7 Termite Facts: Their Mud Tube Can Stretch 12 Feet, from Floor to Ceiling

Termites, the tiny architects of the insect world, are incredibly industrious creatures. They construct towering mounds and build intricate tunnel systems. These “silent destroyers” can cause costly damage to structures. Let’s dive into fascinating facts about termites to have a glimpse into the wonders of nature.

Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Blattodeas.

1. They look like ants

Termites belong to the infraorder Isoptera, which is part of the order Blattodea along with cockroaches. Previously, these species were classified in a distinct order from cockroaches. However, recent phylogenetic studies have revealed that they actually evolved from cockroaches. This discovery is based on their close relationship within the group, as well as their position as the closest relatives to wood-eating cockroaches of the genus Cryptocercus.

They used to be mistaken for white ants due to their similar appearance. However, it was not until recent times and the introduction of microscopes that scientists managed to discern distinct characteristics between these two groups. Termites have a remarkable ancestral history, as evidenced by the discovery of a fossil dating back over 130 million years.

Termites vs
Flying ants
WingsLonger, with the front and back wings having the same lengthShorter, with back wings shorter than the front wings
BodyNo waistSmall waist

Termites, found across the globe, boast a staggering count of more than 2,600 species worldwide, with North America alone housing 50 species. Some of them are formosan termite or giant northern (Darwin termite). Three types of North American termites are particularly notable: the dry wood termites, subterranean, and dampwood termites.

Flourishing in tropical and subtropical regions, these insects establish densely populated colonies. Like ants, their population greatly exceeds that of humans. To put it into perspective, there are around 1,000 pounds of termites for every individual.

Fun fact:
The term Isoptera is derived from Greek and translates to “two pairs of straight wings.” 

2. They have 3 types of members

Termites, totaling more than 2,000, possess unique traits, although many exhibit a similar appearance. These fascinating creatures typically feature large heads, 6 legs, straight and bead-like antennae, less noticeable body divisions, and a pale white to pale yellow to red and brown hue. However, it is worth noting that swarming termites may display darker shades, bearing resemblance to specific ant species.

These species dwell in colonies that consist of three distinct types of individuals: workers, soldiers, and reproductives. Generally, their size ranges from 1/4 to 1/2 inch, with queens and kings being bigger, measuring over one inch in length. Each individual within the colony has designated roles and responsibilities.

The soliders

Around 90-95% of the termite colony consists of worker termites. These workers, regardless of their sex, play a crucial role in ensuring the colony’s survival. They are sterile, lacking wings and eyesight. They possess a soft, colorless exoskeleton. Their main responsibilities revolve around the care and maintenance of other members within the colony. This includes tending to eggs, larvae, secondary reproductives, soldiers, as well as the king and queen.

Their jobs also include food provision, colony cleaning, and ensuring the ideal temperature for the eggs and nymphs. As the most populous group in the colony, workers generally have a lifespan of around 2 years.

The workers

Comprising a smaller portion, roughly 1-3%, of the colony’s population, soldier termites share similarities with workers. They are wingless, sightless, and often exhibit minimal pigmentation. Their bodies retain the softness of workers, but their heads have been altered and furnished with formidable mandibles. These mandibles protect them from intruders. Some soldiers possess the ability to secrete toxins from their heads. Soldiers of different termite species can be distinguished by their unique mouth parts.

Unlike workers, soldiers are unable to feed themselves and instead depend on workers for nourishment. They also live for about 1 – 2 years.

The last ones in the colony are the mature reproductive adults, a.k.a swarmer termites. Their population is small, about 5-10 kings who engage in mating with the queen during her lifetime. These adults possess fully developed eyes and wings and a dark brown color. Their main job is to mate and reproduce.

Typically, a colony has a solitary queen, although larger colonies might house multiple queens. All the queen, with an average size of 4 – 6 inches in length, has to do is revolve around egg-laying. If the queen receives enough care from the workers, she’ll lay more eggs. Typically, there will be around 100 to well over 1,000 eggs per day, depending on the species. The kings will fertilize the queen and maintain a continuous process of egg-laying.

3. They’re wood-eaters

Termites feed on wood, even pressure-treated wood. They have undergone evolutionary changes to effectively process wood cellulose and derive energy from it. Within a colony, adult workers sustain the entire population by regurgitating food or wood that has undergone decomposition in their digestive system. This decomposition process is supported by flagellate protozoa in their gut, breaking down the wood.

Besides wood, some species like dry wood species consume alternative materials like plastics, wallpaper, and fabrics made from plants.

Similar to ants, they use pheromones and sensory organs to search for wood. These insects eat a lot. They can eat without sleeping, allowing them to feed on significant amounts of food. Remarkably, a solitary termite colony can eat as much as 1,000 pounds of wood within a year.

The creatures are rich in protein, that’s why have quite a few predators, including geckos, frogs, young snakes, lizards, toads, salamanders, iguanas, echidnas, and even hyenas. In addition to reptiles and amphibians, they are frequently targeted by arachnids and insects such as spiders, beetles, and wasps. Another factor in termite predation is the contribution of fungi, which spread through contact among individuals.

Humans are also a threat to them. Termites are consumed by various cultures for their nutritional value and believed healing properties. The Macu Indians, for instance, rely on these insects as a food source during times of scarcity caused by drought.

In Singapore, it is common for people to consume live termite queens, either directly or after being dipped in alcohol. Some soak them in rice wine as a delicacy. In the Amazon rainforest, a traditional remedy for whooping cough involves boiling termites with sugar to create a soup. They even burn the termite nests and inhale the smoke to eliminate the flu symptoms.

