Termites are notorious for being one of the most hated household pests for homeowners. A severe termite infestation can cause devastating damage to a home or any other structure but what are some of the other dangers of termites? You may have heard about termite bites on humans and wondered “Are termites dangerous?” Well, let’s take a look.
Do termites bite humans?
The short answer is “yes”, termites can and do bite humans. It’s not something that happens very often, however, for the simple reason that termites consume wood and don’t care about mammal flesh or blood. Essentially, termites are “herbivores” of sorts and are typically non-aggressive and generally harmless to any other insect or animal that isn’t getting in their way. Unlike many insect pests such as bed bugs, lice, fleas, mosquitoes, and others, termites are completely uninterested in you and just want to eat the delicious cellulose that’s in your home’s wooden components.
The termites that do, occasionally, bite humans are the soldier termites (sometimes referred to as “king termites”). If you’re looking for termites harmful to humans, these are the only ones to watch out for. Soldier termites serve a similar function to soldier ants – they don’t gather food, they don’t mate or reproduce, they don’t even go on the offensive against other animals unless provoked – they just run around the colony’s tunnels, eat enough wood to sustain themselves, and spring into the colony’s defense if need be.
These termite soldiers have a significantly larger head and mandibles than worker termites which they use in combat. Their mandibles are powerful enough to cause pain in humans, especially if they bite you in places where your skin is thinner such as between your fingers. Bites from them are still very unlikely, however, unless you’re trying to physically harm the termites and their colony. It’s exceptionally unlikely to see a termite “charging” toward you if you haven’t been provoking them, and even then, termites are rather slow creatures. So, if you just choose any termite control method that doesn’t involve your bare hands, you’ll most likely have no physical issues to worry about.
The Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society has a lot of interesting things to say about termite soldiers if you’re interested in learning more about them.
What do termite bites look like?
A significantly powerful termite bite can leave a red irritated spot on your skin. As far as the health effects of termites on humans, however, such a bite isn’t going to cause any significant damage other than the slight skin irritation. Termite soldiers don’t really utilize any chemical toxins in their bites so they aren’t going to poison you the way other insects – including some ants – can.
Termites do have saliva which they use to eat wood and that saliva can contribute to the termite skin rash or irritation. However, there have been no recorded cases of an allergic reaction or another significant health consequence to a termite bite. If you’re looking for any specific termite symptoms to their bites, there really aren’t any – just a noticeable pinch and a slight skin irritation.
So, because termite bites look like the bites of many other insects, it’s sometimes easy to confuse them. If you think you’ve been bitten by a termite but the bite mark persists for more than a day and has increasingly worsening effects, then chances are that it’s not a termite bite. In such a situation you may do well to contact a medical professional as you might have been bitten by a more dangerous insect.
Do flying termites bite?
The termites most people tend to find most horrifying are usually the flying termites. Like ants, termite swarmers spawn with wings when it’s time to fly off their colony and settle someplace new. These swarmers are the only termites that can fly and they can be both male and female, with the males being significantly more than the females. Their sole purpose in life is to find a female swarmer (future termite Queen) that has just flown to a new location, mate with her, and die. After that, the queen will simply start a new colony there.
None of these two types of termite swarmers are termite soldiers, however, and bites from them are, therefore, even less likely. Furthermore, because they are not soldiers, their heads and mandibles are even smaller, so even if they do bite you, you’ll likely not even feel it. Vice versa, if a flying insect bites you and you feel a significant amount of pain, it most probably wasn’t a flying termite in the first place.
All that being said, encountering flying termites in your home is worrisome, but not because they might harm you physically, but simply because their presence might be followed by a termite infestation.
Do termites bite dogs and other animals?
As with humans, termite soldiers are likely to bite animals only if they are physically bothering and attacking them. So, if a dog, cat, or another animal chooses to eat or play with termites, then yes – they might get bitten. However, since termite bites aren’t toxic and don’t have any significant health consequences, you most probably won’t even know that your animal has been bitten. If you see any significant allergic reaction to an insect bite on your pet, it’s almost certainly from a different insect’s bite.
Termites are a true plague for any home or building but not because of their bites. Termite soldiers can bite in defense of their colony but even when they do, that’s not of much of a consequence to a human’s health and wellbeing. If your skin becomes itchy and irritated by a termite bite, it’s almost certain to pass very shortly. If it doesn’t, then it almost certainly wasn’t a termite bite in the first place.