Eastern Subterranean Termites are one of many species of termites that live in our area. These termites live in huge colonies of up to one million members.
Eastern Subterranean Termites build a network of tunnels both above and beneath the soil. Above ground, the tunnels are inside tubes made of earth and body fluids.
Eastern Subterranean Termites have three castes. Castes are like “classes” of adult termites. When eggs hatch, some nymphs will grow into workers, others will be soldiers, and some will be reproductives. Workers and soldiers are blind, and reproductives have not only eyes, but wings. Reproductives can be a king, queen, or alates.
Most termites will grow into workers. Workers tend and feed young termite nymphs. They also build and repair the nest, and look for food. Worker termites eat wood are the only caste that actually eat wood.
Soldiers protect the colony from invaders, and also protect workers that are outside the nest looking for food.
Reproductives usually are alates. Alates have wings and can mate and start new colonies. Some reproductives do not have wings. They will stay in the old colony and serve as replacements if the King or Queen dies. Unlike some other insect species, reproductive termites mate throughout their lives and males do not die immediately after mating. However, Eastern Subterranean reproductive termites do shed their wings after mating swarms, at which time they go on to found new colonies. Subterranean termites swarm in the spring.
You can tell the three castes apart, because they look very different. Workers are creamy white in color and smaller. Soldiers, are also creamy white, but have a large dark head and strong jaws. Alates are brownish-black with wings.
Eastern Subterranean termites build their nests in moist soil. They will eat any source of cellulose they find and are able to chew up. The presence of winged termites indicates a mature colony that has been present in or around the structure for a minimum of 5 to 7 years. Even though they may eat the wood in our homes, they must always return to their nest in the soil to replenish body moisture lost during feeding above ground. Termites eat boards from the inside out and leave only a thin layer of wood on the surface. Their damage may remain undetected for years. They can enter wood that is not in direct contact with the soil by building shelter tubes over or through concrete foundations.
On-slab construction is the most susceptible type of construction because termites can enter through any crack in the slab that’s wider than a one thirty-seconds of an inch. Also, structures built on slabs are nearly impossible to inspect for termites because so little of the frame of the structure is exposed near grade level where termite activity usually begins. In structures with basements, rim joists and sill plates are commonly the first areas where termite mud and shelter tubes can be detected. Probing these boards with an ice pick, knife, or screwdriver should be done during any termite inspection. Termites are often first noticed during remodeling projects.
Subterranean termites are by far the most destructive species. They can collapse a building entirely, meaning possible financial ruin for a homeowner. The hard, saw-toothed jaws of termites work like shears and are able to bite off extremely small fragments of wood, one piece at a time.