4. Habitat

Termites are a globally distributed species, inhabiting various regions across the world. Europe is known to host 10 termite species, whereas North America boasts an impressive count of over 50 species. However, it is the African continent that truly stands out, as it is home to an astounding diversity of over 1,000 termite species. This vast array of species showcases the remarkable adaptability and success of termites, as they have developed numerous survival strategies to thrive in different environments.

The mud tubes

The majority of these insects live in subtropical and tropical regions and other warm climates. They are found in lowlands and coastal areas that are warm and moist. It is noteworthy that certain species in North America have developed the ability to tolerate colder temperatures, which enables them to invade homes and wood sources in more northern regions.

Due to its frigid climate, Alaska stands out as the sole state in the United States where these insects are nearly non-existent. The primary culprits for house damage are subterranean termites, which cannot survive here. While other species can be found here, they are not as troublesome for homeowners.

5. Behavior

Termites, similar to other insects, flourish in environments characterized by moisture and warmth. Their swarming season typically occurs in the spring and summer seasons, although their activity can persist throughout the year. During these periods, they exploit the favorable conditions of warmth, plentiful food, water, and shelter. In contrast, during the fall and winter months, they reduce activities, often seeking refuge in the depths of the ground or experiencing population decline.

Certain species of termites exhibit different swarming behaviors, with some preferring to swarm during the daytime, while others emerge in the late afternoon and early evening. However, most of them come out at night. During the nighttime, these swarmers are drawn to elevated humidity levels and various sources of light.

Termites exhibit a wide range of species, each characterized by their unique adaptations and behaviors. Among them, primitive termites inhabit their food source, whereas others dwell in the soil and search for wood. African termites stand out when they engage in agricultural practices and construct remarkable mounds. Certain species, like subterranean termites, live in your house.

These insects seek refuge within the walls of residential buildings, finding nourishment and warmth. They create expansive mounds, nests, and tunnels as their abodes, workplaces, and pathways. These constructions can be discovered in various locations, both within and outside residences. Mud tubes can even stretch up to 12 feet, spanning from the floor to the ceiling. The species can enter your house through the tiniest crevice in foundations, windows, or doors.

Termite nest in tree

These species emit a variety of sounds when they invade an area. These sounds encompass rattling, rustling, clicking, and buzzing noises. In the case of significant infestations, termites generate these sounds as they navigate through wood in search of nourishment. When soldiers sense danger, they produce the most prominent sound known as “head-banging,” which involves vibrations used to caution their colonies.

On the other hand, workers produce clacking and rustling sounds with their mouths as they tunnel through wood. Additionally, during the spring mating season, you may also perceive buzzing sounds emanating from flying ones.

Termites emit substantial quantities of methane gas, which exacerbates air pollution and contributes to the ongoing issue of climate change.

6. They are annoying pests

For centuries, termites, commonly referred to as wood bugs, have caused widespread destruction to structures and homes, resulting in substantial financial losses on a global scale.

While they may not directly endanger humans, termites can cause considerable damage to your house. These “silent destroyers” create nests and excavate tunnels within buildings, resulting in substantial damage that often goes unnoticed until it becomes severe. A colony with countless termites diligently gnawing on your house nonstop, round the clock.

The Subterranean termites
Subterranean termites consume the most wood. They are the worst species that can damage your property seriously. These species live underground and emerge in swarming seasons.

When it comes to economic devastation, subterranean termites take the lion’s share, causing roughly 75-80% of the damage. Dry wood termites account for 20-25% of the destruction, while dampwood termites contribute less than 5%.

These remarkably adaptable insects rank among the most accomplished pests worldwide. To get rid of these insects, you may follow our termite treatments here.

7. They can live for 25 years

Termites undergo an incomplete metamorphosis or hemimetabolous life cycle, consisting of three life stages: egg, nymph, and adult. This life cycle gives rise to three distinct castes within the colony: workers, soldiers, and reproductive.

During mating season, on summer nights, termites gather in large numbers and engage in swarming behavior. Thousands of kings and queens from different colonies come together to mate, perform a gentle courtship dance, and spread to establish their own colony. The occurrence of these swarming events is influenced by factors such as the region and prevailing weather conditions.

The male, known as the king, collaborates in labor alongside the fertilized queen. The queen subterranean species lays eggs under the soil while the queen of dry wood species can lay eggs in dead parts of trees, wood beams, or wood furniture.

Once she begins laying eggs, her productivity is remarkable, with egg production ranging from hundreds to thousands per day during the initial year. Their eggs look like minuscule jelly beans, characterized by their shiny, translucent outer covering. After 1 – 2 weeks of incubation period, the eggs hatch.

In the beginning, the king and queen take responsibility for nurturing the first few generations until sufficient numbers of the young hatch and develop into workers or soldiers. The development of these castes is influenced by the exposure of the eggs to particular pheromones and temperatures. Workers and soldiers are both infertile and dedicated solely to their roles.

Termite queen vs king

After 5 years, their population proliferates. Subsequently, the queen begins to produce reproductive males and females. These alates reach maturity and make preparations for swarming, departing from the colony to establish new ones during the upcoming summer. The repetition of this cycle continues indefinitely, playing a crucial role in the growth and endurance of termite colonies.

To become adults, the species have to undergo multiple nymph stages, around 5 to 13 nymph instars. The lifespan of reproductive adults varies between 1 to 4 years or even more, depending on the specific species. The queen can live for the longest time, approximately 25 years. Workers and soldiers, on the other hand, have a relatively shorter lifespan, living for approximately 10 to 14 months.

Reference: domyown.com


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