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CONSUMER GUIDE - Subterranean Termites - Termite Control systems

Subterranean termites also called "white-ants" are a highly destructive timber pest, causing major structural timber damage to domestic and commercial buildings in Australia.
Recent industry surveys suggest that about one third of all unprotected properties are subject to attack by subterranean termites. Severe subterranean termite damage to Australian homes is on the increase due to recent changes in the type of chemicals allowed to be used, building construction materials and designs that encourage hidden termite entry and infestation.
  Subterranean Termites live in the ground and can eat your house down....
Subterranean termites are known to destroy the wall and roofing timbers of a home within 3 months of construction.
Subterranean termites cause more damage to homes in Australia than fire, floods, storms and tempest, combined.
Home insurance does NOT cover the repair costs of damage caused by Subterranean termites to a home or commercial building.
Subterranean termites occur throughout Australia, with a high incidence of attack in virtually all urban areas.

Subterranean termites are small in size (about half the size of match-head) and soft bodied insects. Subterranean termites build a central colony nest from which they construct underground tunnels that radiate in a 100 metre radius from a central colony nest in search of a timber (cellulose) food source.
Subterranean Termites can build a sub-nest in a wall cavity of a home
The picture on the left shows a subterranean termite pest inspector examining an above ground Subterranean Termite subsidiary nest built inside a wall cavity of a home.
Subterranean termites often build such above ground nests, where moisture collects in the wall cavity, such as, from leaking pipes, shower recess or faulty guttering, etc.

Subterranean termites travel in mud shelter tubes...
The picture on the left shows a mud shelter tube that Subterranean termites have constructed over a solid object, in this case, a brick foundation wall in the sub-floor of a cottage.
Subterranean termites travel in these mud shelter tubes as protection from predators, sun-burn, dehydration and to maintain a high humidity environment which is essential for their survival.
Subterranean termites are highly secretive, preferring to enter a building through areas inaccessible to inspection, such as, through in-fill patios, fire heaths, expansion joints and cracks in concrete slab (on-ground) flooring.

Subterranean termites can pass through a 2 mm crack or an expansion joint (eating through the rubber compound) between adjoining concrete on ground flooring. Subterranean termites can also travel under parquetry and floor tiles to get to the wall framing timbers.

Termites symbiotic digestive system to destroy your home

Only the worker termite caste can digest timber by the use of symbiotic protozoa in their gut. Worker termites feed their partly digested semi-liquid food, regurgitated from their mouth or passing from their anus, to the other subterranean termites, a process known as trophallaxis.
Subterranean termites have a well ordered social system with amazing engineering capabilities and an acute survival instinct; they obtain moisture from the soil and moist decaying timber, and communicate using pheromone signals.
The mutual feeding, constant grooming and close social habits of Subterranean termites are used to advantage in modern termite control baiting systems.

Certain hi-tech subterranean termite baits recently introduced on the Australian market from the USA have a delayed lethal effect on subterranean termites which readily pass on the bait to other termites in the central colony nest during the mutual groomoing and feeding.
Subterranean termites need to maintain a high level of humidity and temperature (25 to 35c) in their central colony nest.
Subterranean termites eat through the centre of susceptible timbers leaving nothing but a thin veneer of timber and/or paint. Subterranean termites will pack mud in cracks and joints in timber to prevent loss of humidity and resultant dehydration.

The Biology of Subterranean Termites or White Ants

Subterranean termites or "white ants" as they are often called are not ants at all. Subterranean termites are in fact related to cockroaches with a similar two hundred million year history.
Within a subterranean termite nest there are members of different castes, each with a different role to perform. These include the queen, king, the winged reproductive (young kings and queens), soldiers and workers.

The King and Queen with worker termites

Close-up picture of worker termite

The queen following her hazardous flight and after mating becomes an egg laying machine; her body becomes hugely enlarged; she can live more than 25 years producing more that 2,000 eggs a day.

The king and queen live in a central chamber and are tended by the workers.

The workers are by far the largest cast in the subterranean termite colony and
Subterranean Termites
the one that does the damage; they are a creamy translucent colour, soft bodied and carry out all work in the nest, including gathering food (timber and other cellulose); constructing tunnels; repairing and enlarging the subterranean termites colony nest; grooming each other and feeding the soldiers, the king, queen and also caring for the young nymphs until mature.

Worker termites are 3 mm to 4 mm long, have no wings, are sterile and blind; work 24 hours a day for several years life span in some species.

The soldiers commonly have an orange coloured armoured head
Subterranean Termites
with mandibulate pinchers which they use to crush an attacker, such as ants; some have hard pointed snout which eject a white sticky latex to ensnare their enemies.

