A termite is considered a pest because of the extensive damage caused by an infestation. In the U.S. the total value of all destruction is estimated to be around $5 billion dollars annually. Termites are wood-destroying organisms known as detritivores. Meaning, they obtain nutrients vital their growth from organic compounds. (An organic compound is any liquid, solid, or gas which contains carbon in it’s molecular structure.) This insect exploits reduced carbon from compounds as energy sources, like carbohydrates, fats and proteins derived from plants and animals. For this reason, termites are extremely beneficial in most ecosystems. (An ecosystem is a biological system of all living and non living organisms interacting in a particular area. The key process in termite activity is the way in which they they capture light energy and carbon and the subsequent release of nutrients through decomposition.) Termites reduce organic matter left behind by nature, into microscopic, biodegradable particles. The benefit to humans from the resources of an ecosystem can be oxygen, drinking water, crop pollination and decomposition. If not for termites, our planet would be covered under nine to eleven feet of of organic debris from timber, leaves and animal feces. Detritivores play a very important role in our ecosystem by influencing the quantity of plant and animal biomass present by breaking down dead organic matter. Decomposers release carbon back into the environment and facilitate the nutrient cycle by converting material back to a form usable to other plants and organisms.
However, termites aren’t so beneficial in our homes. Unfortunately, all of human structures are built from the components which termites seek as their primary food source. Simply, they eat the very products our homes and buildings are made from. If left untreated, the benefit to the ecosystem will be to reduce your dwelling into a reusable pile of organic dust. Termites live in mostly wooded areas, when development occurs and the land is cleared of all trees and a structure is erected in their place, we are actually exchanging one termite food source for another. Termites require four things necessary to their survival: food, moisture, shelter, and temperature. All conditions are nicely maintained in our buildings and homes. Foundations, walls, furniture, carpet, shelves, and books are possible feeding sites for termites.
Termites are most closely related to roaches, not to ants like many people think. It is presumed that the gut flora (digestive enzymes) of termites is directly descended from the gut flora of their ancestral wood eating cockroaches several million years ago. Of the approximate 4,000 species of termites worldwide, we in Missouri are economically challenged by one termite specie known as the subterranean termite. They are a group of eusocial (a term describing the highest level of social organization with a hierarchy) insects that build an underground mound with many intricate tunnels and mud tubes through which they access above ground food sources. A colony can exist up to 45 feet below the earth’s surface, however most can be found at approximately seven to 15 feet. At maturity, a colony can number from several hundred to several million termites, which exploit food sources unavailable to any single insect acting alone.
Groups of specialized insects living in a colony are called castes. The four castes within a termite colony are nymphs, workers, soldiers, and reproductives. A caste is a closed form or social order which predetermines occupation, class rank and power. (Eusociality describes reproductive division of labor and cooperative care of young.) In a competitive environment, a highly socialized group has the obvious advantage of survival by common foraging, defense, and each member individually contributing to the benefit of the colony. A female that has flown, mated, and is producing eggs is called a “queen.” A termite queen can live up to 45 years and may produce as many as 2,000 eggs per day. New colonies take about three years to mature. Reproductives form wings and leave their respective colonies through exit tubes which can be located near a door, window or out in the environment. This usually occurs during spring and fall. (These swarmers are oriented to the moon and temperature.) Swarms of flying insects resembling clouds are carried by the wind until they randomly co-mingle with reproductives from other colonies. They continue together on their perilous journey until they encounter a structure – a tree, wall, building or house, for example – drop to the ground and shed their wings and attempt to locate an underground food source. Once reproductives leave their colony, survival depends on completion of this cycle in about 72 hours. This mating behavior creates new colonies and spreads infestations throughout a geographic area. It’s during this swarming phase that we are alerted to their presence.
A worker termite is approximately an 1/8 inch long, has two pair of equal length wings, straight antennae, a cigar shaped body and is clear to white in color. Workers undertake the labors of foraging, food storage and nest maintenance. They require almost pure humidity, they build and live in shelter tubes which allow them to regulate their own environment. This barrier of protection is what enables them to access above ground food sources. Since termites are a constant threat to your home or building, here are some tips to reduce or prevent the destruction caused by this insect pest.
- Eliminate moisture problems by cleaning gutters and making sure water is properly diverted from your building.
- Remove food sources by keeping firewood away from your home, remove piles of debris, clear all stumps around the foundation.
- Remove excessive plant cover and mulch.
- Do not allow the wood on your home to come into contact with the soil. Preferably, you should have four to six inches of foundation showing.
- Seal all entry points, especially around water, plumbing and utility lines.
When buying a home, termite damage and protection should always be a consideration. If you’re in St. Louis or the surrounding areas, let the termite professionals at Bugs By Brian perform an inspection and issue a report citing potential hazards of current or future infestations and make recommendations to treat or repair existing conditions caused by termite activity. If any damage or infestation is found, the costs of treatment or repair can be obtained prior to the sale and negotiated between the buyer and seller. Bugs By Brian is your full service termite and pest control company. In most cases there is no long term loss of value, however, we stress the need for regular inspections to identify pest problems of any kind and offer a solution as soon as possible. Keeping our customers well-informed as to the condition of their homes or offices is the first step in protecting their most valuable asset.
Call St. Louis pest control company Bugs by Brian today at (636) 394-0101 to exterminate a termite infestation in your home or business.