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Subterranean Termites – Most Useful Information You Need

Subterranean Termites

As we all know, the presence of termites in a property can be highly damaging as these insects devour wood and other cellulose-based products. They usually live in colonies with defined orders within them. They may not be easily detected and only on close examination can one be able to find out about their presence. In fact, in most cases, they can completely conceal themselves till a considerable damage is found out.

Each year, there is a phenomenal loss due to termite infestation worldwide and within the US alone, the figure stands at a whopping $5 billion. This shows that termite problem is a very grave issue that across geographies, people are concerned about. There are many types of termites within this insect family and the most common of them can be the subterranean termite that can absolutely be found anywhere. It is the most common type of termite that can wreak havoc on a property. Tackling this menace is very crucial but before taking the preventive steps, certain other facts must also be looked into and understood for dealing with it effectively.   

Are All Termites Subterranean?

We now know that subterranean termites are very common throughout the world, but the bigger question still remains 'are all termites subterranean?' The answer to this question is 'Not so.' Actually, they make a bigger chunk of the termite family but it is not as though they are the only ones within termites.

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Apart from the subterranean termites, there are also dry wood termites and damp wood termites that can be there. These two varieties are also as devastating as the former and so, we must understand them too in a brief way.

The Latin name of dry wood termite is Cryptotermes spp. and Incisitermes spp. The worker termite of this family looks more or less like any other termite class but the soldiers and alates (reproductive caste) look somewhat different. The wing of an alate drywood termite may have a type of three or more well-pigmented, heavy veins at the outer end. They shed their wings as soon as swarming is complete. The body of an alate can be 12 mm long and they have large mouthparts with teeth and the pronotum can be wider than their head. The size of workers and soldiers can be larger compared to their subterranean counterparts.

This type of termite does not live underground rather they construct their nests above, in groundwood and can enter a house through an infested furniture or an exposed wood. As usual, damage done by them can be quite extensive and may not be found easily as they generally chew tunnels within a wooden structure.

Alternately, the scientific name of dampwood termite is Zootermopsis spp. and Neotermes spp. Appearance wise, dampwood termites can be quite large compared to subterranean termites. Including its wings, the swarmers of this species can be up to 25 mm long. The immature and soldiers of this species can be as long as 20 mm in size. Appearance-wise, these termites possess a large head with mandibles at the front.

This type of termite can be attracted to water-damaged wood or wood lying in the open or in grounds. Things like stumps. fallen logs, lumber and tree branches that are in direct contact with the ground are susceptible to their attack. Cracked drain pipes or a leaking roof can also be infested by them in large numbers. They can lead to severe wood damage within a home as the damage may not be easily detected.

Unlike subterranean termites, they do not form mud tubes. In fact, they conceal their entry points with their feces. A property that is damaged by dampwood termite may have a high level of moisture in it. Due to this reason, the infested wood may also be further damaged due to fungus. All this may result in an excessive moisture within the property.            

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Therefore, we can clearly see that all termites are not subterranean although the majority of them are from this class.

What do subterranean termites mean?

The scientific name of subterranean termite is Reticulitermes spp., Coptotermes spp. and Heterotermes spp. People who wonder 'what does subterranean termites mean?' will be informed to know that this type of termite is the most commonly found one within termites. There are quite a few identification methods that can be employed to understand them. These include the following.

Swarmers (Alates) - They can be about 1/2 to 1/4 inches in size and have two pairs of similar sized wings protruding from the front and back. They can be dark brown to black in color.

Workers - These are cream colored and may not have wings. Lengthwise, they can be 1/4th of an inch or even smaller.

Soldiers - Look-wise, they can be creamy-white while the head may be brownish. They do not have wings but are the main colony defenders of termites with their large jaws made for the purpose.

Looks of Damaged Wood - Subterranean termites live underground, their nests can be concealed deep within the ground. Therefore, the wood that they vanquish can have a buildup of mud or soil within the tunnels that they eat into. They usually eat the softwood and so a damaged wood can have a layered appeal because hardwood portion may not be touched upon by workers. Just like drywood termites behave, subterranean termites also eat "with the grain" as compared to across the grain.

Their Nest Location - As the name implies, this type of termites can generally be found underground. In case if they live over the ground, then they need moisture in ample amount and also the nest has to be sufficiently old and established.      

Fooding Habits of Subterraneans

Termites Subterranean

The food habits of subterranean termites are particularly interesting as they are always attracted towards foodstuff that contains cellulose in varying degrees. People who have always wondered about them regarding 'do subterranean termites eat wood?' or 'do subterranean termites eat concrete?' would be convinced to know that any foodstuff can be eaten by them if there is a presence of cellulose in it. Items like wood, carpet, cardboard, fabric, plants, insulation, sheetrock paper and animal feces can be eaten by them because all of these contain cellulose.

