What Do Subterranean Termite Tubes Look Like?

Image of a Termite

In addition to hollowing out wood in houses and yards, subterranean termites have an unusual habit. The insects build tunnels from mud, feces, and saliva. These earth-colored tubes branch into vein-like paths across foundations, basement walls, and home siding.

Why Do Subterranean Termites Build Mud Tubes?

This species is particular about its habitat, so the pests need a safe, easy way to travel to and from the colony. A subterranean termite tube, also called a shelter tube, fulfills several roles:

  • A protected runway – Termite tunnels connect the insects’ underground nests to food sources. The pests build these tubes to act as bridges across dense materials like concrete or stone.
  • A shelter from predators – Subterranean termite mud tubes hide traveling insects from animals that prey on them such as birds, ants, and spiders.
  • A source of moisture – This species cannot survive in the dry, open air for long. Tubes keep the pests hydrated until they can return safely to the wood or soil.

Types of Termite Tubes

Homeowners may spot four kinds of subterranean termite tubes:

  • Exploratory – Termites use thin, fragile tunnels to scout for new sources of food. By the time homeowners spot them, these unfinished tubes are usually empty.
  • Working – These sturdy tunnels connect directly to a food source. Working tubes have thick walls that allow hundreds or even thousands of termites to travel long distances safely.
  • Drop – The insects create this type of subterranean termite mud tube to leave a house and return to the ground. Drop tunnels hang down in thin columns from areas like basement ceilings and subfloors.
  • Swarm – Workers create small, raised masses on soil or timber when termite swarmers leave the colony for a mating flight. These widened shelter tubes prevent the swarmers from damaging their wings as they fly from the nest.


Many people destroy subterranean termite mud tubes in an attempt to get rid of the pests. While this may stop or reroute the flow of insects for a short time, termites rebuild their tunnels quickly. When residents suspect an infestation, the most effective control method is a call to the professionals at Western Pest Services.