Termites usually prefer to feed on dead plant material, generally in the form of wood, leaf litter or soil, and about 10% of the 4,000 odd species are economically important as pests that can cause serious structural damage to buildings, crops or plantation forests.
- Termites are significant detrivores, particularly in the subtropical and tropical regions, and their recycling of wood and other plant matter is of considerable ecological importance.
- Termite workers are generally blind due to undeveloped eyes.
Despite this limitation they are able to create elaborate nests and tunnel systems using a combination of soil, chewed wood /cellulose, saliva and feces. Some species have been known to create such durable walls that industrial machinery has been damaged in an attempt to break their tall mounds.
- - Some African and Australian species have mounds more than 4 meters high. The nest is created and maintained by workers with many distinct features such as housing the brood, water collection through condensation, reproductive chambers, and tunnel networks that effectively provide air conditioning. A few species even practice agriculture, collecting plant matter to feed fungal gardens, upon which the colony then feeds.
- Many soldiers have jaws so enlarged that they cannot feed themselves, but instead, like juveniles, are fed by workers.
- Termites are generally grouped according to their feeding behavior. Thus the commonly used general groupings are: Subterranean, Soil-feeding, Drywood, Dampwood and Grass eating. Of these, subterraneans and drywoods are primarily responsible for damage to human structures.