The soldier termites are usually the first to be seen in large numbers by the home owner when the termite workings (shelter tubes or damaged timber) are opened and the soldiers rush out to guard the opening whilst the worker termites repair the damage.

The swarmers (reproductives) are called "alates"
and are commonly seen when they swarm on a hot humid summer evening around dusk; they have eyes; are poor fliers but are swept along by the wind; they land, drop their wings, find a mate to become king and queen of a new subterranean termites colony.

The swarmers are emitted in their thousands when a mature subterranean termites nest is large and well established. They land , shed their wings and attract a mate by pheromone chemical signal. If you find swarming subterranean termites, it is a sure DANGER sign that a large subterranean termites colony nest is close by and thorough inspection of the property by a termite control expert is essential.

The Life Cycle of Subterranean Termites

Life Cycle - Subterranean Termites
As noted above, subterranean termites constantly groom and feed each other. A valuable technique for the subterranean termite pest controller is to instal and monitor a subterranean termites baiting system next to any live activity found in and around the premises where subterranean termites are foraging, is most likely to occur. Subsequent inspections (preferably monthly) may reveal dead or sick worker termites, they change colour to a mottle look, and spread of the termite bait to other subterranean termites leading to elimination of the colony.
The termite baits are designed to be non-repellant to the subterranean termites and has a unique delayed effect. Time enough to be passed onto the other subterranean termites in the colony including the queen, with a sufficient dosage leading to the elimination of the entire subterranean termites colony. This process is explained in detail in the Termite Control section of this website.

The Main Destructive Species of Subterranean Termites in Australia

It is essential for the subterranean termite pest controller to properly identify the species of subterranean termite found in a property. Some species of white ants prefer living and will not attack dry seasoned timbers in a building, whilst others can be are highly destructive to such buildings in a short amount of time.
Coptotermes acinaciformis

Commonly found throughout Australia - particularly in urban areas or where eucalypt gum trees are highly prevalent.

Nest Location - Coptotermes acinaciformis are a very secretive white ant species; they build their nest out of sight, often within the base of eucalyptus or other susceptible trees, or completely under the ground; often within an enclosed patio or under concrete on ground flooring which is ideal for moisture retention, temperature and humidity control within the white ant colony's central nest. Coptotermes acinaciformis can also construct subsidiary subterranean termite nests away from the main colony nest. A subsidiary subterranean termite nest can be contained in a wall cavity of a building where there is a reliable moisture source, for example, from a leaking shower recess or faulty guttering or rusted down pipes.

Destructive Nature - Coptotermes acinaciformis are highly destructive to buildings and other timber structures. They are the most widely distributed and destructive timber pest in Australia, accounting for more than 70% of the serious damage to buildings in Australia. A single colony may consist of more than one million white ants. A most voracious timber pest ... one to be taken seriously.
Mastotermes darwiniensis

Area of Distribution: Commonly found in tropical Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia - generally north of the tropic of Capricorn.

Nest location - Mastotermes darwiniensis build their nest (secretively) totally below the soil surface; or in the trunks and root crowns of trees and stumps. Once a nest is mature (over 100,000 or much higher) they can 'split off' to form other nests over a wide ranging area. These sub nests are formed constantly and can sustain life for along period of time without contact to the original nest.

Destructive nature - Mastotermes darwiniensis is one of the world's most destructive white ant species, often causing severe damage to houses, buildings, bridges, posts, poles, and many other plant and animal products. It is also an agricultural pest, responsible for ringbarking and killing living trees, shrubs, fruit, vegetable crops, sugarcane and rubber trees. It is reported to attack rubber tyres on tractors and cause damage to leather, hide, plastic or lead-sheathed cables, bitumen, bagged salt, flour, glass and various metals. Mastotermes darwiniensis is the most ancient of all the white ants in the world - they occur only in Australia - a white ant to be feared.
Schedorhinotermes intermedius

Area of Distribution: Commonly found in eastern NSW and south eastern Queensland - particularly along the entire coast-line, the Great Dividing Range and adjoining slopes.

Nest Location - Schedorhinotermes intermedius commonly build their nest in tree stumps, in the root crown of the living, dead and debilitated trees, under houses or within enclosed patios or other areas where timber has been buried or stored in contact with the soil.

Identification - this species tends to "gouge" the affected timber and has a fetish around nails used in construction. When you first find them, you will often see a major soldier (6mm in body length) and a minor soldier (4mm in body length).

