Termite colonies are highly organized and structured groups of termites that work together to find food, build their homes, and reproduce. These colonies can range in size from just a few hundred to millions in population, and they play a crucial role in the ecosystems in which they live. However, despite the benefits they provide to ecosystems, termites are one pest that causes particular worry amongst homeowners. And unfortunately, this worry is for good reason. Termites are some of the most destructive insects, with the ability to cause costly damage to your home. And, termite damage can even compromise the structural integrity of your home, making it potentially unsafe for you and your family. In many instances, homeowners don’t even realize that damage has been done until years after a termite colony has made their way in.
Nobody wants to deal with termite colonies in and around their home. However, understanding their behavior can help us better protect our homes and businesses from these insects. Additionally, knowing how to spot when a termite colony has taken up residence in your own home can allow you to act fast before these pests cause devastating damage. So, here is everything you need to know about termite colonies and how to spot them.
What Are Termite Colonies?
So, what exactly is a termite colony? Termites are considered social creatures, as are ants and various species of bees and wasps. One of the key characteristics of a social creature is that they live together in large groups, referred to as colonies. Termite colonies can grow to be extremely large. For example, the most common termite in the U.S., the subterranean, typically has colonies that range from 50,000 to several hundred thousand termites. And, they can grow even larger. In fact, researchers have uncovered an ancient 4,000-year-old termite colony in Brazil that spans an area as large as Great Britain. While it’s unlikely that a Great-Britain-sized colony will invade your home, knowing just how large these colonies often are is enough to make any homeowner feel uneasy.
Another key characteristic of a social creature is that they have specific roles within their colonies, or a division of labor. This rings true for termites, as their colonies are divided into different groups, or castes. Each termite caste carries a distinct set of functions, roles, and behaviors within the group, whether it be to build tunnels or defend the colony from outside threats. And furthermore, each colony includes a kind and a queen, who are responsible for expanding the colony through reproduction. Together, the termites within a colony form a highly efficient system. And, it’s this system that ultimately allows termites to thrive and expand in a wide range of environments. Unfortunately for us, this means that when we spot one termite in our home, there’s likely hundreds, if not thousands, more.
Specifically, termite colonies contain three distinct termite castes: workers, soldiers, and reproductives. And, a closer look at the termite caste system and each unique role can explain how exactly these colonies function.
Worker termites make up the largest portion of a colony, typically accounting for 90 to 98 percent of the population. Workers are often all white and don’t have eyes, depending on pheromones and their sense of touch to navigate the way instead. They are considered the foragers of the group, responsible for collecting food and feeding the other members of the colony. Because of this, the workers are usually the cause of destruction during a termite infestation, as they chew through the wooden structures within your home for food. In addition, their role also includes carrying for the young termites within the colony and constructing and repairing nests.
Soldiers are the second largest group within termite colonies, making up anywhere from 2 to 10 percent of the population. Soldier termites have the same milky white body that workers have, but are distinguishable by their darker head. And, similar to workers, they rely on their ability to follow the chemical trail of pheromones to carry out their job.
Soldier termites play an important role in the social structure of termite colonies. These specialized termites are responsible for protecting the colony from threats, such as predators and rival colonies. Unlike other members of the colony, soldier termites have unique physical characteristics that make them well-suited for their role. They have larger heads and mandibles, which they use to defend the colony against invaders. In some species, the mandibles of soldier termites are even capable of delivering a painful bite to potential threats. And, in addition to their physical capabilities, soldier termites also have a heightened sense of vigilance. They are constantly on the lookout for potential dangers and are quick to respond to any threats that they detect. This vigilance helps to ensure the safety of the entire colony – quite an important role!
The reproductive individuals, also known as “alates,” are the future queens and kings of the colony. These termites have wings and are responsible for starting new colonies. When the time is right, usually during the warmer months of the year, the alates will leave the nest in a process known as “swarming.” The alates will then mate and find a suitable location to start a new nest. The female alate will then shed her wings and become the queen of the new colony, while the male alate will become the king. The queen’s sole responsibility is to lay eggs, and she can lay thousands of eggs each day. The king’s role is to fertilize the eggs and help the queen maintain the nest. Together, they ensure that the colony continues to grow for years to come, with the queen having the ability to lay thousands of eggs per day!
