Western Subterranean Termites (Reticulitermes Hesperus Banks)
Termites cause a considerable amount of damage to homes in the Pacific Northwest. Termites have single cell organisms in their digestive tracts that allow them to digest dead wood and other organic materials. In nature they can be very beneficial- but when homes are built in their natural areas, they can cause considerable damage.
- Appearance: Primary Reproductives (also known as Swarmers) are black and have four wings that are longer than their bodies. Then, there are Supplementary Reproductives, which may have small wings or none at all. Soldiers have brown heads that are large and hard, and their jaws are bigger than those of other termites. Their bodies are cream colored and wingless. Lastly, there are workers. Workers are also cream colored and wingless, but have smaller heads than soldiers.
- Behavior: Termites are social insects that ingest wood and other organic materials. They live in colonies with a caste structure and make their nests in moist soil (or other moist environments). Typically, termite colony members include a queen, nymphs or workers, soldiers, primary reproductives (swarmers), and supplementary reproductives, each having its own distinctive role and appearance. Colonies can range in size from 60,000 to 2 million workers, depending on the species. Workers are the most numerous type of termite in the colony. They perform most of the work- such as grooming the queen, excavating the nest, and making tunnels. They chew and ingest wood to form the nest, weakening the structural integrity of the wood and causing costly structure damage.
- Nests: The nests of the Western Subterranean termite can be found anywhere from the surface to 20 feet deep in the ground. They like to nest in decaying logs and stumps, or in moist soil. Termites require moisture to survive, because all caste members except the primary reproductives(swarmers) are soft-bodied insects that lose water when they’re exposed to dry air. Because of this, termites construct mud tubes to pass over exposed areas. These provide the moist environment they need, and protect them from their enemies (ants). Termites will maintain contact with the soil unless there is an above ground source of moisture.
- What to Look For: Basements or siding with moisture or water damage are good places to check for Termites. They can gain entrance to a home through a porch, joints in slab foundations, cracks, and areas around plumbing. Moisture damaged wood isn’t essential for an infestation. Occasionally, free-standing shelter tubes are built down from the infested wood toward the ground if they are in a protected area, such as a crawl space under a house. Aside from mud tubes, you may also see discarded swarmer wings. Damaged wood is an obvious sign, however, sometimes termites can hollow out a piece of wood without damaging it’s exterior.
- Damage: The amount of damage caused depends on the size of the colony, but subterranean termites can consume wood at a rate of approximately 2 to 3 percent of their body weight each day. They prefer decayed wood over sound wood because working in the wood facilitates decay by increasing the moisture content. Often termite damage is associated with decaying wood. Left unchecked, Termites can cause irreparable damage to wood structures.