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Subterranean Termites in Winter

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Have you ever wondered what happens to termites in the winter? If you’ve never wondered, are you wondering now? The answer to this question is less than exciting but not reassuring to a homeowner: they don’t go anywhere!

During the winter months, insects seem to vanish from sight, only to magically reappear when the weather turns warm. It’s not magic, though, it’s simply a process called overwintering. It’s a bit like hibernation, but it’s different for every species. Grasshoppers die and leave only their eggs behind. In this case, the overwintering stage is the egg. Yellowjackets perish while their newly-mated queens seek out shelter behind bark or under logs. Moths may overwinter as cocoons. Beetles may overwinter as grubs in the ground.

Some insects don’t enter dormancy, though. Honey bees are one of these insects, and termites are another.

When the temperatures drop, termites don’t die. They don’t hibernate, and they don’t stop eating. They are active year-round, but their behavior changes in the colder months.

Termites prefer mild temperatures around 70°C to 80°C. At these temperatures, the workers are foraging far from the colony, endlessly looking for new sources of wood, often within the first couple inches of the soil layer. Termites are easy to find at this temperature, because we’re active at those temperatures, too. We are outside in the garden, working in the yard, or landscaping, and discovering termites near our homes. Termites are also swarming at these temperatures, and that is an obvious sign of a termite problem.

From December to about February, the workers are foraging a lot closer to their colony. Food sources that are exposed to the cold are abandoned in favor of food below ground level. They won’t eat as much, because their metabolism slows down when they are cold. They’ll dig deeper into the soil to stay warm. The queen may halt egg production until the temperature rises. Termite growth is much slower, and there won’t be any swarms. But just because we aren’t outside in the yard encountering termites doesn’t mean that termites aren’t chewing on our homes in the winter. If termites are fortunate enough to be around a heated home, their behavior may not change much at all.

You should always be vigilant when it comes to termites and your home. If you notice wood damage, mud tubes, or ripples on the walls, be sure to have your home checked for termite activity. Every home should have an annual termite inspection as well as some type of year-round termite protection, because termites never take a break, and neither should you.