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Which Termites Are The Most Successful Invaders Of Foreign Regions?

In the United States, the eastern subterranean termite is responsible for the greatest amount of termite destruction to manmade structures. On its own, this termite species may not be as destructive as some invasive species that exist in the US, but the eastern subterranean termite has the widest habitat distribution, making virtually every region of the US vulnerable to their attacks. Invasive termite species in the US, like Formosan and Asian subterranean termites, live within colonies that contain millions of individual termites, far more than the 50,000 or less that exist within eastern subterranean termite colonies. Luckily, invasive species are limited to the southeastern states, making them responsible for a relatively small proportion of total termite destruction in the US. For example, the Asian subterranean termite is regarded as the most destructive termite species in the world along with the Formosan species, but this species has not advanced beyond southern Florida. However, this is not the case in many other countries, particularly tropical countries, where invasive termites cause far more destruction than native species. This is why the most destructive termite species to manmade structures are usually the very same species that are the most adaptable to non-native regions. So which group of termites is most likely to establish an invasive presence in non-native regions?

So far researchers have documented around three thousand termite species, and of all these species, only 104 are considered significant pests. Twenty three of these pests belong to the Coptotermes (Rhinotermitidae) genus, which includes the two most destructive termite species in the world, Formosan and Asian subterranean termites. Traditionally, experts have considered termites belonging to the Coptotermes species to be the most likely of all termite species to establish an invasive presence in non-native countries. But this claim is currently being challenged by many termite researchers who believe that only Formosan and Asian subterranean termites have the adaptive ability to establish invasive populations all over the world. When invasive termites are discovered and described by experts in other countries, they are sometimes described as new Coptotermes species when they are really either Formosan or Asian subterranean species. Also, Formosan and Asian subterranean termites are referred to by many names in a variety of countries, and not all these names are known to termite researchers. For example, several recently discovered invasive species in India and Madagascar may all be Asian subterranean termites, but these termites are believed to be separate Coptotermes species solely because they are known by different names in different regions. Therefore, the claim that most termite species belonging to the Coptotermes genus are inherently well adapted to foreign territories may be false, but this has yet to be fully substantiated.

Do you live in a region of the US where invasive termites exist?

How Termites Use Clay To Prevent Infested Structures From Collapsing

While it is obvious to most people that termites consume wood, many people are not aware of the fact that termites consume wood in order to retain cellulose, which is the main constituent of plant cell walls. Termites are lucky in that cellulose is one of the most abundant organic compounds on the planet, so the insects do not have to travel far to attain their essential nutrients. Most termite species, including all species native to the United States, find their cellulose within sources of wood, such as dead rotting logs, wood debris, dead trees and most notably, structural lumber. In some cases, termite colonies will feast on sources of wood that bear significant loads of weight, such as at the base of a tree or structural lumber. In other cases, termites infest light pieces of wood that bear very little weight, such as mulch, twigs, logs and tree stumps.

As termites dig tunnels within wood and consume the excavated particles, infested wood can become completely hollow or partially hollow. As you can imagine, this is problematic for termites that feed on load-bearing wood since hollowing out the wood located at the base of a structure will, obviously, weaken the structure, making the eventual collapse of an infested tree or house inevitable. While nobody wants their house to collapse or partially collapse due to a termite infestation within the base of their home’s timber frame, termites also want to avoid this outcome, as such a collapse would crush an entire colony to death. Researchers now believe that termites may be able to perceive the difference between load-bearing and unloaded wood sources in order to avoid the dangers of colonizing sources of wood that could collapse over them.

Both entomologists and pest control professionals have long been aware of the fact that termites use clay sourced from soil to coat the tunnels that they build within wood. However, the reason for this interesting use of clay is only now becoming clear to researchers. According to a study published a few years ago, termites only apply clay to tunnels built within load-bearing wood sources so as to prevent collapse by providing structural support once the clay hardens. By coating hollowed tunnels with clay, termites compensate for the initial structural weakness that results from excavating wood at the base of a load-bearing structure. In other words, termites work to maintain the structural integrity of the load-bearing wood sources that they infest. Apparently, in addition to consuming structural sources of wood, termites also work to keep them standing.

Have you ever seen a plaster cast of a termite nest located within wood at an entomology museum or anywhere else?

