigilant and proactive in termite control efforts throughout the year.

Termites

Types of Termites in Winter

Subterranean Termites

  • Active year-round: Subterranean termites are the most common termite species and can be found in several areas of the United States.
  • While they prefer warmer conditions, these termites remain active even during winter months, although at a slower pace1.
  • Their underground nests protect them from cold temperatures, enabling them to continue feeding on wood2.

Drywood Termites

  • Less active in winter: In contrast to subterranean termites, drywood termites are less active in winter because they are more sensitive to temperature changes3.
  • They do not create nests in the soil and often infest wooden structures, which makes them more vulnerable to cold temperatures.
  • However, if they infest indoor wood or structures with climate control, they might remain active during the winter5.

Formosan Subterranean Termites

  • Similar behavior to subterranean termites: Formosan subterranean termites are a specific type of subterranean termite6.
  • They exhibit similar behavior to other subterranean termites in winter7. With their underground nests, they can maintain activity during colder months, albeit at a reduced pace8.

Below is a comparison table of the three termite types discussed:

Termite TypeWinter Activity LevelNest Location
Subterranean TermitesActive (slower pace)Underground
Drywood TermitesLess activeWooden structures
Formosan SubterraneanActive (slower pace)Underground

Signs of Termite Infestation

Swarming Termites

Termites are active all year round, even in winter. Swarming termites, however, are more noticeable during warmer months, usually after rain.

These winged, reproductive adults form new colonies after mating. The presence of swarmers indicates a nearby termite infestation.

Termite Alate

Example:

  • You may see swarmers near windows as they are attracted to light.

Mud Tubes and Tunnels

Mud tubes and tunnels provide termites with a moist and protected environment to travel and access food sources.

These tunnels are often found on walls or foundations.

Characteristics of mud tubes:

  • Made of soil, wood, and termite saliva
  • Width varies from a few millimeters to a centimeter
  • Can be seen on walls, foundations, or other structural elements

Damaged Wood

Damaged wood is a common sign of termite infestation. Termites consume wood from the inside, causing it to weaken and collapse.

Features of termite-damaged wood:

  • Hollow or papery sound when tapped
  • Visible holes or gaps
  • Accumulation of sawdust-like debris

Pros and cons of inspecting for damaged wood:

  • Pros: Early detection can prevent extensive structural damage
  • Cons: Difficult to inspect hidden or hard-to-reach areas

Comparison of signs

Sign of Termite InfestationExampleDetection difficulty
Swarming TermitesFinding winged termites near windowsEasy
Mud Tubes and TunnelsDiscovering mud tubes on walls or foundationsModerate
Damaged WoodNoticing hollow or weakened woodVaries (easy to difficult)

Termite Damage Prevention and Inspection

Regular Inspections

Regular termite inspections are crucial for early detection and prevention of damage.

For example, you can have a free termite inspection by a professional pest control company once a year. This helps spot any potential infestations early.

Home Maintenance Tips

Here are some practical tips to reduce the risk of termite infestations and damage:

  • Ensure adequate ventilation to prevent moisture buildup in your home
  • Keep firewood, lumber, and dead plants away from your foundation
  • Regularly inspect the foundation for mud tubes or signs of damage

Additionally, consider using termite-resistant construction materials to protect your home against potential infestations.

Termite Treatment Options

There are several termite treatment options available for homeowners. Here’s a comparison table of two common methods:

MethodProsCons
Chemical BarriersEffective in killing termitesMay harm environment and non-target species
Baiting SystemsEnvironmentally friendly; targeted treatmentSlower acting; requires regular monitoring

Some active ingredients used in termite baits include diflubenzuron and hexaflumuron.

These reduced-risk pesticides effectively control termites without posing significant harm to humans or the environment.

In conclusion, regular inspections, diligent home maintenance, and appropriate termite treatment options can help homeowners prevent and control termite damage.

Termite

Feeding and Nesting Habits

Termite Food Sources

Termites primarily feed on cellulose, which is abundant in wood and plant materials. Some common sources include:

  • Dead trees
  • Wooden structures
  • Paper products

They are also known for foraging in search of food sources, even venturing into basements of buildings.

