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Termites are no laughing matter

By Sarah Latham
16 September 2015 | 10 minute read
Sarah Latham

Question: why did the termite eat a sofa and two chairs? Answer: because it had a suite tooth.

OK, so maybe talking about termites is not a laughing matter, but after recently discovering a new colony of termites in a rental property, I've come to learn some interesting facts about the little pests.

I was particularly surprised to learn that dogs can actually aid pest control companies by sniffing them out. Particularly with my recent situation, it was the tenant's dog who found them – but it wasn't until the tenants discovered claw marks in the window frame, which lead to part of the timber being replaced, that we realised their dog had sniffed them out and was actually trying to get to them. This particular property gets pest inspections done religiously every year, so it goes to show that sometimes even the most advanced instruments used for termite detection are just as good as what mother nature provides us.

Dogs have an incredible sense of smell. To harness this amazing ability, pest control companies use classic Pavlov conditioning by associating the odour of termites with the reward of food for a dog, by training it to sit to indicate when the target odour is detected.

I also learnt that termites are social insects. They live in colonies governed by a caste system. All three castes differ dramatically in appearance and responsibilities.

Worker termites are the most numerous and most destructive members. They can be found infesting the walls or floor joists of a home. They are white in appearance and navigate with their antennae rather than their eyes: worker termites are blind. This caste of termites is responsible for bringing food back to the colony, caring for the other castes and constructing the galleries and tunnels that form the physical colony. Subterranean worker termites use a mixture of mud, saliva and faeces to create mud tunnels to and from sources of food.

Soldier termites are pale yellow-brown in colour and have enlarged heads and mandibles. The soldier’s enlarged jaws prevent them from feeding themselves, and they rely upon workers to assist them in this task. The sole function of this warrior termite caste is to defend the colony from attacks. These warriors will occasionally attack other termite colonies, although the primary threat to any termite colony is ants.

Reproductive termites are an integral piece of the colony’s structure. Young reproductive termites, also referred to as alates, are black and winged. When outdoor humidity and moisture levels are correct, both male and female reproductive termites participate in mating swarms, after which they land and shed their wings. These insects then go on to form new colonies, within which there will be reproductive kings and queens.

In almost all species, both the workers and soldiers in a given termite colony are blind. Since these industrious individuals spend their lives in the confines of the dark, damp nest, they have no need to develop functional eyes. Reproductive termites are the only termites that require eyesight, since they must fly to find mates and new nest sites.

How can you tell if you have termite activity in your home?

Early warning signs and indications include:

  • A temporary swarm of winged insects in your home or from the soil around your home
  • Any cracked or bubbling paint or frass (termite droppings)
  • Wood that sounds hollow when tapped
  • Mud tubes on exterior walls, wooden beams or in crawl spaces
  • Discarded wings from swarmers

And, of course, Fido's enthusiastic scratching at your timber walls or floors.

Sources include: http://www.orkin.com/termites/; http://insects.about.com/od/termites/a/10-Cool-Facts-About-Termites.htm; http://www.pestforce.com.au/termite-management-strategies/termite-inspection-tools/termite-search-dogs


Sarah Latham

Sarah Latham

Sarah has over 20 years’ experience in property management on Sydney's Lower North Shore. She previously managed a large property management department for eight and half years until mid last year when she made the decision to team up with an ex-colleague of hers, Jaala Cusack, and open her own boutique property management business called Latham Cusack Property Services. Based in Cremorne, they manage properties along the Lower North Shore. Their main focus is to offer a more personalised and proactive style of property management – one dedicated to listening to and meeting their clients’ individual needs.

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