 

Termites Have Nearly Destroyed A 5 Million Dollar Structure Just One Year After Its Completion

Termites species are far more diverse and abundant in South America than they are in North America. This is due to South America’s tropical environment, which is more hospitable to termites than North America’s temperate climate. Unlike North American termite species, there exists a number of mound-building termite species in South America. The mounds built by some South American species are considered by many to be awe inspiring sights, and tourists from all over the world travel to South American countries just to view these majestic mounds on location. For example, glowing termite mounds attract tourists to Emas National Park in Brazil. These mounds glow at night due to bioluminescent beetles burrowing into the sides of these mounds. Also, a town in Guyana called St Cuthbert’s Mission sees thousands of tourists visiting every year in order to appreciate the region’s picturesque flora and fauna as well as the many termite mounds. In order to increase eco-tourism in the town, local politicians had an eco-lodge constructed near the town’s Mahaica River. Unfortunately, the five million dollar eco-lodge has become infested with termites only one year after its construction ended.

The eco-lodge’s construction was facilitated by the United Nations Development Program and the former Ministry of Amerindian Affairs with the purpose of promoting wildlife and ecosystem preservation efforts. However, not one single visitor has entered the eco-lodge during its entire year of existence. Due to the termite infestation within the lodge, developers are hoping to salvage useful building materials for other construction projects. One developer is hoping that the town’s city council will allow him to remove the zinc sheets from the structure in order to use them for constructing new homes for the elderly and other needy residents. Sadly, most of the structure’s wood has become riddled with termites, which means that much of this wood will likely be used for nothing more than firewood.

Do you think that the lodge came to be infested with termites because construction developers skipped the application of preventative termiticides within the soil around the structures?

 

 

How Does A Queen Termite Instruct Her Workers During The Construction Of Her Royal Chamber?

Scientists have long been researching the nest-building behavior of termites in order to better understand how queen termites communicate with worker termites. Many termite species have worker termites constructing a royal chamber for the queen and king as the first stage of nest construction. Worker termites, of course, do not refer to any sort of blueprint for constructing nests; instead, the queen directs workers on how to construct the nest by emitting a “building-pheromone.” In addition to the building-pheromone, termite workers emit what are called “trail-pheromones” while foraging in order to provide additional workers with a scent trail that leads to a food source.Surprisingly, researchers have found that trail-pheromones are also essential for coordinating the nest-building behavior performed by worker termites.

It had been traditionally assumed that the building-pheromone was the only type of pheromone necessary for facilitating nest construction. However, A study conducted by British researchers revealed that trail-pheromones allow worker termites to construct architecturally challenging pillars within the royal chamber. During construction, worker termites were found to emit trail-pheromones along the path from the queen and her chamber to the soil source where the building materials are retrieved. Researchers showed that when worker termites are deprived of their ability to emit trail-pheromones during construction,they fail to complete the pillar formations.

Before worker termites construct the royal chamber around the queen,the queen emits building-pheromones in liquid form. A small amount of workers then proceed to rub this liquid pheromone on the queen’s abdomen for the purpose of grooming her. When the pheromone diffuses away from the queen’s body, worker termites sense the pheromone, which triggers their building behavior. The diffusion of the building-pheromone also creates a one to two inch zone where termites walk between a source of soil for building and the queen. As it happens, the soil source also contains what are called “cement pheromones.” These pheromones attract workers to the soil source before prompting them to deposit a soil pellet onto the royal chamber during its construction, similar to a brick being added to the wall of an unfinished house. This cycle repeats until the royal chamber’s construction is complete.While researchers now know that at least three different types of pheromones are involved in the construction of the royal chamber, pheromone messaging systems in termite colonies remain poorly understood by researchers.

Do you think that the queen is responsible for emitting the cement pheromones that attract termites to the soil used for constructing the royal chamber?

Termite-Induced Damage To Dykes And Dams Can Cause The Structures To Collapse, Resulting In Widespread Disaster

The Formosan subterranean termite species is often cited by experts as being the most destructive termite species in existence. The scientific name for this species, Coptotermes formosanus, is often confused with the name of another destructive termite species, Odontotermes formosanus. Both of these species are native to China, but the Coptotermes formosanus species has spread all over the world by means of maritime travel. Although the Odontotermes formosanus species only dwells in Asia, and is therefore less destructive than the Formosan termite species, Odontotermes formosanus is unique among termite species due to its habit of inflicting serious structural damages to dams and dykes. While termite destruction is typically limited to a single house or building, numerous studies show that Odontotermes formosanus pest activity can lead to the collapse of dams and dykes, which would result in widespread destruction and a massive loss of life.

The  Odontotermes formosanus species is commonly known as the black-winged subterranean termite. These termites have been found digging three foot deep cavities into many dams and dykes located in southern China. Furthermore, these termites build extensive networks of tunnels throughout these structures. These internal tunnels weaken the structure, and the resulting damage causes dams and dykes to absorb and retain unusually large amounts of water. When the internal structure of dams and dykes become saturated with large amounts of water, complete collapse can result.

