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Subterranean
Termites

Termites

Termites are social insects belonging to the order Isoptera. They are closely related to cockroaches. They are different from almost all other insects in that they can utilize the cellulose of wood. Termites are able to do this because of single-celled organisms that live in their digestive tracts. These organisms, protozoa and bacteria, help convert the cellulose eaten by the termites into sugars which the termites can then utilize.
Each time the termite molts, the chitinous lining of the digestive tract is shed along with the rest of the exoskeleton. The protozoa and bacteria are lost in this process; because termites are dependent on the protozoa and bacteria to survive, the recently molted termite must then replenish its system with these important organisms. The termite does this by obtaining a small droplet of anal fluid, containing bacteria and protozoa, from another termite in the colony. Many people believe that it was this need to obtain more bacteria and protozoa after each molt that led termites to evolve as social insects living in colonies. It is important to note that any process that kills the bacteria and protozoa of the termite will also kill the termite.
In nature, termites are valuable decomposers because they help convert dead wood and other cellulose materials into humus. When humans began building structures of wood, termites naturally infested these structures and utilized them as a food source. Some other kinds of insects such as powder post beetles, old house borers, and the wharf borer "eat" wood; but most cannot digest the cellulose and, therefore, must get their nourishment from the starch and sugar that the tree stored in the wood cells. To these insects, the cellulose itself has no food value and is thus excreted from their bodies as wood pellets, powder, or "frass." Still other insects such as carpenter ants and carpenter bees get no food value whatever from the wood and simply excavate holes and cavities in the wood to provide protective shelter for their offspring. The wood particles removed are not swallowed, but simply discarded.
Subterranean or ground-nesting termites, Reticulitermesflavipes (Kollar), and, rarely, Reticulitermes virginicus (Banks), are by far the most destructive insect pests of wood. They attack buildings and other wood products in all states except Alaska and are most common and cause the most destruction in the warmer regions. (Figure 1)

Intensity of US Termite Attacks
Figure 1


In New York State subterranean termites are most abundant on Long Island and in the southern counties adjacent to the Hudson River. they are present in other parts of the state as well (Figure 2)

New York State Termite Infestation  Zones
Figure 2

Importance

The subterranean termite of the northeastern states are native soil-dwelling insects that feed on wood, paper, and other materials containing cellulose. In the forests, these termites are beneficial because they help decompose fallen trees and stumps and return the wood substances to the soil to be used again by other trees as part of the nutrient cycle. The economic importance of the subterranean termite with regard to buildings arises from the fact that the wood members of a building closest to the soil, and therefore the most likely to be severely damaged by the termites, are usually the sills, joists, studs, girders, and other important load-bearing elements of construction. Failure to stop termite attack can result in such loss of support that other forms of building deterioration, such as sagging walls and damaged doorframes can occur. Heated buildings whose construction places wood in close proximity or actually in direct contact with the soil offer termites the ideal environment: a favorable year-round climate and an abundant sheltered food source. Sometimes wooden buildings that are unheated in the winter, such as barns, stand for decades without any serious termite infestation. However, when such buildings are remodeled into homes, studios, etc., and supplied with heat, serious termite damage often follows in a few years.

Termite Swarmer
Termite Worker
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Termites and Carpenter Ant

 

 


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