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Subterranean termites dwell beneath the ground where workers leave the colony nest and tunnel through soil in order to locate food sources. Subterranean termites generally feed on natural sources of dead wood and plant matter located beneath the ground where the high moisture content in soil provides the insects with the nourishment they need. If subterranean termite workers venture above ground in order to collect dead wood, they must first construct “mud tubes” that protrude from the soil. Mud tubes allow workers to access above ground wood sources without succumbing to the desiccating effects of the dry outside air. While workers forage they are accompanied by soldier termites that fend off predators. Generally, worker termites constantly forage, but when they locate a house, the insect pests naturally take a break from foraging in order to feed solely on the structural wood in homes.

When a significant food source is found, such as a house, worker termites collapse all other foraging tunnels in order to direct other worker termites directly toward the primary food source. In addition to destroying obsolete foraging tunnels, worker termites leave pheromone trails that lead from the nest to the food source in order to recruit additional workers. This is generally what occurs after a small number of foraging termites locate a house. Pheromones are odors that all termites emit from their bodies, and they serve many purposes, but worker termites mainly rely on trail-following pheromones for recruitment purposes. The more substantial a food source is, the more intense trail-following pheromone odors are to other workers in a colony. Therefore, when a few workers stumble upon a house, additional workers arrive rapidly and begin constructing mud tubes that lead into a home, usually through tiny cracks in foundation masonry or pavement. The presence of one or several vertical mud tubes on a home’s foundation serves as a clear indication that a home has become infested. However, mud tubes can also appear in other areas of a home, such as in crawl spaces, while being entirely absent from foundations.

Have you ever found old and inactive mud tubes in your home?