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The eastern subterranean termite is the most commonly managed and economically costly termite species in the United States, and these are the only termite pests found in Massachusetts where they are abundant. These termites live in underground colonies that contain three primary social castes known as workers, soldiers and the royal pair (queen and king).

Workers account for 90 to 98 percent of all individuals within an eastern subterranean termite colony, and workers are responsible for gathering food outside of the nest, caring for offspring, and for physically feeding soldiers and the queen. Only workers infest wood, but they cannot be seen by homeowners due to their constant presence in ground soil and wood. During April and May, reproductive swarmers known as “alates” emerge from existing colonies in order to mate and establish new colonies where they serve as queen and king. It is widely believed that the queen and king are the only termites in a colony that are capable of reproducing, but this is not the case.

Massachusetts residents often become alarmed after spotting termite swarms near, and sometimes, within their home. Spotting an outdoor swarm indicates that a mature colony is somewhere nearby, but an indoor swarm is usually a sign that an infestation has been established. While it is important for homeowners to be aware of the potential threats posed by swarming termite alates, secondary reproductives also demand attention as pests.

There are two types of secondary reproductives in subterranean termite colonies, and they are known as “secondary,” and “tertiary reproductives.” The former group develops from nymphs and possess wing pads, but not full wings, while the latter groups develop from workers and do not possess wing pads. Secondary reproductives only occur in mature colonies, and in some cases, they can establish new colonies in an infested home after becoming separated from the parent colony. In most cases, only one nest containing the queen exists within infested homes, and destroying this nest is usually sufficient to end infestations. However, secondary reproductives can become separated from the parent nest, in which case they may establish additional nests within infested homes.

Have multiple termite nests ever been found in your home?