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There exists around 30 termite species in the United States that are known for infesting woodwork, and most of these species can be found only in the southern half of the country. Fortunately, only one termite pest species known as Reticulitermes flavipes can be found in Boston. Unfortunately, this one species is the most destructive termite pest in the US, and it’s more commonly known as the “eastern subterranean termite.” In the northeast, eastern subterranean termite colonies can grow to contain 10 million individual termites, and workers can forage over areas up to several thousand square meters.

Unlike drywood and dampwood termites found in the south, subterranean termite colonies are located in the ground soil. Most individuals in subterranean termite colonies are worker termites that regularly leave the nest to forage. Workers feed their nestmates with bits of wood gathered from decaying forms of fibrous plant matter such as dead roots, sticks, stumps and logs in contact with the ground. Occasionally, workers encounter structural wood in contact with the ground soil, which provides them with easy access to a home’s timber frame. To reduce subterranean termite infestations, modern building codes require structural wood to be located several inches above the ground surface, but this has not put an end to subterranean infestations.

In order for workers to access above ground structural wood within homes, they use a hardening mix of soil, bits of wood, saliva, and sometimes feces to build “mud tubes.” Mud tubes protrude from the ground and run vertically up foundation walls where they penetrate tiny hairline cracks to reach interior structural wood components. Since subterranean termite workers can only invade homes from the ground up, infestations are generally limited to substructural wood components around foundations. This is why important substructural wood components, like sill plates, joists, and beams must be treated to resist termite attacks.

Have you ever heard of a subterranean termite infestation that extended well above the foundation?