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Subterranean Termites

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Subterranean Termites

Subterranean termites are the most destructive insect pests of wood in the United States. They cause more than $2 billion in damage each year, more property damage than that caused by fire and windstorm combined.

Subterranean Termites

Subterranean Termites

Subterranean termites are social insects that live in colonies consisting of many individuals. The colonies are composed of workers, soldiers and reproductives. The workers, which are about 1/8 inch long, have no wings, are white to cream colored and very numerous. Soldiers defend the colony against insects, like ants, that can attack the colony. Soldiers are wingless and white in color with large brown heads and mandibles (jaws). King and queen termites perform the reproductive functions of the colony. They are dark brown to black in color and have two pairs of wings about twice the length of their body.


Subterranean termites derive their nutrition from wood and other material containing cellulose. Paper, cotton, burlap or other plant products often are actively attacked and consumed by termites. Subterranean termites cannot digest cellulose directly. They depend on large numbers of one-celled animals (protists) living in the termite hind gut to break down the cellulose to simple acetic acid, which termites can digest. Worker termites and older nymphs consume wood and share their nourishment with the developing young, other workers, soldiers and reproductives.


Subterranean Termites

Subterranean Termites in Wood

Termites are very attracted to odors of wood-decaying fungi that, through the decay process, make the wood easier to penetrate. In some instances, the fungi provide a source of nitrogen in the termite diet. Moisture is important to subterranean termites, which have very little resistance to dehydration. To survive, they must maintain contact with the soil (their primary moisture source) or other above-ground moisture sources, such as in structures with defective plumbing or guttering.


Subterranean termites also must protect themselves from temperature extremes and attack by such natural enemies as ants and other insects. Termites foraging for food above ground protect themselves with shelter tubes, which are sometimes called mud tubes. Worker termites build the tubes from particles of soil or wood and bits of debris held together by salivary secretions. The tubes may be thinly constructed or large and thick-walled to accommodate many termites moving vertically between the soil and the food source. This construction material also is found lining the galleries built in wood being attacked and aids in identifying termite-damaged wood. Shelter tubes often are used to bridge masonry or other objects, allowing termites access to a food source (wood) above ground


Life Cycle:After a termite colony matures, which requires from 2 to 4 years, swarmers are produced. Swarming usually occurs from January through April, during the daylight hours, usually after a rain. Environmental factors such as heat, light and moisture trigger the emergence of swarmers. Each species has a definite set of conditions under which it swarms. The number of swarmers produced is proportionate to the age and size of the colony .


Subterranean Termites

Subterranean Termites Life Cycle

Both male and female swarmers fly from the colony and travel varying distances. They are extremely weak fliers; wind currents usually carry those that travel any distance. Only a small percentage of swarmers survive to develop colonies; the majority fall prey to birds, toads, insects and other predators. Many also die from dehydration or injury. A pair that survives lands and immediately seeks cover under rocks or other materials. The pair makes a very small nest before mating. Initially, the new queen termite lays only a few eggs. The male, or king, remains with the female because periodic mating is required for continued egg development.


Eggs are not deposited continuously; in fact, only a few hundred are deposited during the first year. In subsequent years, the young queen grows larger and lays more eggs. Larvae hatch from the eggs within several weeks and are cared for by the new king and queen. The larvae molt into pseudergate workers, and then into presoldiers or brachypterous nymphs. The colony stabilizes when the queen reaches maximum egg production. If the queen dies, secondary reproductives take over the queen’s duties.The maximum size of a colony depends on such factors as location, food availability and environmental conditions, especially temperature and moisture. Some colonies remain small; others contain up to several thousand individuals.


Damage : Wood damaged by subterranean termites is often not noticed because the exterior surface usually must be removed to see the damage. However, galleries can be detected by tapping the wood every few inches with the handle of a screwdriver. Damaged wood sounds hollow, and the screwdriver may even break through into the galleries. Subterranean termite feeding follows the grain of the wood and only the soft springwood is attacked . Unlike drywood termites or other wood-boring insects, subterranean termites do not push wood particles or pellets (fecal material) to the outside, but rather use it in the construction of their tunnels. This debris, along with sand and soil particles, is used as a form of plaster


Subterranean Termites

Subterranean Termites Damage

Prevention: Many termite problems can be prevented through sound initial designs, mechanical alterations, and sanitation. The basic premise behind prevention is to deny termites access to food (wood), moisture and shelter.Planning before construction is vital. Position or modify the building site so that the soil grade slopes away from the structure in all directions. Houses already built may need remedial grading or installation of positive drain lines. Soil-filled porches, patios, sidewalks or breezeways should slope gently away from the house


Leave at least 2 inches of clearance between soil-filled porches and planter boxes and the house. This spacing does not prevent infestation, but allows free air movement and an opportunity for visual inspection or mechanical control. Planter boxes, if not separate from the house, should be built as an integral part so that termites cannot enter from the soil beneath. The final soil level in the planter boxes should be at least 6 to 8 inches below any wooden structure such as window frames or siding.



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