Subterranean termites are the most destructive insect pests of wood in the world. In the U.S alone, they cause more than $2 billion in damage each year, more property damage than that caused by fire and windstorm combined.
Many Termite species are important in relation to our environment. They break down many dead trees, bush waste, and other wood materials that would otherwise accumulate. In doing so they replace the otherwise lost nutrients and minerals back into the soil.
Due to this natural hunger for dead or dying wood, Termites also present a serious risk to building owners when they attack the wooden elements of human structures -- homes, businesses and warehouses. Their presence is not readily noticed because they hide their activity behind panel sheeting, tiles, or paint. Of the more than 3000-4000 species worldwide, approximately 5-10% are a significant menace to man.
Termites are social insects. They are similar to ants in their habits of living together and their small size, but similar to bees and wasps where they consist of several hierarchies which differ physically and in terms of duties to perform and have a well developed social order controlled by a Queen. The other members of a termite colony or castes are a king, workers, soldiers, reproductives and alates. All of these castes contribute in individual ways to growth and protection of a colony. Each colony can contain in excess of a million termites.
The workers are males and females whose sexual organs and characteristics have not developed. They make up the largest number of individuals within a colony because they perform all the tasks except defence and reproduction. It is the Workers that do all of the work of the colony -- feeding the other castes, grooming the queen, excavating the nest and making tunnels. In working, they chew and eat wood, causing the destruction that makes termites economically important.
They are blind, wingless and sterile, generally about ¼ to 3/8 inch long, and they have a thin body covering (cuticle), which makes them susceptible to drying out (desiccation) when they leave the confines of the colony. Workers are the palest individuals in the colony, apart from the eggs and developing young.
Soldiers resemble workers in color and general appearance, except that soldiers have large, well-developed brownish heads with strong mandibles or jaws. Soldiers defend the colony against invaders, primarily ants and other termites.
Soldiers are abundant in species that have a large central colony system, but scarce in some other species. Sightless, they have no compound eyes, except in some primitive species where the eyes are poorly developed. Like workers, their cuticle is thin and they are susceptible to dessication and seldom leave the environmental security of the colony and shelter tubes.
Reproductives are the sexual forms of a colony - the future kings and queens. The young (nymphs) of reproductives grow by successive skin shedding (molts) until they are fully winged alates in most species. Their cuticles are denser than that of the other castes, being more resistant to drying out when they leave the parent colony to establish new colonies.
Reproductive males and females can be winged (primary) or wingless (secondary or tertiary). Each can produce new offspring. The bodies of primary reproductives, also called swarmers or alates, vary by species from coal black to pale yellow-brown. Wings may be pale or smoky gray to brown and have few distinct veins. Swarmer termites are about 1/4 to 3/8 inch long.
Secondary and tertiary reproductives in the colony are generally white to cream-colored and may have short wing buds. Developed as needed, they replace a primary queen when she is injured or dies.
Through the construction of tunnels both underground and over edges of concrete slabs, up subfloor walls and over or through items that appear in their way, they can travel a radius of at least 50 metres and to a depth of at least 300mm underneath the ground.
Shelter Tubes (commonly referred to as "Mudding" or "Leads") are built if they need to travel above ground over items to get to food and also to protect them from the dry air outside and other insect predators.
"I was asked by another pest control technician to use my Termatrac Termite Detection Radar on a house which had ongoing termite damage but they were unable to locate the activity. I started at the front door following each wall from the left. Termite activity was quickly located in the laundry area; however, the technician I was with was not convinced. With permission from the owner, he removed the wall lining, but activity was still not visible and he stuck a screwdriver into the bottom plate and it sounded solid.
As the Termatrac Termite Detection Radar was still showing movement and presence of termites in this location, he then used a crowbar and lifted the bottom plate which a single line of termites was located underneath. That was the best find of the year. I rate the Termatrac Termite Detection Radar 10 out of 10."
Dean Foley, DNA Pest Control (NSW, Australia)