Termite colonies range from hundreds of thousands to millions of members. Since each colony is capable of consuming at least half a kilogram of wood each day, termites are responsible for costly structural damage wherever they dwell.
The three main types of termite species are subterranean, drywood, and dampwood. Categorization is based on both the preferred habitat and main food source of the insects.
Types of Termites in Canada
The most common pest species of termites in Canada include the eastern subterranean termite (Reticulitermes flavipes), the western subterranean termite (Reticulitermes Hesperus), and the Pacific dampwood termite (Zootermopsis angusticollis).
Located in different regions of Canada, subterranean termites tend to be cosmopolitan in distribution, while dampwood termites cause problems on the western coast. Subterranean species are responsible for the bulk of damage inflicted on homes, as the dampwood species target moist and rotting wood. The presence of dampwood termites usually indicates an ongoing moisture problem.
Aptly named after the Latin term for woodworm, termites have existed for over 120 million years. Despite their pest status, termites play an important role in the ecosystem by recycling wood, facilitating the decomposition of organic matter, replenishing essential nutrients in the soil, and assisting in the growth of plants by way of soil aeration. However, they can cause significant structural damage to homes and other manmade structures.
Appearance / Identification
Termite colonies contain three main social castes: workers, soldiers, and reproductives. Each caste and type of termite differs slightly in appearance. In general, subterranean termites produce smaller workers of approximately 6 mm, while dampwood termite workers measure about 20 mm in size. Termite soldiers have enlarged mandibles, and reproductives feature two pairs of nearly identical wings. Members of every caste have three body parts: a head with a pair of segmented antennae, thorax, and abdomen. The insects appear whitish-brown to nearly black in colour.
Termite colonies are prone to drying out, and termites must live in warm and humid environments. They are most active in temperatures from 24° to 35° Celsius and thrive in tropical and sub-tropical regions. In the cooler regions of Canada, subterranean termite s nest below the frost line where they find their way into heated structures, such as homes and businesses.
Termites derive nutrients primarily from cellulose. Therefore, the pests consume live or dead wood, twigs, roots, grass, plant litter, paper, cardboard, fibreboard, cotton, and other plant materials.
Life Cycle / Reproduction
Depending on the needs of the colony, recently hatched larvae moult into one of the three termite castes. While every termite starts out as a worker initially, the developing larvae can either develop into the worker caste or into a soldier, or develop wings and become a primary or secondary reproductive.
Primary reproductives swarm once the weather permits and leave the original colony to establish new ones, while secondary reproductives remain at the old colony to take over the responsibilities of procreation from the king or queen, if necessary. At the new locations, the primary reproductives assume the roles of queens and kings and start producing young to build up the colony. The formation of a new, thriving colony can take as long as 10 years.
Problems Caused by Termites
As termite activity primarily takes place below the surface of wood, the pests are capable of completely excavating through wooden floors, furniture, window frames, doors, panelling, and other important structural components of buildings. The resulting damage weakens the wood and makes the structure prone to further deterioration. Several billion dollars are spent on termite damage each year.
Detection / Signs of Infestation
Despite their covert lifestyle, termites consistently leave behind certain indicators of their presence. To avoid drying out, subterranean termites make mud tubes along walls, fences, and steps to help them travel between the colony and food sources. Homeowners should remain on the lookout for the dry and moist lines of mud, particularly in basements and garages. Spotted, striped, discoloured, or warped wood may also indicate the existence of termites below the surface. Furthermore, knocking on wood and hearing a hollow sound typically indicates termite damage.
In general, altering the surrounding area of a home or building to make it less favourable for termites will prevent infestations from occurring. Reduce moisture levels by fixing leaky plumbing and ensuring all drainage flows well and away from the building. Keep shrubbery and trees maintained so that the vegetation does not come in contact with the structure, and store lumber and firewood away from the building in a dry place.
Control / Removal
Suspected termite infestations usually demand the attention of a pest control professional. Most instances of infestation require the application of termiticides on or in the soil, and industry professionals possess the proper certifications and experience to apply termiticides safely and correctly.
Termite Control in Canada
Luckily for the majority of Canadian home owners most of our country is past the northern limit for termites. Still, over 20% of the Canadian population live in areas where there are active termite colonies, as they, just like us, prefer the warmer southern parts of the country. Our longer winters seem to deter termite activity in the wild but our urban areas and the warmth they provide supplies termites with all the necessities of life. In Canada termites are most prevalent in the southern coastal areas, the dry climate of the Okanagan areas of British Columbia, southern Ontario, southern Quebec, and the Maritime provinces. The termite populations that do exist in Canada were likely brought here years ago in wooden products that came from warmer southern climates. The most damage in Canada is caused by subterranean termites and in some areas, such as Toronto and southern Ontario, has reached significant economic levels.
Don’t Let Termites Eat You Out of Your House
Your single biggest investment is likely your home and termites can be a real and present danger to that investment.
Termites are known as the “silent destroyer” and can be very hard to detect. Like many other insects the best way to prevent an infestation is to remove access to the things they find critical. These include food, warmth and a water source and for termites in particular eliminating moisture and removing wood sources is important. Rotted or damp wood is the most common way termites will gain access to your home. The soft, pulpy wood gives access to both moisture and food to termites.
Another thing termites love is warm temperatures, so as the temperature rises, it is important to recognize the conditions conducive to termite infestation. This will help you protect your home and property. Here are some quick tips to keep in mind:
- Make sure no wood or wood debris is in contact with the soil and store any firewood away from your foundation and off the ground if possible
- Repair any leaks or drainage issues. Damp wood or moisture creates a tasty target for a new and healthy termite colony
- Humidity is conducive to termite problems. Insulate your crawl spaces or create a barrier to moisture and condensation
More information on possible areas of termite activity in your house is available here.
If you suspect a termite problem you should immediately contact the trained professionals at Orkin Canada for an inspection and a customized termite protection plan.
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