Few quantitative experimental studies have been carried out on the influence of subterranean termite activity on the water infiltration capacity of crusted soils in the semi-arid Sahelian region. These studies found increased infiltration rates on soils that were affected by foraging galleries of subterranean termites. In this paper, remarkable results are presented from crusted agricultural fields in the Sanmatenga region in Burkina Faso with clear termite activity compared to reference fields without termite activity. Fine-scale rainfall experiments were carried out and general topsoil (upper 5 cm) characteristics were measured. Infiltration rates were found to be significantly slower on plots affected by subterranean termite activity. These results are contradictory to the findings reported in general literature. On the basis of topsoil property measurements, the reduced infiltration rates cannot be indisputably explained, and we suggest that the main responsible factor for a reduction of infiltration was related to differences in topsoil surface (upper 3 mm) properties. Two hypotheses are formulated in an attempt to explain the reduced water infiltration rates on termite plots. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.