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Subterranean Termites

Subterranean termites probably have existed throughout their present range for millions of years. Most of the termite damage in the United States is caused by native species. They are found throughout the tropical and temperate parts of the world, but they predominate in the tropical and subtropical regions. In their natural habitat, termites are considered beneficial insects because they break down dead or dying plant materials, and thus they are an important part of the nutrient cycle. However, when termites feed on wooden structures, they become pests. The soil provides several advantages that make it suitable as the dwelling for subterranean termites: it serves as a source of moisture, shields termites from predators, and is used as a building material for construction of shelter tubes above ground. If moisture is available from a source other than soil, subterranean termites may not require connection to the soil. Thus, isolated, aboveground infestations may occur in homes where subterranean termites have access to water from condensation, leaking pipes, roofs or other sources. Termites are social insects, living in highly organized colonies composed of individuals that have different physical features and/or behavioral roles. The three major types are workers, soldiers and reproductives. The species of termite can be determined by physical characteristics of the soldier and winged reproductives. Workers are wingless, soft-bodied insects that are gray or yellow-white. They are found in the greatest numbers in a subterranean termite colony and are the ones usually seen when a piece of infested wood in examined. Their duties are to care for eggs and young, feed and clean other termites, forage for food, and construct and repair shelter tubes and other workings. Soldiers have larger, brownish heads and longer mouthparts (mandibles) than workers. They guard the colony and defend against predators. Reproductives, or sexual adults, have black or yellow-brown bodies. They have two pair of long, whitish, translucent wings of equal size at the time they disperse from a colony, but they shed their wings soon after flight. With increased age, the body of a functioning female reproductive may become greatly expanded with developing eggs and she will attain a size several times that of workers. The principal food of subterranean termites is cellulose, obtained form wood and other plant tissues. Termites, therefore, feed on wooden portions of buildings, utility poles, fence posts, or any other wood product.

Coptotermes formosanus (Shiraki)

Formosan Termite Coptotermes formosanus (Shiraki)

Identifying the Formosan Termite: In order to control Formosan termites, you need to be able to identify them and know what you're up against. These termites have been a problem in Hawaii since the early 1900's. Since 1965, when a colony was discovered in Houston, Texas, they have also been discovered in areas of Louisiana, South Carolina and Florida. The major difference between Formosan colonies and native subterranean colonies is that of size and aggressiveness. While a typical native subterranean colony might contain 240,000 termites, a typical Formosan colony will contain 2-4 million termites!! A large colony may contain up to 10 million Formosans! One of the first clues to alert you that Formosans may be present in an unusually large number of swarmers. In Louisiana, the Formosan swarms in May and June, while in Florida, the swarm season can begin as early as March and sometimes lasts through July. Another important factor is the time of day they swarm. Native termites are daytime flyers, but Formosans swarm at dusk. Because they swarm at night, Formosans are attracted to lights in large numbers. It if often possible to detect them around light fixtures, picture windows, mercury vapor street lights, and other well lighted areas. Another characteristic of the Formosan colony is the large percentage of soldiers, usually between 8% and 15%. In addition to being more aggressive than native subterranean soldiers, the head capsules of Formosan soldiers are oval compared to the square or oblong shape of other species. Also, Formosan winged reproductives are yellowish-brown instead of black, and are somewhat longer than native subterraneans. Although Formosan termites are subterraneans, they are also capable of starting secondary colonies above ground. These aerial colonies are formed in several ways. A true aerial colony is formed by a pair of winged Formosans finding suitable conditions in the house, but it can also be formed by the colony moving the primary king and queen from the ground to the house and cutting off their connections to the ground. If the above ground infestation is large and there are supplementary reproductives, they will take over and keep the aerial infestation going.