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The United States is home to several species of subterranean, drywood, and dampwood termites that feed on decaying forms of plant matter, most notably wood. A minority of documented termite species in the US are economically significant pests that infest structural woodwork within homes and buildings, resulting in costly property damage. Termite pests inflict several billion dollars in structural damages annually in the US, and subterranean termites are responsible for the majority of this devastation. Unlike drywood and dampwood termites that can only be found in the southern and western regions of the country, subterranean termites inhabit every state in the US, except for Alaska.

The eastern subterranean termite (Reticulitermes flavipes), is the most widespread termite pest in the country, which also makes them the most destructive, as nearly all US homes east of the Mississippi River can be attacked by this species. Eastern subterranean termites can also be found in most western states, but they are most prevalent in and around northeastern and southeastern forested areas where their sole food source is ubiquitous. Subterranean termites will not infest above ground structural lumber as long as logs, fallen branches, stumps, and other natural food sources remain abundant within their habitat. Because of this, subterranean termite infestation rates are lower than average in heavily wooded residential areas.

The eastern subterranean termite is the only termite pest species that inhabits Massachusetts, and their underground colonies can grow to contain as many as five million individuals, most of which are workers that carry out many laborious duties, such as brood care, nest construction, and foraging. A single mature subterranean termite colony containing several thousand individuals is composed of multiple nesting sites that are interconnected to form a network that can span an entire city block. Workers are known to tunnel through soil over distances as long as 150 feet in order to secure a food source, and while soldiers provide protection against predators during foraging expeditions, only workers infest wood.

During the warmer months in Massachusetts, subterranean termite nests are situated three feet below the ground surface in coastal areas, and five feet below the ground surface in mountainous inland areas. Nests and foraging workers constantly remain within moist soil due to their pronounced dependence on moisture. The relative humidity in subterranean termite nests is always between 97 and 100 percent, and workers only infest moist wood sources. When temperatures drop during the winter, colonies avoid freezing to death by traveling well below the frost line where temperatures become progressively warmer. Experts believe that subterranean termites remain 18 to 20 feet below the ground during the winter, but in neighborhoods where central heating keeps the soil surrounding houses warm, subterranean termites will remain closer to the ground surface where they can still be problematic.

Have you ever lived next door to a house that became infested with termites?