Termites live in large social groups called colonies. These colonies are hungry, too, eating 24 hours a day, every day. Termites aren’t just abundant; they are also varied as there are about 2,000 known species on Earth. In the United States alone there are over 40 different species.
Termites are insects, so they have body segments and six legs. They may also have wings, and the wings are all about the same length. Termites are often confused with ants, but you can tell the difference because an ant’s front wings are longer than its hind wings. Also, a termite’s antennae will come straight out of its head, while an ant’s will bend at a right angle. Termites aren’t very big, just ¼ – ½ inch in length. Termite kings and queens of some species may be longer though, up to a full inch. Termites are small, but because they are so plentiful, the total weight of all the termites is more than the total weight of all the humans on Earth!
The swarmers of the colony are the winged termites, and they are tasked with reproducing and creating new termite colonies. Worker termites, on the other hand, are tasked with, you guessed it, working. They are sterile, so they can’t reproduce. But they make up the majority of the colony and are critical because they feed the colony. These are the ones that are in your walls feeding away. Swarmers outside your house are not a problem, but if you see swarmers in your house (or their wings, since they fall off quickly once inside), then you’re dealing with an established colony.
Distribution and Abundance
Termites, which number about 2,750 species, are distributed widely, reaching their greatest abundance in numbers and species in tropical rainforests around the world. In North America termites are found as far north as Vancouver, British Columbia (Zootermopsis), on the Pacific coast, and Maine and eastern Canada (Reticulitermes) on the Atlantic coast. In Europe the northern limit of natural distribution is reached by Reticulitermes lucifugus on the Atlantic coast of France, although an introduced species, Reticulitermes flavipes, occurs as far north as Hamburg, Germany. The known European species of termites have a predominantly Mediterranean distribution and do not occur naturally in Great Britain, Scandinavia, Switzerland, Germany, or northern Russia. In the Far East Reticulitermes speratus ranges as far north as South Korea, Peking, and northern Japan. Termites occur also in the Cape region of South Africa, Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand.
Termite Detection and Damage
Even very active infestations can be difficult to detect because of the cryptic habits of these insects. Subterranean termites tunnel inside wood, leaving an outer shell that may appear entirely normal from the exterior. If you notice any of the following in your house, call a pest control operator for a professional inspection:
- Dirt tunnels or “shelter tubes,” typically about 1/4-inch-wide but sometimes wider, on the foundation, along exposed wood, or dangling down from the ceiling; these are transit tubes built by termites.
- Soil packed in cracks and crevices.
- Piles of silvery, membranous insect wings, all about 1/4-inch-long, on floors, window sills, or in spider webs.
- Evidence of structural weakness, such as settling cracks or sagging floors.
- Dark or blistered areas on wood paneling; blistered or peeling paint on wood (because of moisture under the paint from termite activity).
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Britannica. (n. d.). Termite. Retrieved March 24, 2022, from https://www.britannica.com/animal/termite#ref39582
Study.com. (n. d.). What are Termites? – Types & Characteristics. Retrieved March 24, 2022, from https://study.com/academy/lesson/what-are-termites-types-characteristics.html
University of Maryland. (2022, February 28). Termites. Retrieved March 24, 2022, from https://extension.umd.edu/resource/termites