Termites colonies contain distinct types of castes (individuals) that differ in both form and function i.e. Reproductives, workers and soldiers. Termites shed their skin (molt) periodically in order to grow.
Termites can consume a wide assortment of cellulose foods including living and dead wood, roots, grass, paper, cardboard, fiberboard and other plant-based materials.
Mature colonies of Reticulitermes and Coptotermes are more likely to be decentralized entities occupying multiple nesting or foraging sites, interconnected by an extensive network of underground tunnels.
This is hard to quantify the size and foraging range of termites. A large colony contained about 1 – 7 million foragers and could travel distance up to 100 m. A small colony contained only 55,000 individuals and occupied foraging areas less than 20 meter square.
If you ask “How long termites have been infesting my structure?”, we can answer you only “They seem to have been there for a period of years.”.
The rate and extent of structural damage depends on many factors and conditions like food types, moisture content and also the amount of competing food sources, it is extremely hard to predict with confidence how long an infestation has been present. However, some studies show a large colony could consume 0.5 – 1 kg of wood each day.
Termites belong to the insect order Isoptera, an ancient insect group that dates back more than 100 million years. The Latin name Isoptera means “equal wing”and refers to the fact that the front set of wings on a reproductive termite is similar in size and shape to the hind set. In nature they make many positive contributions to the world’s ecosystems. Their greatest contribution is the role they play in recycling wood and plant material. It is however, termites become a problem when they consume structural lumber.
Most termite species swarm in late summer or fall, although spring swarms are not uncommon for subterranean and drywood termites. New kings and queens are winged during their early adult life but lose their wings after dispersing from their original colony.
An infestation begins when a mated pair finds a suitable nesting site near or in wood and constructs a small chamber, which they enter and seal. Soon afterward, the female begins egg laying, and both the king and queen feed the young on predigested food until they are able to feed themselves. Most species of termites have microscopic, one-celled animals called protozoa within their intestines that help in converting wood (cellulose) into food for the colony.
Once workers and nymphs are produced, the king and queen are fed by the workers and cease feeding on wood. Termites go through incomplete metamorphosis with egg, nymph, and adult stages. Nymphs resemble adults but are smaller and are the most numerous stage in the colony. They also groom and feed one another and other colony members.
There are more than 2,500 different types of termites in the world. However, most of this diversity can be lumped into four distinct groups: dampwood termites, drywood termites, subterranean termites, and mound builders.
Subterranean termites require moist environments. To satisfy this need, they usually nest in or near the soil and maintain some connection with the soil through tunnels in wood or through shelter tubes they construct. These shelter tubes are made of soil with bits of wood or even plasterboard (drywall).
Much of the damage they cause occurs in foundation and structural support wood. Because of the moisture requirements of subterranean termites, they are often found in wood that has wood rot or inside home, they are often found in wood floor, wood flames or wood furniture closed to restroom, bathroom, kitchen or window.
Controlling Subterranean Termites
Subterranean and dampwood termites in structures cannot be adequately controlled by fumigation, heat treatment, freezing, or termite electrocution devices because the reproductives and nymphs are concentrated in nests near or below ground level in structures out of reach of these control methods. The primary methods of controlling these termites are the application of termiticides or baiting programs.
Use of termiticides or baits should be supplemented with the destruction of their access points or nests. To facilitate control of subterranean termites, destroy their shelter tubes whenever possible to interrupt access to wooden substructures and to open colonies to attack from natural enemies such as ants.
Dampwood termites only infest wood with high moisture content. Dampwood termites nest in wood buried in the ground, although contact with the ground is not necessary when infested wood is high in moisture. Because of their high moisture requirements, dampwood termites most often are found in cool, humid areas like flowerbeds and are typical pests of beach houses. Infestations in structures usually occur where wood is wetted by moisture leaks. Structures, utility poles, pilings, and lumber exposed to high moist soil and humidity are subject to attack.
Dampwood termites are noticeably larger than subterranean termites. Winged reproductives typically swarm between July and October, but it is not unusual to see them at other times of the year. Dampwood termite winged reproductives (sometimes called swarmers) are attracted to lights. Dampwood termites produce distinctive fecal pellets that are rounded at both ends, elongate, and lack the clear longitudinal ridges common to drywood termite pellets.
For dampwood termites, if infestations are small, destroy accessible nests by removing infested wood. Removing excess moisture from wood will also destroy dampwood termite nests.
Drywood termites are so-named because they live entirely in dry, sound wood. They are well adapted to withstand environmental extremes in both moisture and temperature. Drywood termites colonies are small in comparison to subterranean termties, containing perhaps a few thousands individuals. Drywood termites infest dry, undecayed wood, including structural lumber as well as dead limbs of native trees and shade and orchard trees, utility poles, posts, and lumber in storage. From these areas, winged reproductives seasonally migrate to nearby buildings and other structures usually on sunny days during fall months.
Drywood termites have a low moisture requirement and can tolerate dry conditions for prolonged periods. They remain entirely above ground and do not connect their nests to the soil. Piles of their fecal pellets, which are distinctive in appearance, may be a clue to their presence. The fecal pellets are elongate (about 3/100 inch long) with rounded ends and have six flattened or roundly depressed surfaces separated by six longitudinal ridges.