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When you hear the word termite, it probably makes you cringe. Termites can be the worst nightmare for a homeowner. Why? Termites cause more than $5 Billion in damage to homes annually. Since termites aren’t typically covered under insurance, it is no surprise that it can be costly to prevent and get rid of termites. They are scary because they can compromise the integrity of your home without you knowing.
We’ve put together a list of five things you probably didn’t know about termites. Hopefully, this will help you make informed decisions as you work to protect your home.
1. Termites have lived for more than 150 million years and are ancestors to the cockroach.
Looking back about 300 million years, scientists have found that the cockroach and termite come from a common ancestor. Scientists have even found a 100-million-year-old termite preserved in amber. This has enabled scientists to understand how termites have developed and changed over time.
2. Termites are able to digest cellulose because of microorganisms in their stomachs.
One of the most interesting things about termites is how they can take a tree and decompose it. Termites have bacteria and microorganisms in their stomachs that break down and digest the cellulose from the food they eat. These bacteria and microorganisms actually live in the termites.
3. Termites can do good for the environment.
When we hear of termites, we assume they are constantly eating wood and destroying homes, but this is not always the case. Termites are decomposers; they break down plant fibers. Their role is important in forests, where they break down fallen trees that are decaying. This allows new trees to grow and is an important part of the circle of life for a forest.
Termites also tunnel in the soil. This aerates the soil, improving its ability to have new plants live there. The unfortunate coincidence is that termites’ food source is the same thing that we make our homes with.
4. Termites use chemicals to communicate.
Similar to ants, termites use a special gland on their chest to leave a trail wherever they go. Each colony has its own unique scent. This helps to keep the colonies together. Using these chemicals, the termites are able to communicate with each other and even control each other’s behavior. Some species of termites are able to influence how the young termites develop by using these chemicals.
5. Termite kings and queens can fly.
A common misconception is that all termites have wings and can fly. Although this is true of some termites, it’s not true for the majority of termites. Only the reproductive termites have wings and are able to fly. The winged termites leave their homes to find a mate. This is where the term “swarming season” has come from. During mating season, these winged termites will gather together in swarms to find their mates. Once they find their mates, they break their wings off and settle down to start reproducing. This is where the colonies start.
Bonus Fact and Tips: There are three main types and 45 species of termites.
1. Subterranean Termites
a. Live in the soil
b. Reach food sources via mud tubes
c. Eat trees, fences and wood used to build homes
d. Build large nests
2. Drywood Termites:
a. Live in wood (i.e. dead trees, wood floors)
b. Eat trees, fences, and lumber used in homes
c. Do not require soil contact
d. Cause damage at a slower rate
e. Build small nests
3. Dampwood Termites:
a. Live in wood that is high in moisture
b. Are rarely found in homes
c. Do not require soil contact
Tips: It is very important to periodically check underneath your landscaping. If you have mulch beds around your home, you can kick the mulch around to see if there are termites feeding in it. If you find termites in your mulch, there is a very good chance they are already inside the home. It is important to check under rocks and make sure and check areas that are hard to reach. Termites prefer places that are dark and moist.
Understanding these facts lets you know what you should be looking for. Since termites are so small, people often don’t realize that they have a termite problem until it is too late. That’s why we encourage everyone to be proactive in preventing termites.