Although many people think termites have only negative impacts, in nature they make many positive contributions to the world's ecosystems. Their greatest contribution is the role they play in recycling wood and plant material. Termites become a problem when they consume structural lumber. |
Each year thousands of housing units in the United States require treatment for the control of termites. Termites may also damage utility poles and other wooden structures. Termite pests in California include drywood, dampwood, and subterranean species. These pests cause serious damage to wooden structures and posts and may also attack stored food, books, and household furniture.
Termites are small, white, tan, or black insects that can cause severe destruction to wooden structures. Termites belong to the insect order Isoptera, an ancient insect group that dates back more than 100 million years. The Latin name Isoptera means "equal wing"and refers to the fact that the front set of wings on a reproductive termite is similar in size and shape to the hind set.
Termites are social and can form large nests or colonies, consisting of very different looking individuals (castes). Physically the largest individual is the queen. Her function is to lay eggs, sometimes thousands in a single day. A king is always by her side. Other individuals have large heads with powerful jaws, or a bulblike head that squirts liquid. These individuals are called soldiers. But the largest group of termites in a colony is the workers. They toil long hours tending the queen, building the nest, or gathering food. While other species of social insects have workers, termites are unique among insects in that workers can be male or female. Surprisingly, termites can be long-lived: queens and kings can live for decades while individual workers can survive for several years.
Signs of termite infestation include swarming of winged forms in fall and spring and evidence of tunneling in wood. Darkening or blistering of wooden structural members is another indication of an infestation; wood in damaged areas is typically thin and easily punctured with a knife or screwdriver.
There are more than 2,500 different types of termites in the world and at least 17 different types of termites in California. However, most of this diversity can be lumped into four distinct groups: dampwood, drywood, subterranean, and mound builders. Mound builders do not occur in North America, but the other three species do. Dampwood termites are very limited in their distribution: most species are found only in California and the Pacific Northwest. Dampwood termites derive their name from the fact that they live and feed in very moist wood, especially in stumps and fallen trees on the forest floor. Drywood termites are common on most continents and can survive in very dry conditions, even in dead wood in deserts. They do not require contact with moisture or soil. Subterranean termites are very numerous in many parts of the world and live and breed in soil, sometimes many feet deep. Lastly, the mound builders are capable of building earthen towers 25 feet or more in height. Mounds may be located either in the soil or in trees, and where they occur in Africa, Australia, Southeast Asia, and parts of South America, they are very noticeable and remarkable.
Termites are sometimes confused with winged forms of ants, which also leave their underground nests in large numbers to establish new colonies and swarm in a manner similar to that of reproductive stages of termites. However, ants and termites can be distinguished by checking three features: antennae, wings, and waist.
MANAGEMENT Successful termite management requires many special skills, including a working knowledge of building construction. An understanding of termite biology and identification can help a homeowner detect problems and understand methods of control. In most cases it is advisable to hire a professional pest control company to carry out the inspection and control program.
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