Cellulose Consumption

Cellulose is a complex carbohydrate and termites’ main food source.

They depend on symbiotic bacteria and protozoa in their intestines to break down cellulose, providing essential nutrients for the termite colony.

Nests and Warmth

Termites build their nests to maintain warmth and moisture for the colony’s survival. Key features of termite nests include:

  • Protective chambers for eggs
  • Storage for food
  • Safe environment for the colony

During winter months, subterranean termites like to build nests deeper in the soil, utilizing the natural insulation for warmth.

Drywood termites, on the other hand, tend to create nests inside structures, making use of existing insulation and warmth in living spaces.

Even though termites are less active during colder periods, they don’t stop eating and foraging.

Swarming also occurs all year round, but peaks in spring, especially after rainstorms.

Comparison between subterranean and drywood termites’ nesting habits:

Subterranean TermitesDrywood Termites
Create nests in soilCreate nests inside structures
Deeper nests in winter for warmthUtilize existing insulation and warmth
Accessible food sourcesAccessible food sources

In conclusion, termites don’t stop eating in winter but may not be as active due to temperatures.

They adapt their nesting habits to conserve warmth and continue foraging for cellulose-rich food sources, even venturing into basements.

Formosan Termite
Formosan Termite

Frequently Asked Questions About Termites in Winter

Do Termites Hibernate in Winter?

Termites do not technically hibernate in winter; however, their activity may slow down due to cold temperatures.

They continue to feed on wood and other cellulose-based materials to maintain their colonies. In the winter months, termites:

  • Maintain food sources for the colony
  • Seek shelter in deeper or insulated areas to avoid cold temperatures

Are Termites More Active in Spring and Summer?

Yes, termites are generally more active in spring and summer because warmer temperatures facilitate their movement and reproduction. For example:

  • Queens increase egg production in warmer months
  • Worker termites forage more actively for food

What Is the Best Time for Termite Treatment?

It’s essential to be proactive with termite treatment, as termite colonies are always active.

However, professional treatments may be more effective in spring, summer, or early fall when termites are more active.

Treatment TimeProsCons
Spring/SummerTermites more active and easier to targetBusier season for professionals, may be more expensive
Fall/WinterPossible lower costsTermites are less active, harder to locate
  • A professional termite treatment during the active season may yield better results.
  • Regular inspections and maintenance can prevent and control termite infestations.

Conclusion

Termites are social insects that feed on wood and other cellulose materials. They are active all year round, but their activity level and behavior may vary depending on the season and the type of termite.

Subterranean termites live underground and can survive the cold by digging deeper or moving into warmer areas.

Drywood termites live inside wood and can withstand lower temperatures by lowering their metabolism.

Termites are persistent and destructive pests that require professional inspection and treatment to prevent and control their damage.

Footnotes

  1. https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/termites-biology-and-control

  2. https://www.epa.gov/safepestcontrol/termites-how-identify-and-control-them

  3. https://www.termiteweb.com/how-termites-survive-in-winter/

  4. https://www.terminix.com/pest-control/termites/tips/how-cold-does-it-have-to-be-to-kill-termites-during-winter/

  5. https://www.termiteweb.com/how-do-termites-survive-in-winter/

  6. https://www.epa.gov/safepestcontrol/termites-how-identify-and-control-them

  7. https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/termite-swarmers-what-do-they-mean-for-you/

  8. https://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/news/2021/03/03/as-florida-enters-termite-swarm-season-uf-ifas-scientists-tell-consumers-what-to-know/

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about termites. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Termite Soldier

Is this a termite?
April 1, 2010
These bugs are less than a quater inch and seem to be eating wood in our garden. We need to know if we need to be concerned about them getting into the house and eating wood. They are under rocks.
Lance
North Central Texas (DFW)

Soldier Termite

Hi Lance,
You are correct.  This is a Termite, more specifically, one of the caste of Soldiers whose job it is to defend the colony against attack. 

