Subterranean termites are ground-inhabiting, social insects that live in colonies. A colony or nest of subterranean termites may be up to 18-20 feet below the soil surface to protect it from extreme weather conditions. These termites travel through mud tubes to reach food sources above the soil surface. The mature termite colony has three castes: a) reproductives (king and queen), b) soldiers, and c) workers. The colony reaches its maximum size in approximately 4 to 5 years and may include 60,000 to 200,000 workers. New colonies are formed when winged males and females from a parent colony emerge in flight or swarm.
The winged reproductives are dark brown to brownish black and have two pairs of equal size wings that extend well beyond the body. Swarms are common in spring and fall, especially after a rain. After a flight, the winged males and females return to the ground and shed their wings. The wingless males and females pair off and search for sources of wood and moisture in soil. The royal couple digs a chamber in the soil near wood, enters the chamber and seals the opening. After mating, the queen starts laying eggs. The queen may live up to 25 years and lay more than 60,000 eggs in her lifetime. The eggs are yellowish white and hatch after an incubation of 50 to 60 days.
Full-grown workers are soft-bodied, wingless, blind and creamy white. In early stages, they are fed predigested food by the king and queen. Once workers are able to digest wood, they provide food for the entire colony. The workers perform all the labor in the colony such as obtaining food, feeding other caste members and immatures, excavating wood, and constructing tunnels. Workers mature within a year and live from 3 to 5 years.
Soldiers are creamy white, soft-bodied, wingless and blind. The head of the soldier is enormously elongated, brownish, hard and equipped with two jaws. Soldiers must be fed by workers because they cannot feed themselves. They are less numerous in the colony than workers and their only function is to defend the colony against invaders. Soldiers mature within a year and live up to 5 years.
How do I Know if I Have Termites?
The first step in prevention is to be on the alert for termites. Termites rarely emerge from soil, mud tubes, or food sources through which they are tunneling. Most people are not aware they have termites until they see a swarm or come across damage during construction.
Some of the ways to discover if you have termites are listed below:
- Examine, by probing, exposed wood for hollow spots (using a flathead screwdriver or similar tool).
- Identify termite swarms (sometimes ant swarms are mistaken as termites).
How Can I Prevent Termite Infestation?
Make the Structure Less Attractive to Termites
During construction, use a concrete foundation and leave a ventilation space between the soil and wood. Cover exposed wood surfaces with a sealant or metal barrier.
Maintain the Termite Prevention Features:
- After construction, keep the soil around the foundation dry through proper grading and drainage (including maintenance of gutters and downspouts).
- Reduce openings that offer termites access to the structure (filling cracks in cement foundations as well as around where utilities pass through the wall with cement, grout, or caulk).
- Fix leaks immediately.
- Keep vents free from blockage, including plants.
- Ensure that trees and shrubs are not planted too close to the structure and do not allow them to grow against exposed wood surfaces.
- Do not pile or store firewood or wood debris next to the house.
- Inspect periodically to help ensure that termite colonies do not become established.
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