Subterranean termite overview
The eastern subterranean termite is the most common subterranean termite in North America and can be found on many other continents. This specific eastern termite species is the most destructive wood destroying insect in Northern America.
Eastern subterranean termites have a high moisture requirement for survival and must live in protected ground nests and build shelter tubes to food sources to maintain moisture and humidity. This particular termite species are responsible for the more than 2 billion dollars spent annually in the U. S for control and damage.
The life of a subterranean termite
Subterranean termites live in a social colony where different members (castes) perform different task. They are not related to ants at all.
The Worker Caste: This caste makes up the majority of the colony which eat the wood and perform all the labor. Labor includes feeding and grooming the other caste members, including the queen and soldiers. Aside from laboring for the colony, other labor might include foraging for wood food, repairing & constructing shelter tubes, and care for eggs and young. This species works 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Soft bodied, creamy white less than 1/4 in long. The Soldier Caste: this caste defends the colony from enemies, mainly ant invasions. They are larger than the workers, have large heads and strong mandibles used to crush invading ants in battle. Some species have a structure on their head that secretes a chemical compound that also wards off invading ants.
Reproduction & The Environment
Soldiers do not eat wood and must be fed by the workers.
Reproductive Caste: This caste is made up of the mating king and queen termites. Mating king and queen termites establish the colony and begin the egg laying and growth process. Once the colony gets large enough, “Secondary Reproductives” are created. Secondary Reproductives also contribute to the egg laying process.
The reproductive caste and secondary reproductive members do not feed on the wood and must be fed, groomed by the workers. Once the colony is strongly established, it will develop winged reproductives “alates” (male and female). Alates will then fly out of the colony, usually in the spring. These flying termites will attempt to mate and start a new colony in the soil at another location.
These termites are very beneficial in the environment and help break down dead cellulose material (wood) in the environment to basic organic material.
Furthermore, some can’t distinguish the wood in your home from a log in the forest. Due to this reason, they will do their job and feed on your structural wood. As a result, all of these types of termites digest cellulose utilizing micro-organisms and bacteria in their gut. Like all insects they molt (shed their exoskeleton) to grow.
Interesting facts about subterranean termites
- Female subterranean termites, along with secondary reproductives, can lay over 1,000 eggs per day
- Queens of the subterranean termite species can live over 10 years
- Depending on species, subterranean termite colonies can range from 20,000 to 5 million termites in size
How do your know you have them and how do you get rid of them?
Most noticeable ways you know you have subterranean termites is signs of damage in structural wood including wall studs, floor joists and base boards. Damage will contain dirt and the termites will usually eat with the grain of the wood. At times, the damage may not be seen because of paint or wall coverings.
Next you may notice shelter tubes. Tubes may be made up of dirt and cellulose material to protect the termites as the feed and forage for more wood.
Finally, you might see flying termites (swarmers or alates) usually in the spring.. which tells you have a mature colony somewhere and it is sending out reproductives to start a new colony. Usually dark in color with whitish wings, these swarmers will flutter and appear to not fly very well.
Proper control measures for subterranean termites must be done by a trained pest professionals. Techniques may include chemical soil barriers, borate wood treatments or termite baits.