Subterranean termites are commonly known as white ants. However, they are distinctly different from ants in their lifestyle and appearance.
In Nature, termites have an important role in recycling rotten timber in the forest and returning nutrients to the soil. When termites enter into our homes they are then declared pests and the damage they can cause to a home is substantial.
Identifying a Termite
Termites have pale brown to white bodies with a darker head and have no waist between the thorax and abdomen. The antennae have bead-like segments. The non-reproductive forms never develop wings, are blind, and have thin skin that makes them vulnerable to drying out. Reproductive forms have two pairs of equal-sized wings, one pair of compound eyes and thicker skin that protects them better from drying out when exposed.
The Damage Termites Can Cause
Many people fail to realise, until it’s too late, the extensive amount of damage that termites cause to modern homes. Since they remain concealed in the wood and enter your home through underground leads, it is often not until the damage is extensive and timbers collapse, that you realise you have a problem.
The workers are the ones who do all the damage. They are wingless, blind and sterile and are responsible for foraging for food, constructing tunnels, building the nest and feeding the other members of the colony. They feed on wood and other cellulose materials but have a preference for some timbers over others. As they feed they may hollow out timbers and often move from one area to another by constructing small tunnels made from a mud-like combination of faeces and saliva over non-susceptible materials.
They make these tunnels to protect themselves from predators and from the heat, light and lack of humidity in the outside environment. The soldiers responsible for the protection of the nest and in some species have a pair of mandibles on their head to attack predators. Termites can travel long distances to find food. The nest may be fifty meters away from where the workers are foraging.
They can work their way into a house from under the floor, up the wall cavity, alongside plumbing penetrations or through construction joints in the concrete.
Termite Life Cycle
Termites undergo an incomplete metamorphosis, with three developmental stages:
The eggs hatch into nymphs that are fed by the workers, and these nymphs then moult several times, differentiating into worker, soldier or reproductive forms. Development into adult forms takes several months, depending on the food, temperature and the size of the colony. Hormones are thought to control the numbers of each caste, with imbalances corrected by nymphs developing into whichever form is needed at the time
The reproductives when sexually mature are winged. In the warmer, more humid months, they swarm and can often be seen in the early evening, flying out of bushland to colonise new areas, sometimes your home. The Queen lays eggs and once the nest is established, does nothing else. The Queen of a large, mature colony can lay up to 2000 eggs per day. These eggs develop into workers, soldiers and reproductives.
The workers are the ones who do all the damage. They are wingless, blind and sterile and are responsible for foraging for food, constructing tunnels, building the nest and feeding the other members of the colony. They feed on wood and other cellulose materials but have a preference for some timbers over others. As they feed they may hollow out timbers and often move from one area to another by constructing small tunnels made from a mud-like combination of faeces and saliva over non-susceptible materials
Not all termites feed on wood, most feed on grass or other matter, and all are not pests to buildings. Those that do feed on wood will get their cellulose, sugar and starches from the sapwood of trees and timber constructions such as human buildings.
The queen can lay several thousand eggs in a day and the king is only slightly larger than the rest of the colony and will continue to mate with the queen for life. Nests are built in the soil because they are very dependent on the soil for their moisture.
Termites build their tunnels because they are susceptible to the environment on the outside. They usually work their way above ground to reach the cellulose, this is broken down into starch with the help of protozoans in the termites gut.
Nests are formed either in trees, in soil mounds or underground. There are 5 main nest types and many species will build more than one type of nest:
»Tree nests (outside tree, connected to the internal cavity)
»Pole nests (on human structures such as fence posts and telegraph poles)
»Subterranean nests (underground, in soil, stumps and tree bases)
»Tree wood (inside the tree)