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Termites belong to the infraorder Isoptera in the cockroach order Blattodea, and all termites are divided into three groups based on each species’ habitat preference. These groups are known as subterranean, drywood, and dampwood termites, and several species from each group are known pests of woodwork in the US. Subterranean termites are the most destructive and economically costly termite pests in the US, as they are responsible for 80 to 95 percent of all termite-related property damages reported annually in the country. The most destructive termite pest in the US is commonly known as the eastern subterranean termite (Reticulitermes flavipes), and this species is the only termite pest that attacks structures within and around Boston.

All subterranean termite species live in colonies located within moist ground soil where they reach maturity within a span of three to seven years. For the first two or three years after a reproductive pair of subterranean termite swarmers (alates) initiate a new colony in moist soil, very few offspring are produced. After a few years of colony maturation, the queen’s abdomen becomes greatly distended, thereby enabling her to accommodate a sudden increase in offspring production, which can exceed 2,000 new eggs daily. After a period of around five years, alates appear within subterranean termite colonies, and alates of the eastern subterranean termite species take flight in Massachusetts from April to June.

Colonies located near structures should not be considered a significant infestation threat until they become mature enough to produce swarming alates. This is because young subterranean termite colonies contain a very small number of wood-infesting workers. Such a small number of workers are only able to establish a foraging territory as large as a few feet in diameter around their nesting site. However, the most mature eastern subterranean termite colonies exceed ten years of age and are made up of as many as three million individuals, most of which are workers that inhabit multiple secondary nests. These secondary nests are established by workers to mark their colony’s foraging territory, and researchers have found that a single mature colony may establish a foraging territory as large as 11,000 square feet in area. These expansive subterranean termite colony networks pose a tremendous threat to the timber framed structures located above, and they are most prevalent within and around forested and heavily wooded areas.

Do you have reason to believe that subterranean termite colonies exist near your home?