“Are ‘Silent Destroyers’ Lurking in Your Home?”

by, Jo Carol Hebert

“Termite Awareness Week” has passed, but you might still want to know that these pesky little ‘woodworms’ are considered the silent destroyers. This is because they can quietly invade and eat away the tasty wood parts of your home. 

North American ‘Wood Chompers’

Termites are less than one-inch long, but a termite colony of 60,000 of these social, highly-organized pests can eat a foot of wood in five months. Other than chewing up the timber foundations that support your house, these insects are otherwise very helpful in the wild. They enjoy the sugar of the cellulose plant fiber of dead trees in forests. This clears out the area for exposure to sunlight and new plant growth. 

But when they invade your domain and nest in your wooden doors, window frames, carpets, wallpaper, and the wood posts that hold up your house, these uninvited house guests are a nightmare.  

Time to call the ‘Exterminators’!

Types of Termites 

Drywood Termites are smaller colonies of 2,500 members. They burrow in the wood of buildings, build nests, and eventually, (from 2-5 years) if not discovered, the building is damaged. They can be most destructive because they will also eat plastics, and fabrics made of wood. They ‘swarm’ into attics or house foundation cracks to find mates and reproduce thousands of ‘not so cute’ eggs.

Dampwood Termites need moist wood, and move into buildings that have leaky plumbing where the wood is nice and juicy. These types live along the Pacific coastlines and Southern Florida. They nest directly in the wood and not in the ground.

Subterranean Termites are your really bad termites with colonies up to 2,000,000 members with organized roles to perform: the workers, soldiers, reproducers, King and Queen. They need underground soil to build nests. Expert ‘worker engineers’ build tunnels up to their food sources of furniture, plastic plumbing pipes, sub-flooring, and insulation.

Did You Know?

  • There are 2,000 species of termites in the world
  • Termites eat wood non-stop – 24/7 
  • Termites have been around since the dinosaur age
  • The weight of all termites in the world is greater than the weight of all humans
  • They are ‘social insects’ – born, live and work in ‘colonies’ as a family group
  • A termite is a ‘social-kind’ of cockroach. Other social insects are: bees, wasps, and ants
  • Songbirds, eagles, owls, chickens, frogs, lizards, and anteaters eat termites

Termite Architects: The Mound Builders

The ‘Grass-Eating’ Australian Termites

These are the really interesting formations of North Australia, revered by the indigenous Aboriginal people of Australia. Although there are 350 species of termites in Australia, only 20 of these species are destructive. The ‘mound builders’ of the tropical remote outback regions enrich the soil by breaking down the clay dirt and grass, thus bringing up the nutrients from underground.

The large mounds are called ‘termitariums’, built over underground nests by hundreds of millions of  termites over whole lifetimes. The ‘spinex’ termites construct tall and narrow slab mounds like headstones in a vast cemetery. Other structures by ‘magnetic’ or ‘compass’ termites are shaped like ‘cones’. Made of soil, saliva and termite excretions, termitariums can be up to 17 feet, 10 feet around, weigh 10 tons and house 2,000,000,000 members.

African Termites

African termite mounds are often covered by vegetation. This provides food for herbivores of the area. The 6-13 feet-high mounds form hills with ridges and harden like rock. Elephants use them for ‘scratching’ posts. Some African termite species are ‘fungus-growers’. Their cellulose ‘poop’ ferments and provides food. Like all 

subterranean termites, the nest is underground and the mound has tunnels for ventilation of air. Sometimes, Cheetahs will perch on top of a mound to get a better view of possible prey on the landscape.

South American Termites

A type of termite in Northeast Brazil is the ‘little-known’ ‘Syntermes dirus’. These incredible mound structures cover an area the size of Great Britain and can be seen from space. The 200,000,000 mounds are each approximately 10 feet tall, 33 feet wide, spaced 66 feet apart. 

Mound Motels

A typical termite colony within a mound will have about 33 pounds of termites that will move 550 pounds of dirt in an average year. They will also carry several tons of water through the mound, by transferring it mouth to mouth. Often the mound will outlast the colony. Then, other shelter-seeking animals slip into the cool available homes. Geckoes, lizards, snakes, and spiders will invade and inhabit the structures.

“The More You Know . . . “

Now that you are a ‘smarty-pants’ about ‘termites’, we hope that your life will be a little better, and that you can reflect on the information this week – in case you have nothing else to think of!

Here is a ‘termite joke’: “What did the termite say to the chair?”

(Answer: “Nice ‘knawing’ you”. Get it? ‘Knaw’ means to nibble on…..LOL)

*Take the Termite Test. See PDF’s for: *Draw/Color the Termite, brown or yellow. *Name the little termite in the cartoon!

Tiny Termite Test

1. True or False – ‘Drywood’ and ‘Dampwood’ are two kinds of termites.

2. True or False – There are 2,000 species of termites in the world.

3. True or False – Termites eat wood.

4. True or False – A termite is a “social insect”.

5. True or False – Other ‘social insects’ are butterflies and spiders.

6. True or False – Termites can grow to over 10 inches.

7. True or False – “Mound-building’ termites eat grass.

8. True or False – Some termite mounds in Brazil can be seen from space.

9. True or False – ‘Subterranean’ means ‘below ground’.

10. True or False – If you could, (would, wood) you have a termite for a pet? (Which word in the ‘parenthesis” fits the sentence?)

Categories: Bugs

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