sam3 clip image002Subterranean termites are the single greatest economic pest in the United States. They cause billions of dollars in damage each year to homes, historical structures, and commercial buildings. In addition to buildings, termites also consume valuable books, documents and photographs. Subterranean termites have existed for over 55 million years and are extremely good at what they do. A great deal of their success can be attributed to their cooperative behavior.

Subterranean termites are social insects. This means that they live in family groups called colonies. Social insects are different from other insects (grasshoppers, cockroaches, or beetles) because each termite in the colony performs a specific job that benefits the colony as a whole. Most other insects work only for themselves. For example, each individual grasshopper will feed and reproduce itself independently of its siblings. In the termite colony an entire group or caste of termites is responsible for feeding their parents and siblings, while another caste is responsible for reproduction. Because of this division of labor, the colony of individuals functions as a single animal.

Colony Establishment & Swarming Behavior

Swarming is the termite method of dispersal and new colony establishment. The swarmers are new termite kings and queens that must leave their parent colony in order to mate and establish new colonies of their own. The subterranean termite, usually swarms in the spring (March-May) during the daylight hours on warm days following a rain.

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Subterranean termite swarmers are attracted to light. If they emerge indoors they will be seen flying to windowsills and open doors. Usually, termite swarming either indoors or outside is the first indication to homeowners that they have a subterranean termite infestation.



sam3 clip image001 0000The termite swarmers pair up during their flight then land and search for a place to begin a family. Their wings break off shortly after landing and the new king and queen start their colony by excavating a small chamber in a crevice or plot of soft soil. From this point on, they will spend the rest of their lives underground. As the new queen begins to produce eggs her abdomen grows larger with the development of her ovaries. As she stretches, the segments of her body pull farther apart showing the white membranes between the segments of her abdomen. This gives the queen a striped appearance. At this point she is an egg laying machine. The colony will continue to grow with increasing numbers of termites being produced each year. The parental king and queen often survive for a decade or longer and can produce huge colonies. Mature colonies (4-6 years old) of Philippine milk termites have been estimated to contain more than 30,000 workers on average. Mega colonies have been recorded with populations estimated over a million. These large subterranean termite colonies often become decentralized over time and occupy multiple nesting sites interconnected by a network of underground tunnels.


Subterranean Termite Castes

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Queen & Secondary Reproductives

The termite colony originates from a single pair of reproductive swarmer termites, the king and queen. However, if the king or queen should die, other individuals within the colony will start to develop functional reproductive organs to take their place. These individuals are called secondary reproductives. Secondary reproductives may also develop in satellite nests where a group of workers have become separated from the parent colony. This splitting or budding of the nest expands the original colony's foraging territory.

Worker Caste Subterranean termite workers are the caste found feeding on wood. The workers are
 responsible for all of the labor in the colony. They care for the young, repair the nest, build foraging tunnels, locate food, feed and groom the other castes and each other. The youngest termite workers perform the tasks inside the colony like feeding, grooming and caring for the young, while the older more expendable workers take on the hazardous jobs of foraging and nest building. The termite workers are both male and

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female but they are functionally sterile. They are milky white in color and have no wings or eyes. The body of the termite worker is soft, but its mouthparts are very hard and adapted for chewing wood.

Soldier Caste Subterranean termite soldiers are the defenders of the colony. They protect the colony against marauding ants and foreign termites. When foraging tubes or galleries are broken into, the soldiers c

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ongregate around the break to stand guard against invaders. Soldiers are similar to the termite workers in that they are blind, soft-bodied and wingless. However, the soldiers have an enlarged, hard, yellowish-brown head which has been modified for defense. The head has a pair of very large mandibles or jaws that are made to puncture, slice and kill enemies (primarily ants). However, the large mandibles prevent the soldiers from feeding themselves so they must rely on the workers for food.