Like all subterranean termite pests in the US, the eastern subterranean termite found in Massachusetts lives in colonies located below the ground. New termite colonies are initiated by winged reproductive termites known as “alates,” and it takes around five years of maturation before a subterranean termite colony grows to contain enough individual termites to pose a threat to nearby structures. The number of individual termites within a mature colony varies from 50,000 to around two million, and most individuals within a colony are workers. Workers are responsible for carrying out a number of duties to further the colony’s success, including brood care, nest construction, and gathering of food sources, or “foraging.” Multiple studies have shown that subterranean termite workers from a single colony can forage over an area as large as one third of an acre and travel more than 200 feet from their nest to reach food.
Subterranean termite workers never forage above ground without first constructing air tight mud tubes that protect them from the desiccating effect of outside air. Mud tubes are only constructed when workers detect a worthwhile food source above the ground surface, such as structural wood within homes. Below-ground foraging requires workers to physically move soil particles in order to build sturdy tunnels that will later provide other workers with a direct route to all located food sources. While foraging, workers mix loose soil with feces and saliva in order to fortify and smooth over tunnel walls. This hardening mixture is also used by workers to construct sturdy mud tubes, but mud tubes also typically contain tiny bits of wood to enhance durability. Mud tubes are often found vertically situated on the exterior foundation walls of infested homes. Unless a home contains structural wood members that make contact with the ground soil, workers must always construct mud tubes in order to initiate a structural infestation. Termiticide perimeter treatments protect homes from infestations by preventing workers from tunneling beyond the barrier of treated soil. Several repellent and non-repellent termiticide formulations exist, and perimeter treatments have long been the most popular method of subterranean termite control.
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