Termites perform a very necessary function of breaking down wood so that it can be converted to rich humus, providing necessary organic matter which results in more fertile soil. 

There are many species of Termites, and the ones that are breaking down wood in the garden are generally not the same species that do damage in homes.

OK, thanks for the info.
I’ve only seen these soldiers and not the others. Are the others underground or do they have a mound somewhere?
Lance

They are probably underground.

Letter 2 – Termite Alates

Are these termites?
April 23, 2010
We have these small bugs. They are less than an inch long. They have blackish bodies and 2 pairs of white/clear wings. They smarmed today, and it’s raining. Last spring they swarmed on day.

It seemed like it was raining then. They are all over the attic. My dad set up a bug bomb up there and they cleared out temporarily. But I wanted to be sure that these are termites.
LM
Southeast Missouri

Termite Alates

Dear LM,
Your suspicions that these are Termites is correct.  They are the winged reproductive Aletes that often swarm after rain to mate and set up new colonies. 

While the bug bomb your father set off may have killed these Alates, it is very doubtful that the pesticide has penetrated to the colony.  A professional should be consulted.

Spelling Correction thanks to Eric Eaton
Daniel:
The April 23 post of “termite aletes” should have read “termite alates,” with another “a.”  That is the term for winged reproductives of termites and ants.
Eric

Letter 3 – Termites

What is this bug
Location: Queens, New York
November 28, 2010 5:36 pm
I found lots of these guys in the burlap covered soil of a dead arborvitae, I had 3 dead trees in a row. Are these the cause of the dead trees?
Signature: Tony Wilson

Termites

Hi Tony,
These appear to be Termites.  They will not harm a living tree, but once the tree dies, they will begin feeding on the rotting wood.

Letter 4 – Termite

Subject: bug found on patio chair
Location: Pasadena, CA
August 27, 2014 6:14 pm
Hi,
We found this bug on a chair on our patio (there were several) on August 27, in Pasadena, California.
Signature: curious

Termite
Termite

This sure looks like a termite to us.

Letter 5 – Probably Beetle Larva, NOT Termite

Subject: Eww…
Location: Philadelphia, Pa
January 3, 2017 6:09 pm
So we recently moved into a new house and after clearing up a drainfly issue, we started finding these guys.

At first I thought they were worms but then I found them on the walls and by my sink, too far for most to crawl. They are kinda gross and I am having a hard time figuring out what they are.
Thanks in advance!!
Signature: New homeowner

Probably Beetle Larva

Dear New Homeowner,
Though your image lacks critical detail, in our opinion, this appears to be a Termite, which is consistent with your sighting location on walls and near the sink. 

Wood found near plumbing in older homes can often become infested with Termites because of the damp conditions and leaks that might cause wood to rot. 

You should probably have a professional investigate for potential infestations.  See images on BugGuide here and here to support our identification.

Cesar Crash Comments.
Hi, Cesar Crash here, I’m using other e-mail.
This guy, I’m quite sure it isn’t a termite.
I suppose it’s a beetle larvae, morfologicaly, it resembles this:  http://bugguide.net/node/view/501532
Cesar.
Sorry, I didn’t say, I’m blocked from commenting again, I recieve an anti-spam message.

Thanks for the comment Cesar.  We will check into your inability to submit comments.  There was just some work done on the site and that might have resulted in your problems. 

We also thought this might be a beetle larva, but discounted the look of the legs as relating to the poor quality of the image.

Karl also believes this is a Beetle Larva
Hello Daniel and New Homeowner:
You are right Daniel, the image is unfortunately short on detail. However, I am not quite convinced that this is a termite. The antennae seem too short and the cerci on the other end don’t look quite right either.

I wonder if this isn’t in fact a beetle larva, perhaps something like a soft winged flower beetle (Melyridae). Both adults and larvae are predators of other arthropods and they do occasionally enter homes.

Personally, I would rather find predaceous beetle larvae in my home, than termites. Regards.  Karl

Authors

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  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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