Looking at nature and the food chain principle, this may seem to be important because dying or decaying plants and trees can be easily broken down by them. However, digestion of cellulose may not be very easy. Even large animals like horses and cows need time to digest cellulose. They usually chew grass for long periods of time so that it can be broken down considerably for proper digestion.

Subterranean termites are able to live on cellulose due to the presence of certain organisms that are found in their stomach. There is a presence of protozoa and bacteria in its stomach that helps in producing an enzyme for the breakdown of cellulose. Therefore, they help in breaking down the cellulose and termites are able to receive their nutrition in sugar form. There are certain other termite species that like to eat wood that has been decomposed by fungi. This helps in their faster digestion process. The bacteria and protozoa are only there in the stomach of the worker termites. Therefore, they are also responsible for feeding the cellulose-turned-sugar product to the immature, reproductive and soldiers through a mouth-to-mouth contact process.

Wooden structures can be broken down by them and that can be quite a source of heartache for many people. These are social insects and they typically live in colonies and eat many types of wood. People who may have wondered 'do subterranean termites eat concrete?' will be assured to know here that they generally do not eat up concrete as there is no cellulose available in them. However, their presence is tough to find out until and unless any structural damage occurs.

Therefore, any decaying wood that has a source of moisture in it can be devoured by subterranean termites. The sight of a mud tube on an external wall from their underground nest to a food source like wood or bamboo can be a sign of their presence and the food that they are up to. It can also help point towards a leakage somewhere in the property that must be fixed.

Therefore, people asking the question 'do subterranean termites eat wood?' will now know that they really feed on wood. We can understand here that subterranean termites generally feed on wood within a property as that is the best type of cellulose-laden food that they can get within a home. Therefore, the damage inflicted by them can be massive and unknown for a long time. Hence, it is essential to find out their presence in time so that corrective actions can be taken.    

Subterranean Termites can be Quite Deadly

Termites Subterranean

Presence of subterranean termites can be quite menacing within a property as they can stay undetected for years altogether and yet carry out their operation nonchalantly. Only when structure damage occurs, a person may be able to know of their presence. Therefore, it is very important to get rid of subterranean so that structural damage can be avoided and the life and longevity of a property can be enhanced.

There are actually many ways to get rid of subterranean termites and these should be employed so that they can be eliminated. These insects live for a long time and during their lifetime, they can completely damage a structure. Some effective measures against them are therefore discussed in the following section.

1) Chemical Treatment Option

There are many types of chemical treatment options available so that termites can be discouraged from making it their chosen home. Some of the most notable amongst them are discussed here.

Treatment of Wood - Treating the wood and increasing its strength can be helpful in keeping off any termite. Many woodworkers try this method that can be a safe and cheap option for owners. It can be a useful way of increasing the durability of wood. Moreover, the process may not need a large investment to be made. Investing a nominal sum in this way can be helpful in providing relief against any termite infestation in future. However, it also must be understood here that as wood-aging happens, it may become soft and that can leave it susceptible to termite attacks.

The Use of Liquid Chemicals - Using liquid chemical is a very popular way to get rid of subterranean. A chemical like a termiticide can be sprayed on wood to ensure that there is no infestation of termites. The liquid can be sprayed directly over the wood surface for maximum effect. The only thing that has to be understood here is the fact that only the area that is in contact with the liquid can be expected to be termite-free. Therefore, it is not an absolute treatment plan and while spraying, care must be taken to generously spray it all over a structure to eliminate any chance of infestation.

Making a Chemical Barrier in Soil - This is perhaps a more foolproof method of ensuring that there is no infestation within a property. In this method, a chemical barrier may be created around the outer perimeter of a property using a liquid insecticide so that it can act as a deterrent for any termite attack. The soil below the foundation is sprayed with the chemical before making the foundation and this can be a pretty useful method. Some other aspects of this technique are also mentioned here.

A post-construction treatment can also be done in case of need. In this method though, holes may have to be drilled through the foundation and insecticide can be passed on through it to deal with subterranean termite menace.

There are many types of products available for conducting the treatment and most of them are legal as far as personal use is concerned.

There are a number of online videos available that document how to do the operation successfully. Therefore, before investing in it, one can be sufficiently aware of the whole process.

However, if there is not much clarity regarding how to complete the operation successfully, it is always desirable to take an expert's help and advice so that any risk resulting in damage can be avoided.     

