The eastern subterranean termite is the most destructive termite species in the United States, and these wood-eating pests infest homes throughout the northeast during much of the year. Eastern subterranean termites are more abundant in the northeast than common pavement ants, but subterranean termites are almost never spotted by humans since they dwell below the ground and/or within the internal cavities of natural and finished wood sources.
A colony of subterranean termites is comprised of workers, followed by a smaller proportion of soldiers, and some colonies contain multiple reproductive queens, but generally one royal pair is contained within each colony. After a year or two of colony maturation, reproductive swarming termites (alates) are produced. These swarming alates take flight from an underground or above ground nest in order to establish new colonies elsewhere.
Subterranean termite alates are the only termites that people ever see, and when a swarm emerges within a home, the home has likely been infested for at least a year. Subterranean termite alates do not generally establish infestations within wood, as a colony must maintain contact with moist soil in order to hydrate; instead, it is only worker termites that establish infestations in houses and damage structural wood.
Subterranean termite alates establish colonies within soil, and colonies may be interconnected, or isolated. One single eastern subterranean termite colony contains between 100,000 and 1,000,0000 individual termites. Most of these termites are workers, and only workers leave the nest in order to gather food for the soldiers, king, queen, reproductives, and other workers within the colony nest.
Given the abundance of eastern subterranean termites in the northeast, workers often encounter houses where they construct mud tubes in order to travel above ground and into a home’s lumber components. These mud tubes are usually found running vertically along the foundations of homes, and breaking these dried mud tubes will cause numerous workers to come flooding out.
After transporting food back to the colony nest, workers literally feed soldier termites, as the defensive jaws possessed by soldier termites are too big for self-feeding. While all termites within a colony consume wood, only worker termites locate houses and damage the structural wood-frame within.
Have you ever found mud tubes in your yard?