The Odontotermes formosanus species of termite is the most destructive dam/pest in the world. According to an investigation, when totaling all river dikes and reservoir dams that are 15 years or older within China’s 14 southern provinces, 90 percent were found to have sustained damage from the Odontotermes formosanus termite species. The economic cost of termite-induced damage to dams and dikes in Asia costs hundreds of millions of American dollars each year. Researchers in China have been working for decades to develop a pest control strategy that could be applied to structures like dams and dikes, but no effective control measure has yet been produced.

Do you think that continuous termite activity within dams and/or dikes could result in collapse, and therefore, mass flooding in urban areas?

A Personal Experience With A Termite Infestation Inspired An Artist To Create Furniture With Termite-Damaged Wood

If there is one thing more worthless than driftwood, then it would be termite-infested driftwood. Rotten wood that is infested with termites does not make for suitable building material, even if the infested wood is treated for termites. In fact, rotten wood that is being damaged by an active termite infestation cannot be salvaged for any purpose, unless you happen to be an artist who wants to create aesthetically unique pieces of furniture, of course. Rather than letting perfectly good termite-riddled wood materials rot and go to waste, Prantosh Kumar Das collects infested wood debris from the many trees that termites have claimed in his home country. Das uses the collected wood to construct items such as tables and cabinets. Of course, Das has the termites eradicated from each log that he plans to use for building. In addition to being used as a construction material, the termite-damaged wood also serves as a conspicuous decorative feature that gives Das’ final products their distinct artistic style.

Prantosh Kumar Das is an officer with the Bihar Military Police in Begusarai, India, but his real passion is finding new and creative uses for the termite infested logs that are abundant in many parts of India. Das’ latest creation is an almirah (cabinet) that was made partly from logs that were once infested with termites. The almirah’s structure is supported with logs that are marked with quasi-geometric patterns that were inflicted by the log’s former termite inhabitants. In order to retain the log’s original shape and termite-markings, Das avoids applying external varnish and does not resort to carpentry of any kind. According to Das, the idea to make creative use of termite-damaged wood came to him when he was living within an apartment that became infested with termites that had originated from a tree within the building’s front yard.

Das fell in love with a picturesque Gulmohar tree that beautified his former apartment grounds. A termite infestation in the tree eventually saw the destructive insects access several apartment units by crawling along the length of the branches. Once this occured, a majority of the apartment dwellers voted to remove the infested tree from the property. In an attempt to save his beloved tree, Das offered to personally pay to have the termites professionally eradicated from the tree, but the tree was eventually removed in spite of Das’ protests. In the weeks prior to the tree’s removal, Das collected the tree’s fallen and infested limbs in an effort to retain mementos of the tree. Once Das secured a hefty amount of the tree’s limbs, he had each one cleared of termites by applying insecticide so that he could memorialize his favorite tree in the form of furniture. Two tables that Das created with formerly infested logs have been transferred to the Das Driftwood Museum-cum-Park in Budhapur.

Do you think Das is being reckless by collecting and storing termite-infested logs?

 

 

 

Prehistoric Cultures Associated Termites With Women

Humans have existed on earth for around 200,000 years. Around 60,000 years ago, humans first began to migrate out of Africa. Given this long span of time, it is surprising to learn that humans only began farming around 10,000 BCE. As you can imagine, the discovery of agriculture revolutionized how humans lived and even how humans evolved. Many evolutionary biologists believe that agriculture was discovered by women. Agricultural duties were also largely carried out by women while men hunted wild game. Women’s responsibility for agricultural food production and collection accorded them great power of a divine sort, as the mechanisms behind agricultural production were considered to be magical in nature. It was believed that women controlled agricultural food production by applying their own powers of reproduction to the soil that makes up earth. Based on this belief, fertile termite mounds came to represent the divine powers that females were believed to possess. More specifically, termite mounds became a cult symbol of the earth mother goddess in regions of India where agriculture was first practiced.

Waco Termite Control

Even during the pre-agricultural period, it was believed that women channeled their own reproductive powers into earth by means of termite mounds. It was discovered early on that the soil that makes up termite mounds was more fertile than surrounding types of soil. During the neolithic era, termite mounds were far more abundant within the landscape than they are now, and mounds would often sprout vegetation while surrounding areas of soil would not. The divine power of fertility that termite mounds were believed to possess led prehistoric peoples to build entire villages around termite-rich landscapes. Another prehistoric legend put forth the idea that termite mounds contained the seeds of protector gods. Thousands of years ago, newly married women would worship termite mounds and the soil would be taken from the mound and offered up as a gift to the groom’s family. Termite mound soil was even believed to hold the magical powers that made conception possible. This is why pregnant women continue to literally consume soil from termite mounds to this very day in many regions of India.

