Subterranean termites, along with drywood termites, are one of the most destructive termite species known to man. Identifying subterranean termites is essential, as the treatments between these two species are very different and are inactive on the wrong creature. Much like other termites, detection may include hollow walls, damage to wood or other starchy materials, fecal matter or winged termites swarming in the early summer months.
Subterranean Termites Identification
Identification is essential for this species, as treatments for other termites, such as drywood termites will not work. If you are unsure which termite you have, a good way to check is to collect a few creatures, if possible, and take them to your local county extension office. They will be able to validate any questions you may have. Unfortunately, worker termites and immature subterranean termites are almost impossible to identify correctly.
You may notice that the path of damage follows the grain of soft wood and that they may appear more prevalent in areas of moisture or high humidity, which is not a vital aspect of drywood termites. However, these are not defining characteristics as much as they may be good indicators to seek further advice. Subterranean termites may commonly be misidentified as flying or winged ants due to their small bodies and large wings as well as their general size.
Subterranean Termites Habitat
Subterranean termites spend the majority of their time underground, as their name would imply. This means they build nests and lay their eggs in soil; subterranean termites may come into your home by accident or if their food source outside is not enough to sustain growing populations. This is one of the only defining differences between subterranean termites and other common domestic termites. Unfortunately, as they can come into your home from many ground-based angles, damage can go unseen for some time. Crawlspaces should be inspected regularly.
Subterranean termites prefer warm climates with a loose soil, and as such, many southern states are prone to infestation. Inside the home, they have shown a preference to soft spring wood. They may also seek out areas which are humid or wet, but they do not require these factors to survive. They spend most of their time outside but may become a domestic pest in some cases. There are many preventative measures that can make your home less desirable to these creatures.
Life Cycle of Subterranean Termites
After mating in the spring time, female subterranean termites typically lay their eggs into soil, which forms a protective layer around her young. When the eggs hatch as larvae after a few weeks, they require an immediate and on-going food source to accommodate their instar phases. During these phases, their castes are assigned to each termite and the larvae will shed. The caste is a role within the colony. Unlike other species, there is very little physical definition between immature, or solider termites, and castes are not easily observed by the human eye.
Larvae are usually less than half an inch in length and look fully mature. Swarming subterranean termites are the only caste with a different physical characteristic and will grow large, white wings during this time. Upon maturity, which is usually in mid-summer, the swarming termites will leave the nest and fly to mate and create their own colonies. Each male and female from these pairings will become a king and a queen and will create their own swarming offspring and workers.
Subterranean Termites and Humans
For those living the southern states of America, subterranean termites can be an expensive and persistent pest. Known as one of the most destructive termite species, subterranean termites can cause long-term problems for homeowners when these underground termites come into the home seeking food. The problems can manifest under the house, which means damage can go unseen for a long time. The insects are difficult to identify against other common termites, but it identification is key to treatment, as treatments are completely dependent upon species.
Subterranean Termites Control
Thankfully, while subterranean termites are less common, they are easier to prevent in your home than other species of termite. Control methods vary greatly depending on the scale of your problem, and colonies take several years to establish. You can use any or all of these methods where appropriate. All treatments should be carried out with caution and in accordance with your unique requirements.
Maintenance: This is especially important. Wood, timber or other sources of food should be removed from your yard, and your home should be inspected regularly for signs of wood damage, leaking or stale water and wood rot and treated accordingly. There is no way to prevent them from coming in through wood shingles, but all other wood can be painted and will prevent them from eating it.
Soil repellents: May be placed in or around gardens. Ideally, entire yards and soil-based areas should be treated with a recommended chemical treatment. You can find these at most hardware stores and should seek advice on which brand is specific to subterranean termites. This is one of the most effective ways to control a population as they breed and nest predominantly in soil.
Pest control inspection: A pest control agency may be able to help confirm and diagnose the scale of subterranean termites and can help prescribe treatment options for you. Not everyone chooses to control these termites using professional assistance, as treatments may be expensive, and at times there is a small chance that the infestation may clear up on its own.
Borax preservatives: Where painting is not possible, borax preservatives may be used to treat wood. This can also be applied to the mainframe of a building or boat to help ensure the inner structure does not become damaged over time. You may also choose to replace wood in certain areas if it is cost effective. This is considered a spot treatment.
Fumigation: Subterranean termites are a serious pest control method and should be employed with care. That said, it can help treat an entire house, though the results may not be guaranteed. This method can be used where infestations of inner structures or hard-to-reach places may benefit from the noxious treatment or where several species of termites may be treated at one time.
Pest control should be exercised over the long term, and each method may require repeating to be of any merit. An annual or bi-annual inspection is recommended in areas with known termite activity but are especially encouraged upon sighting or treatments. Further treatments should be applied as required.
Subterranean Termites Entomology
Subterranean termites belong to the animalia kingdom and are classed largely as insecta, or insects. They also belong to the Blattodea family which is common to all termites. They have their own unique genus, the coptotermes, which distinguishes them from most other termites. This group is known as an invasive group and are especially damaging to homes and difficult to remove long term.