Termites Underground – The Dark & Smelly Story

    

“Subterranean termites are the real miners of the termite world” – an entomologist colleague made this statement recently and it has helped me to understand this family of termites a little better.

Terry the Termite Troop

So, what’s the smelly story? Well, that refers to the fact they use their own excrement to build their mud tunnels – more on that later though.

If you have heard a) mention about termites underground, b) news about termites infesting homes from the ground up, c) seen typical mud tubes around the foundations of your home, then there can only be one culprit – the Subterranean termite.

Of course there are many species within this family of termites, each of which pose different levels of risk to your home. For example some species like the mastofermes darwiniensis or loptotermes acinacifoais subterranean termite eat faster, meaning they can cause greater damage to your home in a shorter space of time!

Could You Have Termites Underground?

Termites Underground

Yes! They may be closer than you know. Your house could be their next meal. As they are underground, they are very difficult to detect!

  • If you can’t tell they are present then you don’t know what they are up to, or in other words, what they are eating.
  • If you don’t know what they are doing, how can you be sure they haven’t got into your home’s foundation?
  • If you are not checking your home’s foundation, or anywhere near the base of your home, or in your crawl space, how could you know for sure you don’t have termites?

The list of unanswered questions can go on and on.

Want to reduce the risk of a problem? One word: Inspection. Unless you are pro-actively monitoring and inspecting your home, and also areas in your garden (more about this later), you will continue to be in the dark until a real problem occurs.

Why You Should Care about Termites

I can think of 3 main reasons (though I am sure there are many more):

  1. You want to live in a home that is safe for you and all your family.
  2. You value your home from an emotional point of view – memories made and time invested.
  3. You value your home financially too – if you ever think of selling, an unknown termite problem can make things difficult.

See our ‘Why My Home‘ guide to identify areas of your home at risk of termites.

How To Check for Termites under Your House?

If they are so hard to detect, how can you possibly tell there is a problem? Well, the clearest sign are mud tubes. You can monitor for these in your basement or on internal / external walls and foundations.

Termite Mud Tubes

Even if you cannot see any mud tubes, it does not mean you do not have termites. Subterranean termites are able to use cracks and voids in concrete and foundation walls in their search for a food source.

Termites Concrete Cracks

What are Mud Tubes?

Subterranean termites build shelter tubes to travel to and from a food source. This is to avoid being seen by predators and to maintain a suitably moist environment. But this is a dead giveaway for us humans!

Subterranean termites are sensitive to drying out, so the tunnels help maintain a suitable environment for them to survive. This also means they are more active after rain and in wet seasons, when they make more exploratory ventures to look for food.

These tubes are about the width of a pen and are usually found on exterior and interior walls leading up to the entry points of the building. Just break open a tube and you may see the termite workers and soldiers scurrying to and from the food source to feed the colony, a sure sign of an active infestation. If you leave the broken tunnel alone, the termites will quickly seal it up again so they don’t dry out, and then carry on feeding on your house.

They need to encapsulate soil around them to keep themselves moist. They are in real danger of drying out and dying if exposed to air or daylight above ground.

There are four types of tube:

  1. Working tubes: built along surfaces to connect the nest to wood food sources.
  2. Exploratory and migratory tubes: these rise from the soil but do not connect to any wooden structure.
  3. Drop tubes: built from infested wood back down into the soil.
  4. Swarm tubes: these are for the flying kings and queens to emerge from the ground during the mating season.

Gross fact alert: These tunnels are made from a mixture of soil and termites’ own excrement!

Subterranean termites do not usually build their nests in the wood of buildings. They use the tunnels to transport food out of your house to the colony in the ground or in trees and stumps outside. However, if there is a source of moisture, such as from a leaky roof or pipe work, they can establish a colony inside your home.

Put simply, moisture is the Subterranean termites best friend!

Ever heard about termites under the sink?
It could mean you have subterranean termites. Some species of Subterraneans need less moisture than others, hence they can build a nest above ground – yet still close to a source of moisture.

How serious can termite damage be?

Well, pretty bad depending on the invading species. It can range from light, cosmetic damage to severe problems that could even lead to the collapse of a floor or ceiling!

Did you know that termites can even infest items of furniture? These include book shelves and even kitchen cabinets.

Want to see what Subterranean termite damage really looks like?
The team came across this video showing the destructive nature of these termites in a home in Florida, US. It is worth a watch:

Outdoor Termite Damage

Much advice focuses on areas inside your home to inspect and monitor for termite damage. However, you shouldn’t neglect the rest of your property.

Termites have been known to fell trees and damage telegraph posts, so it is worth making regular inspections outside to protect your home:

  • Garden mulch
  • Garden fence & decking
  • Timber retaining walls
  • Firewood
  • Trees
  • Stumps

Looking to Buy a new House? Ask About Termites!
All homes are at potential risk. Even homes built out of stone or brick. If your home has wood in its foundations, in direct contact with the soil you might be at greater risk.

Scarily, even homes which have a solid concrete base foundation can be in danger. Termites can navigate their way through the tiniest of cracks in concrete to find a suitable food source.

If you live, or are looking to buy a home in a known termite hotspot, of which there are many, it pays to be aware of the risks upfront! The cost to repair termite damage can be very large.

In Australia, the local state and council, publicise local areas known for termite activity, which is especially important for building and construction industries.

Follow the #TermiteTroop for more information, advice and surprising termite facts.

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