No property in mainland Australia is safe from termites. Termites are the cause of the greatest economic losses of timber used in homes and buildings. Australia’s subterranean termite species (white ants) are the most destructive timber pests in the world. In fact it can take as little as three months for a termite colony to severely damage almost all the timber in a home.
How Termites Attack Homes
The most destructive species live in large underground nests containing more than a termites. The problem arises when a nest matures near your property. Buildings tend to provide natural shelter and a food source for the termites. The gallery system of a single colony may exploit food sources up to 100 metres from the main nest.
Once in contact with timber, termites eat the internal wood, often leaving only a thin veneer on the outside. If left undiscovered they can cause many thousands of dollars damage and cost several thousand dollars (or more) to treat.
Subterranean Termite Ecology
Termites are social insects usually living in large underground nests. They tunnel underground to enter a building and then remain hidden within the timber making it difficult to locate their presence. Where timbers are not accessible, as in most homes, it makes it more difficult to locate their presence, especially if gardens have been built up and termite barriers are either not in place or poorly maintained.
There are about 3,000 species of termites found in the world with about 300 species in Australia. All termites eat some form of cellulose. Most termites simply eat humus in the soil or grass and leaves. Very few species eat wood, and only a small number of these eat sound wood (i.e. wood that has not been decayed by fungus). Some 20 or more species cause serious economic loss to Australian buildings.
Termites or “white ants” are social insects that work and live together in groups called colonies. Each colony contains several ‘castes’ which differ in body shape, behaviour and tasks performed.
The reproductive pair (king and queen termite) mate and control the entire colony. In most species that cause economic loss in Australia the queen becomes ‘physogastric’. This means she has a grossly enlarged abdomen to enable her to lay millions of eggs. She essentially becomes an egg laying machine. The eggs hatch into the nymphal stage and through a series of moults, develop into one of the adult castes described below.
The worker caste has the largest number of individuals within the colony and is responsible for building the nest, tending eggs and young termites, gathering food and feeding those castes that are unable to feed themselves. Worker termites are wingless, blind and do not reproduce. Workers perform almost all the tasks in the colony except for defence and reproduction.
The soldier caste can be distinguished from the other castes by their head. The head of the soldier caste is large, dark and may have large mandibles or a ‘nasute’ (pointed) protuberance. Soldier termites defend the colony against predators such as ants and are also unable to reproduce.
The winged reproductive caste are the potential kings and queens of new colonies. This caste has eyes and wings and usually leaves the parent colony in large swarms. They do not fly far and once landed they shed their wings.