The diversity of termite species is low in North America and Europe (10 species known in Europe and 50 in North America), but is high in South America, where over 400 species are known.
Of the 3,000 termite species currently classified, 1,000 are found in Africa, where mounds are extremely abundant in certain regions.
Some species, such as the West Indian drywood termite (Cryptotermes brevis), are regarded as invasive species.
"Termite" derives from the Latin and Late Latin word termes ("woodworm, white ant"), altered by the influence of Latin terere ("to rub, wear, erode") from the earlier word tarmes.
As of 2013, about 3,106 living and fossil termite species are recognised, classified in 12 families.
The infraorder Isoptera is divided into the following clade and family groups, showing the subfamilies in their respective classification: Termites are found on all continents except Antarctica.
Although these insects are often called white ants, they are not ants.
Like ants and some bees and wasps from the separate order Hymenoptera, termites divide labour among castes consisting of sterile male and female "workers" and "soldiers".
Unlike ants, which undergo a complete metamorphosis, each individual termite goes through an incomplete metamorphosis that proceeds through egg, nymph, and adult stages.
Colonies are described as superorganisms because the termites form part of a self-regulating entity: the colony itself.
Termite nests were commonly known as terminarium or termitaria.