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Just like ants, bees and wasps, termites form colonies that operate as a social hierarchy, or caste system. Subterranean termite colonies contain a worker caste, which accounts for a majority of individuals, a soldier caste, and the royal pair (queen and king). The royal pair is tasked with producing workers and soldiers, while the soldier caste is tasked with protecting the colony from outside attacks perpetrated by other insects, mainly ants. Workers are responsible for seeking out new food sources away from the subterranean nest. Each of these three groups carry out many more tasks that are essential to the colony’s survival, but the above mentioned tasks are the most important. Once a subterranean termite colony ages for a period lasting roughly 5 years, another caste of termites known as alates begin to appear and take flight during the spring and early summer seasons. These flights are often referred to as “swarms,” and they are comprised of thousands of male and female reproductive alates, very few of which survive to mate and start new colonies. Generally, swarming alates are the only types of termites seen by humans, but foraging workers can be seen by owners of infested homes in some circumstances.

When infesting a home, worker termites build “mud tubes” that protrude from the ground and lead into indoor structural wood sources through foundation cracks and/or other exterior entry points. These mud tubes usually run vertically along the foundation of infested homes, and breaking them usually sees numerous worker termites spill out. Infested structural wood is inhabited by workers only, and wood that has become substantially damaged by years of termites feeding often appear dark and blistered on the surface. Tapping a screwdriver on the compromised surface of heavily infested structural wood may break the surface, causing numerous workers to spill out. In some cases, alates swarm indoors, which not only indicates that a home is infested, but that the infestation has lasted several years, as alates are only produced years after a colony’s formation. In most infestation cases, alates will not appear in a home, as the presence of mud tubes tip homeowners off to the existence of an infestation long before alates are produced. However, mud tubes may also be hidden in crawl spaces where they cannot be readily noticed, and in these cases, subterranean termite workers often inflict substantial damage to structural wood components around a home’s foundation. Pest control professionals make a point to thoroughly inspect crawl spaces for this reason. In Massachusetts, it is wise to have an annual termite inspection conducted to prevent extensive subterranean termite damage from occurring.

How often is your home inspected for a termite presence?