Subterranean Termite Control: Subterranean Termites

Description

Eastern subterranean termites (reticulitermes flavipes) are small, social insects with mandibles, long bodies, and dwell underground near sources of food. Their colonies are divided up into caste systems, which can contain up to 5 million workers. This termite species feeds on cellulose, most notably wood, which can cause extensive structural damage to buildings. Moreover, termite queens can lay a large amount of eggs, increasing the risk of infestation.

Pest Facts

Color

Workers are cream colored; soldiers are cream colored with a brown head; swarmers are dark brown or black

Legs

Six

Shape

Long, oval

Size

Workers and soldiers ¼ in. long; swarmers are up to ½ in. long

Antennae

Yes

Flying

Only swarmers

Region

Largely North America

  • These termites are found mostly in the eastern United States
  • It is an invasive species in southern Canada
  • They have been spotted in France, Uruguay, the Bahamas, Germany, Chile
  • There is a case of them appearing in an Italian home, although how they were there in the first place is unknown

Habits

Eastern subterranean termites are social insects, meaning they live in colonies, divide labor, practice cooperative care of offspring, and have overlapping generations. These termites rely on a caste system made up of three classes: workers, soldiers, and swarmers. Workers take care of the foraging, care for the young, build and repair, and even help defend the colony. The caste which primarily defends the colony, however, is the soldier class, which protects the colony from ants and other enemies. The ones in the reproductive caste are known as swarmers. These swarmers are responsible for outbreeding and biological dispersal to create more colonies. The colony also has queens which lay eggs and produce pheromones needed for communication. Eastern subterranean termites feed on cellulose, primarily wood, although they will eat paper and cotton.

These termites live underground and construct tunnels to find food and water. In some cases, if the colony is mature enough to safely support itself, the termites might build a nest above ground in moist areas. During the winter, they will tunnel deeper underground to find warmth.

Reproduction

The termite queens reproduce and lay eggs daily. After mating, the male will die. A termite queen’s abdomen is enlarged allowing it to produce a massive quantity of eggs, usually 5,000 to 10,000 eggs per year, and can produce over 10,000,000 eggs in its life. During the springtime, reproductive males and females (the swarmer caste) are sent out to breed and create new colonies.

Lifespan

Worker and soldier termites can live up to two years, and a termite queen can live up to 50 years.

Threats

Of all termites, eastern subterranean termites are considered the most destructive species. They eat large quantities of wood and cause extensive damage to wooden structures and building foundations. When a building’s foundation is damaged, it can cause buckling in the floors and walls, hairline cracks, and can ultimately lead to expensive repairs to the property. Additionally, eastern subterranean termites can have colonies have an average of 300,000 workers, making them difficult to eradicate.

Prevention

One of the most reliable ways to prevent an eastern subterranean termite infestation is to remove their sources of food and water. By removing tree stumps, keeping wood off the ground, and not burying wood scraps, you eliminate the termite’s food source. Furthermore, ensuring water drains away and does not build up around the house cuts them off from a source of moisture. Repairing plumbing leaks will also help keep eastern subterranean termites from having access to water.