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Eastern subterranean termites are not considered year-round insect pests within Massachusetts, as the winter climate is not conducive to termite activity, but this does not mean that termites die-off during the winter season. The eastern subterranean termite’s underground habitat allows them to survive even the coldest northeast winters, as the wood-eating insects simply descend deeper into soil where temperatures are not as low as surface temperatures. In addition to this trick, subterranean termites can also nest within soil that is warmed by the heat of nearby structures. In fact, many experts believe that termites were not much of a problem in Massachusetts until the advent of indoor central heating made the soil near structures more hospitable to the insects. This is why subterranean termites easily survive winters within soil that is located in urban settings where large buildings keep the surrounding soil warm enough to allow for termite activity.

Research has demonstrated that the expansion of urban centers into formerly wooded areas of Massachusetts has allowed termites to become active during the winter in these areas, while they would have remained inactive before these expansions. In other words, urban and suburban expansions into formerly rural regions increases the active termite population during the winter and early spring seasons, which can make termites far more numerous than usual around inhabited areas come spring when the insects emerge en masse and infest structures.

Considering this finding, it should not be surprising to learn that termites are just as apt to infest buildings as they are to infest suburban homes. Of course, paved streets and walkways that cover urban areas can act as a barrier to prevent termites from gaining access to large structures. But termites can always find a way to bypass these barriers, and their method of doing this is largely the same in both suburban and urban locations. Just like in residential neighborhoods, termites can pass through hairline cracks in pavement and concrete foundations in order to access a structure’s timber frame. Also, cities like Boston, Cambridge and Andover have sizable urban centers that contain old buildings that were constructed before termites were recognized as a major structural pest in the state. These buildings have dirt crawl spaces that allow termites easy access into large downtown structures. This may explain why, in rare cases, subterranean termites have been known to swarm within and out of urban structures in the northeast during the winter season.

Have you ever witnessed a termite swarm in an urban area at any time of year?