Choosing Between the Type of Chemicals - When a person decides to use a chemical insecticide, it is very important to know all about its available types. Liquid repellents and liquid non-repellents are the two major types of chemicals that are available. Each of them has its own advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, it is important to have a clear understanding of the working and the effects that they can produce. Evaluating it can be helpful in deciding which one to choose for a purpose.

Using a Liquid Repellent - As the name implies, this type of repellent can be useful before termites launch an attack on a property. It can be useful to discourage them from launching an attack on the foundation of a property. This type of repellent can last for many years altogether and can act as an effective barrier for them. A person can stay assured that termites won't be able to cross the barrier easily and will instead move around. However, it is also true that it can be impossible to make an ideal barrier with absolutely no gaps below a fully constructed property. Over a period of time, such gaps may be found out by termites to secure access to the property. It is also a fact that if a gap is noticed by subterranean termites, they usually come back with more of their family so that the property can be perfectly devoured!

Using Liquid Non-Repellent Insecticide - There is a lot of non-repellent termiticides that can be easily available for a property owner. Actually, they do not prohibit termites from attacking rather they promote it as the insecticide is highly poisonous for them. When termites build through their tunnels, they can get exposed to it and get neutralized in the process. Furthermore, the chemical can also make its way into the termite colonies as feeding is conducted by the worker termites. Within a colony, if workers have consumed the non-repellent insecticide and take part in feeding, more termites may get killed.

2) Baiting Can Be Useful

Termites Subterranean

Baiting or trapping the termites is a very effective way of treatment and control of these pests and can be a useful way of stopping their spread. Baiting can bring in the needed results with satisfaction. The different processes include the following.

An Entire Colony can be Targeted Using Bait Traps - A termite colony can be huge and using an insecticide may not be a plausible solution as every corner of it may not be affected by it. One needs to have a more directed approach and the answer can be bait traps. It has become a chosen method of deterrence nowadays and can ensure long-term protection and safety against termites. The baits can be slow-acting pesticides and once, they are consumed, the worker may return to the colony and feed the rest. This way, the chemical can spread through the entire population and they can be wiped off thoroughly. Some noteworthy points related to them are also mentioned here -

  • Some baits use Insect Growth Regulators (IGRs) that can be very useful in diminishing and destroying complete colonies very easily.  
  • The toxicity level of IGR is very low and therefore they can be much less of a threat to pets and humans. However, the best ones in the business may be available only through professionals.

Bait Traps can be Placed for Termites - A few bait traps can be helpful in determining whether there is any colony of termites near to a property. They consist of plastic traps that can have untreated wood inside it. The trap can be pushed inside the ground and placed all along a property at an approximate interval of 10 feet. This way, if there is any colony of termite, they can be caught in the trap.

Checking of Traps is Important - Once a trap has been set up, it is important to monitor it regularly. They can be monitored every month for a few months to keep a tab over termite presence. If after removing the trap, one finds any live termite in it, then it can be a good idea to place a toxic bait inside it and put it back in its place inside the soil. Termites that come to the untreated wood will carry the poisoned bait along with them to their colony and the poison can spread rapidly through the complete colony in a very effective manner.  

Bait Traps Can Also be Used In-house - Bait traps placed outside a property may not have any significance for those subterranean termites that have already made its way into a property's structure. However, there are above-ground bait traps also available that can be useful in thwarting their bid. Operation-wise, these above-ground baits are also designed to work in the very same way as the ones that are placed on the ground. Some other noteworthy features include -

  • These above-ground baits can be connected to a place where there is enough termite activity like a damaged tube work or a mud tube.
  • There are different types of above-ground baiting systems available. Hence, it is important to read the label as some of these systems work with liquid spot-treatment while there are others that can work by itself.

3) Treatment & Control Methods Generally Work 

Termites Subterranean

The treatment and control methods for eliminating termites generally work quite well and a person can easily expect a property to be termite free within a few days if every care is taken for it.

Along with the above-mentioned processes, a person can also consider fumigating a property. It is a very specialized process which can be carried out by experts over 3-5 days to get rid of termites within an area. If there is more infestation, this method can be quite helpful, only that food and any other consumable may have to be sufficiently secured by inmates.

Additionally, it is also very important to ensure that once a termite treatment is completed and all termites have been neutralized, future infestation should not occur. For preventing any future build up, it is important to ensure that there is no water deposition near the foundation of a property. Moreover, if there is any structural problem, that needs to be identified and fixed accordingly. Ventilation of hard-to-reach areas is also crucial so that there is no future build-up of termite colonies.

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