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All documented termite species belong to one of three groups that are each known as subterranean, drywood and dampwood termites. Subterranean termites are responsible for the majority of termite destruction that occurs in the United States, as experts state that 80 percent of the annual cost of termite control and damage repairs in the US can be attributed to subterranean termites. Dampwood termites are not pests of serious economic importance in the US, as these termites can only infest wood that has become heavily saturated with moisture. Drywood termites are much like dampwood termites, in that they do not make contact with soil, do not produce foraging workers, and with the exception of reproductive swarmers, neither dampwood nor drywood termite colony members leave the wood items that they infest.

Drywood termites are most problematic in the southwest, and no drywood termite species is native to the northeast. The only termite species that can be found in Massachusetts is the eastern subterranean termite, which is the most destructive termite species in the US. Unlike dampwood and drywood termite colonies that remain within wood, subterranean termite colonies are established below the ground where foraging workers leave the colony nest and tunnel through the soil in search of food sources. While termite colonies are said to contain three social castes consisting of foraging workers, soldiers and a royal pair, the reality of termite colony structure is a bit more complicated.

Every spring and early summer in Massachusetts, reproductive swarmers (alates) take flight from existing subterranean termite colonies in order to mate and start new colonies as queen and king. Colonies take time to develop, and eastern subterranean termite colonies must mature for a period of 6 to 7 years before reproductive alates can be produced. In some cases, subterranean termite colonies will produce wingless “secondary reproductives” in order to quickly produce more workers and/or soldiers after a colony loses a large proportion of individual termites as a result of attack or an extreme climatic event. Secondary reproductives may also take the place of primary reproductives (king or queen) after one or both of them die. While secondary reproductives cannot produce eggs as rapidly as the queen, colonies often contain hundreds of secondary reproductives, which rapidly increases a colony’s rate of reproduction. This is why simply removing the queen from a termite colony will not result in the colony’s death, as it would in the case of wasps or bees.

Were you aware that termite colonies could still thrive even after losing the queen?