Subterranean Termites

The only native termite to Wisconsin is the subterranean termite. It is the most destructive and most common type of termite nationwide causing billions of dollars in structural damage each year. 

Fast Facts

Color Swarmers are dark brown in color. Workers are creamed colored. Soldier termites are cream colored with brown heads. The kings and queens are dark-brown or black.
Size The size varies by caste member. Swarmers are 1/4-1/2". Workers and soldiers are 1/4". The kings and queens are 3/8-1/2" long.
Appearance Swarmers have two pairs of brownish-gray wings with a few hairs and two dark veins on the leading edge that are very close to being equal in length. Workers do not have wings. Soldiers also do not have wings, but have large jaws to help them chew through wood. Kings and queens have two pairs of translucent wings of equal length, which break off shortly after swarming.

Diet 

Termites feed upon old roots, tree stumps, fallen tree limbs, and branches on the ground, digesting the cellulose with the aid of special organisms in their digestive system. The workers prefer to feed on fungus-infected wood but readily feed on undamaged wood as well. Since they only eat the softwood portion, the remaining hardwood leaves a layered appearance. Additionally, subterranean termites feed “with the grain” rather than across the grain. The foraging workers feed immature workers, reproductives, and soldiers.

Habitat

As their name suggests, the nest is usually found below ground. Nests may be found above ground, but only when sufficient moisture conditions are available to support the above-ground nest and the colony is old and well established. Since subterranean termites build their nests underground, damaged wood usually has an accumulation of soil or mud within the tunnels of the wood they are eating. Colonies are always connected to the soil and close to a moisture source.

Life Cycle

Subterranean termites are social insects that live in large colonies with three castes: reproductives, workers, and soldiers. Each termite in the colony performs a specific job that benefits the colony as a whole. The average colony consists of 60,000-250,000 individuals, but colonies numbering in the millions are possible.

Primary Reproductives
Once the royal chamber is finished, the king and queen will close up the entrance and mate. After mating the queen begins to lay eggs, and the king and queen remain in the colony for the rest of their lives. In a new colony, the queen lays about a dozen eggs the first few days and will progressively increase egg laying to about 100 eggs per day during the colony’s first year. Since egg production increases with time, a mature queen in a mature colony may lay thousands of eggs each day. One queen is capable of laying thousands and thousands of eggs in her lifetime of up to 30 years. Kings and queens live the longest of any members of the colony, often surviving for a decade or longer. 

Secondary Reproductives
If the king and queen termites happen to die, other termites in the colony will begin developing reproductive organs. These termites are called “secondary reproductives”. Secondary reproductives are light in color but they are larger than workers and never develop wings. In mature colonies, a secondary reproductive caste can develop even though there is still a producing queen present. When this happens the secondary reproductive caste members will produce the majority of the eggs, causing the colony to grow at a much faster rate. Although no individual secondary reproductive can produce as many eggs as the queen, several hundred of them may exist in a single colony thus producing thousands of eggs. Secondary reproductives may also develop in satellite nests where a group of workers have become separated from the parent colony. This splitting or budding of the nest expands the original colony’s foraging territory.

Workers
Subterranean termite workers are the caste found in infested wood. The workers are responsible for all of the labor in the colony. They care for the young, repair the nest, build foraging tunnels, locate food, feed and groom the other castes, and each other. The youngest termite workers perform the domestic tasks inside the colony like feeding, grooming and caring for the young, while the older, more expendable workers take on the hazardous jobs of foraging and nest building. The termite workers are both male and female but they are sterile and live as long as five years.

Soldiers
Subterranean termite soldiers are the defenders of the colony. They protect the colony against ants and foreign termites. When foraging tubes or galleries are broken into, the soldiers congregate around the break to stand guard against invaders. Soldiers are similar to the termite workers in that they are blind, soft-bodied and wingless. However, the soldiers have an enlarged, hard, yellowish-brown head which has been adapted for fighting. The head has a pair of very large mandibles or jaws that are used to puncture, slice and kill enemies (primarily ants). However, the large mandibles prevent the soldiers from feeding themselves, so they must rely on the workers for food.

In most areas where subterranean termites are found, it takes about 5-10 years for a royal pair to form a colony that produces enough swarmers for a noticeable swarm to occur. Therefore, if a homeowner finds dead swarmers or their shed wings, there is likely a colony that has produced enough workers to cause damage to the structure.

Damage & Signs of Infestation

Termites are not known to carry diseases, but they are damaging pests to have around. Termites consume the main structural components of plant cells, cellulose, so any wood material in a house is a potential food source. The structural damage they cause to a home or business can go undetected, until, for example, beams and foundation posts collapse, potentially causing injury. Though termites primarily eat wood, they will also go after non-wood materials, including cloth, paper and carpets. 

Visual Cues

A common indication of subterranean infestation is the presence of dark areas or blisters in wood flooring.

Gallery Evidence

Galleries can be detected by tapping the wood every few inches with the handle of a screwdriver. The damaged wood sounds hollow and the screwdriver may even break through the wood into the galleries. If the galleries are active the worker termites will be observed inside.

Wing Sightings

After mating, swarmer termites land and shed their wings, leaving them in piles that resemble fish scales. If there are piles of wings on windowsills of your home, and they are all the same size, they are likely termite wings.

Swarming

Swarming is the termite method of dispersal and establishing new colonies. Subterranean swarmers emerge from the colonies at certain times of the year when conditions are suitable. They are attracted to light, so if they emerge indoors, they will be seen flying to windowsills and open doors. Usually, termite swarming either indoors or outside is the first indication to homeowners that they have a subterranean termite infestation.

Prevention & Control

Termite Prevention

The key to termite prevention lies in keeping wood as dry as possible and sealing up any cracks in your home, but sometimes an infestation is inevitable. To reduce the risks of a termite infestation, follow the steps below:

  1. Remove all wooden debris, including stacks of lumber or firewood, surrounding the building.
  2. Replace any wooden posts, steps, or trellises in contact with the soil with non-cellulose materials or pressure-treated lumber.
  3. Provide adequate drainage for basements, cellars, and crawl spaces. Be certain that the grade level will drain away from the building.
  4. Reduce soil moisture near the structure by directing runoff away from the foundation. Gutters, downspouts, and drains should be correctly installed and operational; surface drainage should flow away from the structure.
  5. Correct leaky plumbing, air conditioning condensate, and any portion of a building and its perimeter that collects excessive amounts of moisture to maintain an environment less attractive to subterranean termites.
  6. Fill all visible cracks and voids in the foundation with concrete or suitable caulking compound.
  7. Keep foundation walls and siding clear of vegetation or mulch.
  8. Remove old tree stumps around the property.
Termite Control

Treating for termites yourself is not recommended, as the equipment and pesticides that are most effective are not accessible to the public. Hiring pest control professionals is the most effective way to eradicate termites on your property.

A Batzner Service Specialist will come to your property to inspect and identify if termites are present. To learn more about our home pest control services or to find out how we can help you combat termites, please contact us today.

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