In addition to these three main termite castes, there are also several other types of termites that play specialized roles within the colony. For example, there are termites known as “supplementary reproductives.” These termites are capable of becoming queens or kings if the primary reproductives are killed or otherwise unable to fulfill their duties. Altogether, the termite castes within a colony create a highly efficient system, which allows them to continuously expand for years. And eventually, they grow large enough to have the ability to invade a structure or building.
Different Types of Termite Colonies
There are several different types of termite colonies, each with its own unique characteristics and behaviors. One of the most common types of termite colonies is the subterranean colony, which is the most common cause of infestations within homes. As the name suggests, these colonies are located underground and consist of a network of tunnels and chambers.
Another type of termite colony is the drywood colony. These colonies are typically found in dry, wooden structures such as houses and furniture. Unlike subterranean termites, drywood termites do not need to be near a water source and can live entirely within the wood they are infesting. And, while these colonies are typically smaller than subterranean colonies, they are often more difficult to detect and control.
A dampwood termite colony is yet another type of termite colony. As the name implies, these colonies are typically found in damp, decaying wood. They are generally larger than drywood colonies and are often found in fallen trees or other sources of damp wood. Thankfully, dampwood termites are generally less damaging to buildings than other types of termites, as they do not typically infest sound, dry wood. On the other hand, if there is moist rotting wood within your home, a dampwood termite colony could be a potential threat.
Finally, there are also what is known as “aerial” colonies. These colonies are found above ground and do not require contact with the soil. Instead, they build nests in trees and other structures. As long as the termites in these colonies have adequate food and water, they are able to thrive without contact with the ground. Unfortunately, these conditions are sometimes found in places like our home’s walls or attic, which can potentially lead to an infestation of this type.
What Does a Termite Colony Look Like?
Termites can wreak havoc on your home if they are allowed to establish a colony inside. So, knowing how to identify a termite colony in your yard or home can save you the headache of a full blown infestation (as well as thousands of dollars in repairs). If caught quick enough, you can call in a professional pest control company to remove the colony before it causes major damage.
The layout of a termite nest varies depending on the species of termite, but most nests are underground and made up of interconnected tunnels and chambers. The nest provides the termites with protection from predators and the elements, and also works to regulate the temperature and humidity within the colony. The nest is typically built with mud, wood, and other materials gathered by the workers. Because termite colonies will often reside within the walls and wooden structures of your home, you most likely won’t be able to directly see it. However, as they cause damage, you will be able to spot some early warning signs that you have a colony living within your home.
How to Spot a Termite Colony in your Home
Knowing what to look for when it comes to a termite colony invading your home is crucial. So, here are a few of the signs that you may have a termite colony invading your home:
Termites build mud tubes as a way to protect themselves from predators and to provide moisture while they are feeding on wood. These tubes are typically found on the outside of your home, and they are made up of a mixture of mud and termite feces. They can be found on the foundation of your home, on the walls, or even on the ceiling. They will appear as small tunnels traveling up wooden structures or your home’s foundation, typically about the width of a pencil.
As the termite colony chews through your home’s wood, you may also start to notice some signs of damaged wood. For example, you may notice that wooden beams or joists in your home are starting to sag or feel spongy, or you may see holes in the wood. Additionally, you might notice that your floorboards are growing squeaky, yet another sign of a termite colony within your home.
Other Signs of Damage
In addition to these signs, you may also notice that your wallpaper is starting to peel or bubble, or that your baseboards are starting to warp. The termite damage could also cause discolored drywall or small pinpoint holes in your walls, which both could be signs that a termite colony has found its way in.
When to Call in a Professional
If you suspect that you have a termite colony invading your home, it is important to take action as soon as possible. Termites can cause costly damage to your home, and the longer they remain, the worse the damage (and repair bill) will be. To get rid of termites, you will need to contact a professional pest control company. Here at Eliminate ‘Em, our experienced pest control experts are available 24/7, 7 days a week to safely remove termites and return peace to your home.