A termite is an insect pest that consumes wood and lives in a nest or colony similar to an ant. Termites are often confused with ants, but they can be identified by their straight antennae, thick waists and four equal-length wings (if they have them). These insects create colonies by burrowing into the ground or into wooden structures to feed on cellulose. They create tunnels, or tubes, of mud or wood to travel throughout the colony and avoid exposure to air. There are three common types of termites in the United States: subterranean termites, drywood termites and dampwood termites.
Termite Caste System
A termite colony is dependent on its caste system to survive. The queen termite is in charge of the colony and reproduction. Workers care for the larvae/nymphs, construct the tunnels of the colony and find food. Soldier termites have larger heads and defend the colony with their specially-developed mandibles. They are usually yellowish-brown in color. Reproductive termites, also known as alates, are darker in color and have two pairs of wings, which they will use to fly off and create new colonies.
A termite’s life cycle begins with the egg, laid by a fertilized queen. These eggs are cared for by worker termites until they hatch into larvae and begin their process of joining colony caste life.
A newborn larval termite is kept in a colony nursery and cared for by worker termites, which bring them pre-digested cellulose to feed on, as larvae cannot digest food on their own. Larvae undergo several exoskeleton molts in order to grow into mature adult termites of different castes according to the needs of the colony.
To reproduce and build nests, reproductive alate termites must leave the colony in an event known as a swarm, mate and settle down again. Alates develop from nymphs, a specific kind of larval termite. They have wings and darker, harder bodies that can handle exposure to the outdoor elements, such as sunlight and drier air. Once they have mated and settled in a new location, alates shed their wings and begin building a new colony.
The queen termite can live up to a decade in optimal nesting conditions. However, worker and soldier termites only live for about a year to two years. Swarms occur whenever the colony has reached peak population, which usually happens three to six years after a new colony has been established. Swarming usually occurs in the spring and summer, though some termites are also known to swarm in the fall, as well.
Encounters & Concerns
If you discover the presence of termites in your home or on your property, they will most likely be worker termites or termite swarmers. Worker termites are what you will find if you stumble upon termite wood damage on your property. Wood may break or be fragile as a result of a termite colony’s silent destruction of a structure’s interior. Reproductive alates are usually seen when they begin to swarm away from their former colonies or when homeowners find their bodies or shed wings near windows, doors or other sources of light.
Termites cause billions of dollars of structural damage every year in the United States. Wood that has been eaten away and tunneled into by a colony will need to be replaced or reinforced. If the infestation is not discovered for a long period of time, the homeowner may have an extensive and expensive repair job ahead in order to keep the home secure and help it keep its value. Termites can damage wooden floors, wall coverings, construction wood, trees and outdoor structures like telephone poles.