The following photos were sent by a reader, Angela, from Nashville, Tennessee. While poking around in the garden, the reader came across some white colored insects and wondered if they might be termites. She dropped me an email to ask my opinion. With her kind permission, I’d like to share some of the photos here.
I was quite loath to break the news to her, but unfortunately, those are indeed termites. I figured they might be from the Reticulitermes genus, judging from one of the photos which shows a soldier. Most of the termites in the photos are immature alates, or flying termites, which still haven’t completed the final stage of metamorphosis. The particular chamber where they were found seems to be a staging chamber for immature alates to gather while awaiting maturity, as I noticed most of the termites in the photos were alates, not workers.
Reticulitermes is a widespread genus in the US, occurring in most states, and it is native to North America. Several species are common, like Reticulitermes flavipes, Reticulitermes virginicus, and Reticulitermes hageni. They are subterranean termites and related to Coptotermes, both being from the same family of Rhinotermitidae.
The workers and soldiers may superficially resemble Coptotermes, but the main difference is in the head shape and slightly darker color; Reticulitermes soldiers have a much more rectangular head, whereas Coptotermes soldiers have more oval heads. Reticulitermes soldiers are also more yellowish on the body. More importantly, Coptotermes is an invasive species, whereas Reticulitermes is native to America. Both subterranean termite types account for virtually all the termite damage incurred in the US.
Since Reticulitermes termites are definitely capable of significantly damaging wooden structures, if you do encounter them in your immediate vicinity, it’s best to consult a pest control company as soon as possible. Aside from Formosan termites, these termites can also do a lot of damage to wooden structures. That they were found in her garden may indicate a colony nearby.