The termite species that is indigenous to Maryland is the Eastern Subterranean Termite (Reticulitermes flavipes). As its name implies, it lives beneath the soil. Termites, like ants and bees, are social insects and live in colonies. The termite colony is comprised of several castes including a queen, soldiers, winged reproductives (swarmers) and workers.

Termites are different from almost all other insects in that they can convert the cellulose in wood products back into sugar and utilize it as a food source. In nature, termites are beneficial as they help convert dead wood and other materials containing cellulose into humus. Some other types of insects, such as powderpost beetles and old house borers, eat wood but cannot convert the cellulose to sugar. They receive nourishment from the sugars and starch which the tree stored during its growth. Still other insects, such as carpenter ants and carpenter bees, get no food whatever from the wood but simply excavate holes and cavities in the wood to provide protective shelter. Source

Eastern Subterranean Termites are a serious issue in Maryland. The average cost of termite related damages in the US equals over 5 billion dollars annually. Termites cause more damage to homes in the US than fires, floods, storms and severe winds combined.

Subterranean Termite Caste System

Queen

The queen of a termite colony is in charge of laying eggs to ensure the survival and growth of the colony. In a termite colony, the queen’s role varies and evolves over time. She starts her job as “creator” after being paired with a male to start the establishment of the colony. She must find a suitable nesting site, assist in its excavation, and then produce eggs that will grow into workers. The queen termite is the longest living of all the termites in the colony and has a long lifespan. Termite queens can have a 25 to 50 year lifespan, with up to 10 years of peak egg production. When the colony’s queen dies, and her pheromone is no longer being produced to prevent the development of reproductives, the colony will develop a new queen.

Soldiers

The soldiers also have no eyes or wings. They do, however, have enlarged jaws called mandibles which they use to defend the termite colony. They are otherwise similar in appearance to the workers of the colony, whitish in color but their head is enlarged and sometimes brown in color. Subterranean termites (Rhinotermitidae) soldiers are smaller and have a wider pronotum than drywood (dampwood) termites (Kalotermitidae). The pronotum (part directly behind the head) of subterranean termites is more narrow than the head, although they are both equally wide in kalotermidis size. The rectangular-shaped skull of Reticulitermes soldiers, as opposed to the oval-shaped head of Coptotermes formosanus soldiers, distinguishes them from Coptotermes formosanus.

Winged reproductives (swarmers)

The winged reproductives, or swarmers, are the form most commonly seen by homeowners. Ant colonies also release winged reproductives (flying ants). While termite swarmers are a nuisance, they do not cause damage. Their sole function is to find a mate and begin a new colony. Swarmers, sometimes referred to as alates, can be spotted swarming around twilight on humid summer evenings. They have eyes and wings, so they can fly.  In mature termite nests, thousands of swarmers are released. They descend, drop their wings, and use pheromones to attract mate. Swarming termites are a sign that a huge termite colony nest is nearby. Wings can range in color from pale to smoky gray to brown, with few visible veins. Swarmer termites range in size from 1/4 to 3/8 inch in length.

Workers

The “worker” caste makes up the bulk of the termite colony and is the only individual in the colony that forages for food and is directly responsible for causing damage to wood and cellulose containing materials. Workers are by far the most numerous, constituting around 90 to 98 percent of the colony members. Worker termites are sightless (no eyes), completely white (without pigmentation), are approximately 1/4 inch in length and are the caste responsible for foraging, building tunnels and caring for the young. Unlike ants, bees, and wasps, in which all workers are female, termite workers may genetically be either male or female, but there is no functional difference as long as they remain as workers.

Process for Termite Control

Termite colonies range from three to six million termites each. Each termite colony can make tunnels underground stretching up to 100 yards from the main colony. Homeowners need to know the five things to do to prevent termites in their home:

 

  1. Get your house inspected by a licensed pest control company. Using a state licensed company will get you a state certified pest control technician with experience in termite inspections. In Baltimore, certification for termite inspections requires being licensed with the MDA (Maryland Department of Agriculture).
  2. Check for leaks from outside spigots, roof leaks and downspouts leaks. These types of leaks will attract termites to your home.
  3. Removing any rooted wood from around your home, such as firewood, molding and old mulch, will help prevent termites from finding your home.
  4. Cracks around your home can give easy access to termites. Termites can fit through a hole half the size of a match head. Having a contractor fix and seal cracks in the foundation helps prevent these pests from entering your home.
  5. A preventative treatment will give you the peace of mind that your home is well protected by a professional company using the best practices and products. Here at On The Fly, our company uses Termidor HE, America’s #1 termiticide.

Identifying Termite Damage in Homes and Structures

R. flavipes, along with Reticulitermes virginica, is directly responsible for 80% of the $2.2 billion spent on termite control in the United States each year. Termites feed on the cellulose in wood, therefore their presence in human-made constructions can go unnoticed for a long time. On the outside, termite-infested wood appears structurally solid, but on the inside, it has a honeycombed appearance.

An observer can test the soundness of the wood with a screwdriver to confirm the presence of R. flavipes. R. flavipes is located at, near, or below ground level if it is present. The sections of a structure most susceptible to termite damage include the trim work, sub flooring, flooring, and structural timbers. The Eastern subterranean termite is a severe economic timber pest, with estimates that more than 1 in every 5 dwellings in high-activity areas has been or will be attacked.

Physical barriers, chemical treatments, and physical treatments are all termite control approaches (such as heat, freezing, electrocution and microwave irradiation).

R. flavipes has an impact on humans that goes beyond structural damage to structures. In natural societies, termites are also important in the decomposition of organic waste. The buildup of dead organic debris on the forest floor would be damaging to the forest’s integrity if termites were not there. The advantages supplied by R. flavipes in terms of environmental regulation may far outweigh the difficulties they bring.

Pictures of Termite Damage

structural damages to a home from termites
image of termite damage to structure

Sources

https://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/urban/termites/native_subterraneans.htm

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f7/King_and_Queen_of_Termites.jpg

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CSIRO_ScienceImage_10790_Cryptotermes_secundus_termites.jpg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_subterranean_termite