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The eastern subterranean termite is the most destructive wood-infesting insect species in the United States, and it is the only species that can be found in Massachusetts and most other New England states. Eastern subterranean termites are social insects that live in colonies below the ground where the soil provides the insect pests with water and an abundance of dead plant matter to keep colonies well fed. During dry spells, workers from a colony can tunnel deeper into the ground where water becomes progressively more abundant, and the warmer temperatures at lower depths also provide subterranean termites with much needed warmth during cold northeastern winters. Colonies have been found 20 feet below the ground surface, but during the warmer months and under normal climatic conditions, colonies and foraging workers remain just a few feet below the ground. Subterranean termite colonies are divided into a caste system consisting of workers, soldiers and a royal pair. In the natural environment, it takes around four to five years for a subterranean termites colony to reach maturity, but indoor colonies take a longer time to mature.

A fully mature eastern subterranean termite colony consists of between 60,000 and 200,000 workers, but plenty of scientific evidence shows that eastern subterranean termite colonies are often interconnected with other colonies to form a large network. These colony networks can span several square miles and contain millions of foraging workers. After gaining access to a home’s structural wood, colonies maintain contact with the ground via mud tubes built by workers. These tubes prevent workers from perishing from the desiccating effects of outside air, and most important, they provide a colony with a water source. The type of lumber that a home is made of greatly influences the speed at which a home sustains noticeable termite damage, but experts believe that a home is normally infested for three to eight years before “appreciable” damage results. One report stated that a subterranean termite colony consisting of 60,000 individual termites can consume an entire piece of 2×4 pine lumber within a period of 118 to 157 days.

Have you ever lived near a person who fell victim to a termite infestation?