Have you ever visited a country where termite hills are considered sacred?

 

How Have Formosan Subterranean Termites Traveled To Regions Well Outside Of Their Habitat Range?

If you live in the United States, especially the southeast, then there is a good chance that you have heard of the termite species commonly known as Formosan subterranean termites. These termites are unique in how tremendously damaging they are to timber-framed homes and other structures. In fact, these termites are considered by experts to be the most damaging species of termite in existence. Formosan termites are also well known to people living in other countries around the world, especially China where the termites are native. Since the southeast was hit with several hurricanes this year, there has been much talk in the media about how hurricanes seem to increase the number of homes infested with termites. It has been theorized that hurricanes and the flood waters that result literally wash termites into homes. Now that Hurricane Florence has subsided, and the resultant floodwaters are receding, cleanup crews are finding numerous structures that have become infested with Formosan subterranean termites. Not only do these findings confirm that hurricanes can, indeed, result in an increase in termite infestations, but hurricanes are causing many more types of termite-related issues that had not been considered before.

While it would seem that termites would be unable to survive hurricanes and floods, the fact is that termites can survive underwater for as long as 20 hours. Termites can drown if floodwaters persist for days, but most survive. After all, subterranean termites can survive 30 feet below the ground for long periods. Flood waters can literally carry Formosan termites to new locations where they had not existed before, and the plant debris that is abundant in flood waters provides termites with plenty of sustenance. Formosan termites that infest trees can survive on tree debris floating in floodwaters. Not only this, but after hurricanes and floods, cleanup workers collect massive amounts of wood debris from structures that are often saved and transported for second-hand use in other states. Since this wood debris is piled up, it does not take long for Formosan termites to spread to the entire pile. This is especially true when it comes to Formosans, as their colonies contain tens of millions of individual termites that reproduce rapidly. For example, several years ago, wood that had been infested with Formosans were transported to other states to be used as railroad ties. This practice led to the establishment of Formosans in Atlanta, where they had never been found before. Also, in Louisiana, where Formosans are at their most abundant, local sawmills had become infested. These sawmills produced sawdust-waste that people used for mulch. Of course, this also spread the insects beyond their habitat range. Due to the risk of transporting termite-infested wood after hurricanes and floods, experts are recommending that all wood debris collected should be heat treated before being transported to other states.

Do you think that people are not inclined to consider termite issues after hurricanes and floods given the amount of problems that they already face after floods and hurricanes?

Termite Signs: Mud Tube Formation

Termite Colonies Were Once Regarded As Perfect Societies That Should Be Replicated By Humans

Insect behaviors vary tremendously from species to species, and these behaviors have been a source of fascination among people for thousands of years. The peculiarities of their behavior have prompted scientists and thinkers of all ages into studying the nature of insects. Although insects do not stand in close relation to humans on the evolutionary tree, there are some species that closely resemble humans in their group behavior. Social insects, like bees, wasps, ants and termites, show a remarkable degree of group cooperation that seems incongruous with their primitive state. The similarities between insect colonies and human societies became a topic of inquiry among European naturalists during the early modern era. It could be argued that no other type of social insect has been compared to humans as much as termites have. The extraordinary feats in which termites are capable has been highly regarded by scientists and social theorists for hundreds of years.Waco Termite Control

In 1781, a leading natural scientist, Henry Smeathman, touted termites as being “foremost on the list of the wonders of creation.” Smeathman granted termites this high praise due to the human-like behaviors that the insects demonstrate. Smeathman described his high regard for termites in a report he wrote for the Royal Society. This report detailed the insects as having mastered industry and even government. It is no surprise that this report was written at a time in history when the unique abilities of mankind, such as thought and artistic mastery, were regarded with a newfound sense of reverence.

During the early 1900’s, Russian thinker, Peter Kropotkin, referred to the efficiency of a termite colony as a model for the ideal communist society. For Kropotkin, the willingness with which termite workers labor for the greater good of their colonies should be mimicked by human laborers in a communist state. However, some modern thinkers have referred to termites negatively when describing the possible consequences that could result from the blind obedience of the great majority within communist societies. For example, during the 1920’s, an American entomologist, William Wheeler, believed that selfless state-servitude could ultimately reduce humans to unintelligent, yet efficient, beings, much like termites. Wheeler believed that humanity would not be able to evolve beyond such a societal state. If humans were to become selflessly compliant to the needs of the state, in the same way termites serve their colony, then the greatest human achievements, such as art and scholarship, would cease to exist. Nowadays, it would seem unthinkable to regard termites as virtuous models of what human beings could be become.

Have you ever found anything in a insect’s nature that is worth emulating?