Often referred to as ‘white ants,’ termites play an important role in nature, a few species attack man-made wooden structures and objects, earning themselves a reputation as the most destructive timber pest known to man.
Subterranean termites usually have to maintain contact with the soil to obtain sufficient moisture to survive. They live together in a colony and are divided into various castes, each with a specific duty. Worker termites are by far the most numerous of the castes. They forage for food, care for the young and build the nest. The workers are responsible for damage to timber caused in their search for food, which consists mainly of cellulose, sugars and starches present in the timber.
Protection of the colony is the duty of a relatively small number of soldier termites. Nature has equipped these soldiers with physical and chemical weaponry to help repel invaders. A further caste consists of the reproductive termites responsible for the propagation of the species. These reproductives grow wings and are known as alates.
Once a year, usually in early summer on a warm and humid evening, they swarm from the nest. After a short flight, these males and females shed their wings prior to mating. Most of these potential “king and queen” termites either fall prey to birds, lizards, ants and spiders, or die from exposure before they can find a suitable location. But, if they find a suitable environment, a new colony will result, which, after many years, may contain over one million termites.
Whenever termites leave the soil in search of food, they construct mud tunnels to protect themselves from predators and to ensure a high level of life sustaining moisture is maintained within the workings.
Termites do not like the light so they remain inside the wooden components of your home and eat away everything but the very edge. Sometimes only a thin layer of paint remains. It is possible to ascertain the presence of termites by tapping gently on timber beams, newel posts, skirting boards and other structural timbers. If you hear a hollow sound there is every possibility you have a termite problem.