Termites are classified in the order Blattodea together with cockroaches but belong to a highly specialised sub order called Isoptera (equal wing). This characteristic is an important feature when distinguishing flying termites from flying ants.
Termites live in large colonies, sometimes with millions of individuals. Some build mounds above the ground; others build their homes below ground or in trees. Many species eat only grass and are not considered to be pests while others feed on cellulose that they obtain from wood. They all fulfill a vital role in nature by returning nutrients to the soil but the cellulose feeders can be extremely destructive pests of our homes and other timber structures.
Colonies are made up of different forms called castes, each of which has specific functions.
King and Queen: The fertile reproductive of the colony. Queens can live for up to 20 years.
Reproductive: The potential future Kings and Queens of colonies yet to be established. Colonising flights take place when conditions are suitable. Flying termites have four wings of equal size and shape.
Soldiers: Main function is the defense of the colony, particularly against ants. They usually have larger and darker heads than the workers.
Workers: Make up by far the largest numbers in the colony. Gather food, build and repair the “mud” workings and feed all the other castes. It is the workers that do all the damage to our homes.
When termites are forced to the outside of a structure they build mud shelter tubes made of soil (or other available materials) and their own excretions to protect themselves from light, desiccation and predators. If the structure is made of wood they will eat their way through it and can remain undetected.
The risk of termite damage should not be underestimated. Of all the pests we are likely to encounter, this one has by far the greatest capacity to damage our homes. Annual inspections by a qualified professional are strongly recommended. .
Why are they considered to be pests?
While termites are harmless to our personal health they can be an extremely destructive pest of our homes and other timber structures. Termites are said to cause more damage to properties than flood, fire and storms combined. They are inconspicuous but voracious feeders and homes can be structurally destroyed within months of their initial ingress into the building. Termite damage is excluded from most insurance policies and economic hardship is therefore a significant risk.
What can home owners do to control them?
Building codes ensure that our homes are initially protected from termites with chemical or physical systems. Ongoing protection relies on maintaining those systems, renewing them over time and continued vigilance (termite inspections) to discover termite activity before significant damage occurs.
Home owners should avoid removal of treated soil from the perimeter and avoid covering treated soil with untreated soil around the perimeter of the house. Keep all untreated timber off the ground and repair any leaking storm water, hot water or air conditioning systems that are causing water to pond against the building.
Recommendations for treatment will depend upon a variety of factors including the type of building construction, routes of potential or actual termite ingress, accessibility and the home owner’s financial considerations.
Full Timber Pest Inspections should accompany all treatment methods to accurately appraise these factors and determine the current and ongoing risk status of the property.
Localised treatments can be used to halt termite activity and deter further ingress to the treated area but won’t prevent termites from finding an alternative route through untreated areas.
Full Perimeter Treatments offer the best protection from termite ingress as they provide a continuous barrier around the whole building.
Two types of chemical can be used.
Repellent chemicals are easily detected and strongly avoided by termites, providing good protection for treated areas. If access prevents some areas being treated, or if treated areas are later compromised, termites can recognise the gaps and gain ingress through them.
Non Repellent chemicals are not detected by termites. As they don’t avoid the chemical, they will pass through and die from contact with it. Individual termites exposed to the chemical will also pass on the chemical to other members of the colony and cause a compounding effect.
As termites don’t detect non repellents, they don’t recognise any difference between treated and untreated areas so ingress through possible gaps is far less likely.