Information on Termites

What are Termites?

Termites are tiny social insects that are most commonly known for eating timber (usually homes)! There are many varieties, including drywood, dampwood and subterranean Termites. In Australia, the majority of damage is caused by Subterranean Termites, these are the termites we refer to when talking aboutthe timber destroying pests that might be munching on your home.

Termites are incredibly destructive insects, causing Billions of dollars worth of damage to Australian homes. If you have found termites (or White Ants as they are commonly called) what do you do? Our reaction is often to reach for the closest insecticide and kill those terrifying termites! However, it is best not to. The termites are social insects and there is usually a large colony feeding on your home. Killing a few will only cause them to look for another way into your home.  

If you want all the technical, nerdy info on Termites, then just go to the CSIRO page on Termites, or the Wikipedia Entry.

There are a few different castes in a family, the Queen, workers, soldiers and Alates.

 
 A Nasutitermes nest, high up in a tree! This species of termites are usually mound builders and will build a nest on a tree or on the ground.

A Nasutitermes nest, high up in a tree! This species of termites are usually mound builders and will build a nest on a tree or on the ground.

WHERE DO TERMITES LIVE?

Subterranean Termites live in large colonies, usually underground (hence the name!) however, some species such as Coptotermes and Nasutitermes can live in trees.

 

DO ALL TERMITES EAT TIMBER?

No, not all termites eat timber, it's the workers that do all the eating in a termite colony, and you may be surprised to find that most termite species don't eat timber but rather eat other organic material!

There are about a dozen termite species that cause all the havoc on Australian homes. We generally come across about half of these species in the Central Coast, Lake Macquarie, Hunter and Newcastle regions that cause tremendous amounts of damage nonetheless!

 
 Subterranean termite  workers  in their natural habitat. Underground! These termites are about 5-6mm in length and eat timber 24 hours, 7 days a week!

Subterranean termite workers in their natural habitat. Underground! These termites are about 5-6mm in length and eat timber 24 hours, 7 days a week!

WHAT DO TERMITES LOOK LIKE?

There are a few different castes in a family, the Queen, workers, soldiers and Alates.

The Queen is very rarely ever seen, it lives deep inside the colony and has a huge abdomen! She is nothing more than an egg factory, unable to move or care for herself, she is tended to by workers who feed her, groom her and take eggs away as she lays them. A termite queen can live for up to 50 years and can lay thousands of eggs a day!

The Workers are more pale than the other termites in the colony and are the ones doing damage in homes and are busy recycling timber! They are the muscles of the colony, they bring the food back to the queen and tend to the young in the nursery, they are so industrious they even feed the Soldiers! 

 
 A Termite soldier. You can tell by the mandibles and darker body. This is a Schedorhinotermes major soldier.

A Termite soldier. You can tell by the mandibles and darker body. This is a Schedorhinotermes major soldier.

Defenders of the colony!

The Soldiers are the last line of defence for a termite colony, they are often discernible by their mandibles (except for the nasutitermes species, they have a distinct pear shaped head) and are the termites you most often see when you disrupt the termites. They will come out, ready to defend the colony whilst the workers quickly retreat! When it's time to repair any breakages in their mud tubes, the Soldiers serve as sentinels whilst the workers get busy patching things up. In some species, however, the soldiers patch up the break, sometimes even sacrificing themselves to bridge a hole in their workings so as not to allow a predator in!

Looking at soldiers is the best way of identifying the species of a termite colony, there are very few colonies that can be identified by merely inspecting the workers.

 

 

 

 
 This is a termite alate, commonly referred to as a "swarmer" these fly out of a colony to start a new colony where favourable conditions are met.

This is a termite alate, commonly referred to as a "swarmer" these fly out of a colony to start a new colony where favourable conditions are met.

Can Termites fly?

Yes! The Alates, or winged reproductives are sent out to start new colonies, often a subterranean termite colony can send out thousands of these reproductives to start a new colony. They need to find a nice moist area with timber readily available to feed them and the new colony they will try to form. Most Alates die before they can do so. For a detailed explanation on Alates and identifying them, read our blog post.

 
Termite Entry point 1.jpg

HOW DO TERMITES GET INTO MY HOME?

Termites are very industrious, and are always foraging for food, even if they have plenty! Due to their nature, they are always foraging underground which means they are very covert in their operation.  Termites need to be underground as they need constant contact with their colony and a source of moisture, they can't survive without these two which is why you'll see them travelling around in mud tubes. Although their actions may appear random in nature, they are very good at detecting sources of food. The termites radiate from the central nest, which can be up to 100m away from a feeding site, looking for timber and keeping themselves moist, needless to say if they find moisture near your home, it will be a major attractant for them! Termites enter homes through foundations and timber structures or gardens that are in ground contact and part of the home. They are very creative and don't need many invitations to get it!

 

HOW DO YOU KILL TERMITES?

Individual termites are really easy to kill, you only have to expose them to the atmosphere and they will die, spray them with your favourite insecticide, and they're dead, you can even squish them between your fingers! However, it's not the individual termites that are the problem, it's the whole colony.

Termites can live in a colony of upwards of one million individual termites, and that's where it gets tricky. There is no "silver bullet" when it comes to killing off termite colonies. Sometimes there will be an obvious termite colony in a tree (as pictured above) and it's not too difficult to eradicate that colony.

However, there is seldom just one colony near a property and often there will be a colony (or two) of termites attacking a home and there won't be an sign of their home. That's were a program of baiting or other methods of eradication are required. These methods usually involve introducing a non repellent, slow acting termiticide that kills the colony off slowly without the termites realising what's going on, this is the secret to effective termite control.

An experienced pest control operator will find the entry point for termites, the type of termite attacking your home and come up with a method and management plan that will work for your property. This requires inspection a home, using specialised equipment to determine the entry point, extent of infestation, the type of termites and a means of not only eradicating the colony but also how to protect the home from Termites in the future.