Termites

Termites that cause damage to Australian homes are subterranean termites. There is another species of termites called drywood termites but generally they are not a threat.

Subterranean termites are small, soft bodied insects that build large nests in soil or trees and have underground tunnels that can reach up to 100 metres away from the nest. They cannot survive in the open.

Termites have great survival instincts and have existed for many millions of years with the most ancient species coexisting with the dinosaurs.

They are found in regions of mainland Australia both in suburban and country areas. There are over 300 species of Australian termites but not all are a threat to homes.

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Six Fascinating Termite Facts

  • Termites are commonly called white ants, but are more closely related to cockroaches than ants
  • The number of termite species around the world is approximately 2,500
  • Termites are social insects and a large nest may contain several million termites
  • Termites are blind and work 24 hours a day
  • Termites have a caste structure with a queen, king, workers and soldiers
  • Termites have a long life span for an insect - the queen can live up to 25 years and workers up to 4 years

 

Termite Biology

Termites work underground and live in tunnels of mud mixed with their excreta and saliva. Their tunnels are built for the purpose exploring and finding food. In most areas of Australia, they will not build these tunnels out in the open as they must maintain a high humidity environment to survive. A dry termite is a dead termite and this is why you don’t see termites crawling around like ants.

A termite colony consists of the following:

  • Queen - She produces thousands of nymphs (baby termites) every day. The queen is enormous compared to the other castes in the colony. In several species may she may live more than 25 years.
  • Soldiers - They are sterile, blind and wingless males and females which guard the nest. Soldier termites have prominent jaws, and they give off a defensive, and sometimes repellent chemical. Their main function in the colony is to protect the termites from natural enemies such as ants.
  • King - Together with the queen, the king is responsible for reproduction. The king and queen live together in the very centre of the nest.
  • Workers - These termites are sterile and blind, and are the most numerous in the colony. They provide the food for the colony by eating wood or any material containing cellulose. They will work 24 hours a day and live for several years.
  • Reproductives - Also known as alates, they are the caste of termite that form new colonies. Following the nymph stage they develop wings and when mature they are released in their thousands to establish new colonies. Reproducives develop eyes before they fly away from the colony. This generally occurs in spring and their swarms are quite often mistaken for flying black ants. They are swept along by the wind then land, drop their wings and mate to become the king and queen of a new colony. 

 

Termite Damage

Termites cause extensive damage to the structure of homes and commercial buildings, as well as timber fixtures, fittings and floor coverings. Unfortunately termite damage and the repair costs are not covered by home insurances.

 

What Are Termites Attracted To?

Moisture

Termites are like humans, they can live quite a long time without food but will die very quickly without moisture.

That’s why they continually search in large numbers for moisture. They are much more attracted to a house where the soil is consistently moist.  For example – leaking taps, air conditioning drainage or irrigated garden beds.

Termites are also attracted to concealed areas around the home where moisture is present such as cavity walls, under baths or bathroom cabinets, damp walls from leaking shower recesses and other wet areas.

 

Food Sources

A termite's sole food is cellulose (sugar molecules) which is found in trees, logs and plants. It is also still present in the timber used in construction. This is why timber wall and roof frames are susceptible to termite attack.

They also attack other materials in a house which include:

  • Timber decking and floor boards
  • Timber fences, gate posts and pergolas in direct contact with the soil
  • Skirting boards and architraves
  • Bathroom and kitchen cupboards
  • Fixed timber furniture
  • Carpet strips and the carpet itself
  • Cardboard boxes
  • Newspapers, magazines and photo albums stored in garages or sheds
  • Electrical cabling 
 
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