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FLORIDA TERMITES
A source for information on termites

Sub-Terranean Termites

 

 

Appearance:
Workers are pale, cream colored and wingless. Soldiers are light colored with elongated brown heads and large mandibles. Supplementary reproductives are light-colored and usually wingless, while primary reproductives are dark brown or black with two pairs of gray wings that extend past the body.

Size:
Range from 3/8 to 1-inch in length.

Behavior:
Subterranean termites nest in soil to obtain moisture, but they also nest in wood that is often wet. They can easily infest any wood in contact with the ground. If the wood does not contact the soil, they can build mud tunnels or tubes to reach wood several feet above ground. These tunnels can reach 50-60 feet to reach wood and often enter a structure through expansion joints in concrete slabs or where utilities enter the house. A subterranean termite colony can contain between 100,000 and 1 million individuals.

They subterranean termite tends to swarm in spring, but swarms can occur at any time of the year. The primary reproductives are sent out to start new colonies. Supplementary reproductives can only reproduce in their own colony, assisting with population growth. Unlike dry wood termites, subterranean termites have a worker caste that contains winged and wingless reproductive males and females (swarmer’s or alates), workers, and soldiers.

Male and female reproductives emerge to nest and mate, usually from January through April. Their flight is triggered by factors such as heat, light and moisture. As time goes by, the queen grows larger and lays more eggs. The colony stabilizes when the queen reaches maximum egg production or dies; when this happens a secondary reproductive takes her place to keeps the colony thriving.

Workers, which make up the largest number of individuals within a colony, do all the colony maintenance, including excavating the nest and making tunnels by chewing and eating wood which causes the most termite destruction. Soldiers resemble the worker except for their large mandibles or jaws. They defend the colony against intruders, primarily ants. Sub colonies, which can exist alone or unite with the main colony, are formed when the old colony produces swarmer’s to repeat the subterranean termites growth cycle.

Habitat:
Dead trees and brush are the original food source of subterranean termites. When land is cleared of this material and houses are built on these sites, termites attack the structures. Termites can enter buildings through wood in direct contact with the soil, by building shelter tubes over or through foundations, or by entering directly through cracks or joints in and under foundations.

Any material in direct contact with soil, such as trees, vines or even plumbing fixtures, can serve as an avenue for infestation. Subterranean termite swarmer’s may also be blown into or on structures, thereby starting a new colony.

Termites are attracted to odors formed by wood-decaying fungi that soften the wood and make it easier to penetrate. Moisture is important to subterranean termites, which have little resistance to dehydration. To survive, the termites must maintain contact with soil, their main moisture source, or other above-ground moisture sources such as structures with defective plumbing or gutters.

Termites foraging for food above ground protect themselves with shelter or mud tubes. Worker termites build the tubes from particles of soil or wood and bits of debris held together by salivary secretions. The tubes may be thinly constructed or large and thick-walled to accommodate many termites moving vertically between the soil and the food source.

This construction material also is found lining the galleries built in wood being attacked and aids in identifying termite-damaged wood. Shelter tubes often are used to bridge masonry or other objects, allowing termites access to a food source (wood) above ground.

Economic Significance:
Subterranean termites are the most common and economically important wood-destroying organisms in the U.S., They cause more than $2.2 billion in damage each year, more than fire, tornadoes and hurricanes combined. Their colonies can contain up to a million termites and are much larger than dry wood termite colonies. Some species of subterranean termites can consume 15 pounds of wood per week!

Control:
Thorough inspections are the best way to determine whether infestations and damage are present and what measures must be taken. Because subterranean termites forage in soil, it is important to keep structural lumber from direct contact with soil. Check the house foundations, garage and other structures for shelter tubes extending from the soil. Leaky plumbing, air conditioning condensation, and any portion of a building that collects excessive amounts of moisture should be fixed to maintain an environment less attractive to subterranean termites.

Examine foundations and discoloration or staining on walls or ceilings for water leaks that can decay wood and aid termite infestation. Pay close attention to spots where plumbing or utility pipes enter the foundation or flooring. Wood pressure-treated with preservatives can be resistant to termites, and use of treated wood can minimize available food sources for subterranean termites.  

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-- Duggan Cooley, former CEO- RCS

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