Destructive Nature -Schedorhinotermes intermedius are highly destructive to buildings and other timber structures. If mostly major (larger) soldiers are sighted, then they will most likely be a large colony with the potential to cause severe and rapid damage to structural timbers of a building or other timber structures.
Coptotermes frenchi

Area of Distribution: Commonly found throughout NSW, ACT, Victoria and south eastern South Australia; particularly in urban areas, where buildings are constructed of softwood or oregon timber framing. This species is responsible for most of the timber pest damage to buildings in the ACT region.

Nest Location - Coptotermes frenchi most often build their nest in the root crown or lower trunk area of living trees, particularly eucalypts. They may also build their nest as a mound in the dryer areas.

Destructive Nature - Coptotermes frenchi can cause severe damage to buildings and other wooden structures. It is common for this species to devour timber framing leaving only a thin veneer. This species is the most shy of the destructive species; they will retreat from a location immediately (for the time being) if disturbed.
Nasutitermes exitiosus

Area of Distribution: Commonly found throughout NSW, ACT, Victoria and the southern areas of Queensland and Western Australia - particularly in urban areas or where eucalypt gum trees are highly prevalent.

Nest Location - Nasutitermes exitiosus build a mound nest which protrudes 30cm to 75cm above the ground. Control can be as easy as knocking the top off the nest and a follow up insecticide treatment inside the nest.

Destructive Nature - Nasutitermes exitiosus are destructive to buildings and other timber structures. Sometimes severe damage may occur, but not so commonly as the other species listed above.
Coptotermes lacteus

Area of Distribution: Commonly found in eastern NSW, the ACT, and the south eastern areas of Queensland including Brisbane and coastal region to Rockhampton - particularly prevalent along the entire coast-line, along the Great Dividing Range and western slopes.

Nest Location - this white ant species, most often builds it's nest as a mound up to 2m above ground level, with hard clay walls, so control is easily effected once located by knocking the top off and insecticide treatment of the nest.

Destructive Nature - Coptotermes lacteus attacks stumps, dead trees, timber fences, poles and other timber structures that are in contact with the soil, being softened by weathering or decay. These white ants are also known to attack such timber in damp sub-floor areas.
Nasutitermes walkeri

Area of Distribution: Commonly found in eastern NSW and south eastern Queensland - particularly prevalent in the coastal and mountain regions along the entire eastern side of NSW.

Nest Location - Nasutitermes walkeri build their nest in trees on the main trunk or in the fork of a large branch.

Destructive Nature - Nasutitermes walkeri can be destructive to damp timbers often a serious problem where the sub-floor of a building is damp and ventilation is poor with resulting wood decay or fungal growth.
Heterotermes ferox

Area of Distribution: Commonly found throughout NSW, the ACT, Victoria, and southern parts of South Australia and Western Australia - particularly in urban areas or where eucalypt gum trees are highly prevalent.

Nest Location - Heterotermes ferox often build their colony nest next to stumps, logs, or other timber in direct contact with the soil where some wood decay or rotting is prevalent.

Destructive Nature - Heterotermes ferox are be destructive to damp timbers and are usually found attacking fences, poles and other timber structures subject to wood decay from weathering or from being in contact with the soil. This species is often confused with the more aggressive and destructive Coptotermes acinaciformis species. Correct identification is essential.
Dampwood termites - form small independent nests which often attack sick or dead trees, decaying stumps or mouldy timber in the ground; they are seldom found in dry timbers in buildings.
Drywood termites - occur mostly in tropical areas, where the atmospheric humidity is constantly above 75 percent. The introduced and highly destructive West Indian drywood white ant, Cryptotermes brevis, is rarely located in NSW, once in Sydney in the early 1980's. Specialist eradication procedures involve wrapping the entire building in plastic and using methyl bromide fumigation.

If You find Subterranean Termites do NOT disturb them

Subterranean termites have acute survival instincts. If severely shaken up or disturbed, the Subterranean termites will abandon that area and move on to secretly cause damage in other areas in the building. If you find subterranean termites in or around your property, it is essential that you do NOT disturb them and promptly arrange for a professional inspection and application of a white ant / termite bait to live subterranean termites present.
Subterranean Termites / Termites...
Mother Nature's most prolific builders

This picture shows a large above ground subterranean termite nest found in the Northern Territory of Australia. In cooler climates, most of the destructive subterranean termite species build their nest completely below ground level.

A large subterranean termite colony in an urban environment is most often unseen, being totally below ground level with a subterranean termite nest containing more than a million subterranean termites - secretly eating the inside of your timbers leaving you an empty shell.

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