Pest Profile: Termites

Spp. Reticulitermes virginicus and Reticulitermes hageni

Subterranean termites are one of the most common species of termites in the United States. They belong to the order Isoptera and are a small to medium insect. They live in colonies and have a caste system in which each individual within the colony has a specific role. The three castes within a termite colony are workers, soldiers, and reproductives. Workers are sterile adults which are wingless and unpigmented. They make up the largest proportion of the colony’s adult population. They are responsible for providing food for themselves, the reproductives, soldiers, and very young nymphs. They also groom and clean the rest of the colony. Soldiers are sterile adult males and females. They have enlarged heads, are only slightly pigmented except for the head, and have no wings. They also have large jaws and mandibles. There are multiple types of reproductives. Primary reproductive termites are sometimes referred to as “swarmers” and are brown to black in color with four equal-sized wings, three pairs of legs, one pair of antennae, and a pair of large eyes on their head. There are also secondary reproductives that are only slightly pigmented in color and have short wing buds. The primary reproductives are sexually mature males and females that have the function of producing offspring to allow for growth and maintenance of a young colony population. The secondary reproductives are in place to produce even more offspring if something were to happen to the primary queen.

These termites typically swarm from March to May. Swarming indicates that the primary reproductive termites are ready to leave the nest and start their own colonies. This is typically when we become aware of a termite presence in or around homes and commercial structures: we see flying insects emerging from the walls. However, this is not the only indication of these termites. Subterranean termites rely heavily on moisture for survival, so in their attempt to migrate from the soil to your home, they must create safe passage. To accomplish this, they create mud tubes. These tubes are constructed by worker termites from particles of soil or wood and bits of debris held together with fecal material, just as mortar is used to hold together stones in a wall.

Termites are not just a nuisance; they pose a serious threat to your home. Termites are one of the few insects with the ability to digest cellulose; therefore, they are quickly able to do severe damage to your home. With colonies as large as 60,000 or more termites, they can consume at a minimum 1 lb of wood a day! So be sure to be watch for signs of termites and call a professional if you see anything suspicious!

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