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Only one termite pest species can be found in Massachusetts and most other New England states, but unfortunately this species, the eastern subterranean termite, is the most economically damaging and destructive wood-infesting pest in the United States. Eastern subterranean termites are well adapted to a variety of climatic conditions, and they can survive winters by tunneling to lower depths below the ground where temperatures become progressively warmer. In their natural habitat away from urban and suburban areas, eastern subterranean termites nest and forage below the ground’s surface, where an abundance of dead plant matter and moisture provide colonies with adequate sustenance.

While subterranean termite workers forage away from their nests, they may venture above ground to snag loose plant-matter, but they generally construct what are called “exploratory tubes” in order to protect themselves from the desiccating effects of outside air. These seemingly isolated exploratory mud tubes are sometimes found on the ground in yards, parks and forested areas, and their presence means that termites are in the area. Termites obviously consume and nest within natural and finished wood sources, but they feed on any sort of dead plant-matter, as well as products that are made out of dead plant matter, such as wallpaper, money and books. Termites consume these items in order to retain cellulose, which is the primary constituent of plant cell walls.

In addition to the structural wood frame of houses, eastern subterranean termites may also damage cosmetic wood sources and siding. These destructive pests also infest hardwood floors, drywall, baseboards, linoleum, foam insulation, cotton and some types of carpet. Although cellulose is the only form of nutrition for subterranean termites, they are not born with the gut microorganisms that are necessary for breaking down tough cellulose. In order for termite larvae to gain these gut microorganisms, they consume the feces of elder workers in a colony. This process is known as “trophallaxis,” and it must be repeated after each molt during a termite’s maturation.

Do you think that your home is mostly safe from eastern subterranean termites?