Termite Facts, Identification and Control
Scientific Order: Blattodea
The Eastern Subterranean Termite (Reticulitermes flavipes) is the only termite that lives in New York
Size: Worker and soldier castes are ¼" long, while Queen and reproductive castes are ⅜ to ½" long
Color: Workers are light, creamy-white and translucent, soldiers are yellow-white with large black jaws, and reproductive castes are dark brown or black with translucent wings
Signs of Infestation
Termites create "termite tubes" out of mud, dirt, or other materials to move from the ground to food sources. Wood infested by termites often has these termite tubes on or near it. They're especially common around cellar walls, wooden posts, wall studs, and window and door sills.
Over a long enough period of time, the wood termites infest will begin to look rotten, hollow, damaged, or soggy. You may also find a sawdust-like residue called "frass" nearby termite access points. Use an awl or screwdriver to prod vulnerable wood, looking for weak or hollow places.
Treatment and Prevention
Remove likely food sources such as wooden debris from around the perimeter of your building. Cover or replace wooden posts, steps, trellises, or decking that directly contacts the ground. Do not use wood-based mulch in gardens or around bunches. Keep stacks of wood elevated.
Practice good climate control, especially in natural damp or dark parts of the building. Locate and fix plumbing leaks and other sources of uncontrollable moisture. Make sure your basement has adequate draining and stays dry all year.
Behavior and Diet
Termites live together in large, eusocial colonies. Different types or “castes” of termites fulfill different functions within the colony. Termites are specialized enough that developed colonies functionally operate as a single “super” organism. There are three termite castes: workers, soldiers, and reproducers.
Workers are responsible for all the labor in the colony. Soldiers protect the colony using specialized mouthparts. Reproducers swarm to find mates and establishing new colonies by giving birth to new workers and soldiers. Termites don't live in the tunnels they build; they create dirt mounds nearby instead.
Reproduction and Life Cycle
Reproductive termites swarm in late winter or early spring, usually between late January to early April. During this time, kings and queens actively seek a partner of the opposite sex. Termites swarm until they find a mate. After mating, Queens find a good place to nest. That nesting place will be the origin site of a new colony.
The Queen will stay at the origin site and produce eggs continuously for 5 to 10 years. Colonies begin producing workers first. Workers mature quickly and expand the colony, while the Queen begins producing soldiers. After 5 to 7 years, the Queen will produce reproductive larvae to form new colonies elsewhere.
- Termites break down and consume the cellulose in wood for nutrition. In their natural environments, they're actually considered beneficial, because they recycle wood and cellulose back into materials that nature can use again.
- After male and female termites pair up and mate, their wings break off. Those shed wings might be the only early indication that termites have started building a nest nearby.
- Termites attack wet wood because they require constant moisture to stay hydrated. They're particularly attracted to plumbing leaks and humid environments. If termites can't access moisture regularly, they'll slow down and eventually dry up.
Cornell Cooperative Extension Insect and Plant Disease Diagnostic Laboratory’s “Eastern Subterranean Termites” info sheet
Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences Agricultural Research and Cooperative Extension Eastern Subterranean Termites fact sheet
“Subterranean Termite Biology and Behavior” article by Virginia Tech’s Associate Professor and Extension Specialist, Entomology, Dini M. Miller via the Virginia Cooperative Extension