Termite Life Cycle and Habits.
The colony begins once a couple of winged termites, having fluttered out of the original colony on an early summer evening, shed their wings and find suitable wood in moist soil.
They excavate adjacent to that wood, mate, lay and tend their first brood of eggs while hoping the ants don’t break in, the ground doesn’t dry out and there is enough wood to keep them going until they can find other food sources.
This is why most colony attempts fail.
To be successful, the royals have to go deeper into the soil and have the new workers and soldiers take over nest construction and defence.
More and more food sources must be found to feed the growing numbers of nymphs which stay in the nursery area until they go through a few moults to become adult workers and soldiers.
Soldiers just defend. Workers scout for and find new food, chew it off, regurgitate it as food for soldiers, nymphs and the royals. They also move the eggs and organise the nymphs in the nursery and move them further out as they go through their moulting processes.
Workers construct the network of tunnels, repair any breaches and get rid of bodies (like worn out workers after 3-4 years). The queen may live for 10-30 years (who knows for sure?) becoming a bag of eggs. Once her egg production drops under a thousand a day, “they” sometimes select a developing reproductive to become the new queen.
When the nest has been established about 3-5 years, a batch of nymphs become reproductive “teenagers” developing longer bodies, heads with eyes and finally wings. Then on that warm, early summer evening, when the outside conditions closely match the warm and humid conditions inside the colony, someone yells “Geronimo!” and they flutter off into the dangerous unknown. The new cycle begins.
Basic Termite Instincts
It is said termites or white ants have been evolving away from cockroaches for about 400 million years. Plants became woody sometime before that and termites became specialist feeders on this new food type. (Ants, their mortal enemy became recognisable about 300 million years ago).
Some termites specialised in damp, decaying wood, others specialised in solid wood, others concentrated on dried grass and leaf litter. Different nesting sites and styles to suit the preferred food and climatic conditions evolved — mounds on the forest or grasslands floor, mounds up in tree branches, no mounds at all.
Then there are drywood termites; just an incidental pest that doesn’t build a nest at all. They don‘t even have contact with the ground because they get enough moisture from a tropical atmosphere. Hundreds of genera, thousands of species, all specialising in their niche. In Australia there are about 300+ species but only three genera do over 95% of the damage because these have concentrated on eating solid wood. These three have the common instincts which allows smart humans to predict what they are likely to do and take advantage of this predictability:
- They forage for multiple food sources in many directions, never relying on one.
- They protect themselves with tunnels and seal their feeding areas from loss of humidity.
- Workers continually carry partly digested food back to the nest
So, we: offer termites or white ants timber they like, in easily-sealed monitors that are easy to find, in places they are looking, then offer them a palatable food laced with something to take home — which kills their colony. Simple, really. And it works!
Solutions from these facts
Before focusing on the serious termites, we need to be able separate termites from ants.
Three simple things differentiate ants from termites
Ants have an elbow in their antennae.
The ant body is in three definite sections.
Termites’ antennae are like a string of beads.
The termite thorax and abdomen has no distinct ‘waist’
Termites are the only insect that has forewings and hindwings of the same shape and length.
The serious termites.
Our TermiTraps and Colony Killer Termite Bait are to defend against the two main termite pests: Coptos and the Schedos, and kill them.
Coptos and Schedos soldiers have brownish heads and two fang-like jaws sticking out in front. They measure 5-7mm.
They also have a fontanelle or hole at the top front of their heads to emit a white droplet of defensive goo.
From left: the Coptotermes then the major and minor soldiers of the S chedorhintermes (Coptos and Schedos). Various species of these two genera are found all around mainland Australia.
They are subterranean termites meaning they mostly nest in the ground (or inside hollow trees) and from the ground, they send scouts up to find timber so they can build tunnels and then hollow it.
The wood is partly digested for transfer back to the nest to feed all the nymphs and the royals.
The soldiers all have a fontanelle or hole in the top front of their head from which a white goo is emitted to back up their jaws in defending breaches against ants and humans.
The main point:
The not-so-serious termites
We don’t recommend using our Bait or Traps for any other termite. However we will give advice. The Nasutes soldiers have brown pointy heads (no black jaws). Some Nasutes will attack solid wood and eat houses, but, they always build mounds.
The homeowner, seeing pointy heads, should look around for a mound in the ground or up in a tree. Once they find a ground mound it should be physically and totally destroyed using a mattock or crowbar.
Exposure to ants, birds and loss of warmth and humidity will kill all the inhabitants in a matter of hours. Termites of any species will not survive if separated from an intact nest
There are other mound builders that have black-jawed soldiers (often smaller than 5mm) so if termites are found in garden mulch, fences or retaining walls, ask them to check for mounds to a radius of about 30 metres. Some of the less serious termite species do not build mounds but nest below soil level or behind retaining walls.
Subterranean Termites: Most termites require a constant source of moisture which is most reliably found in the soil. Those that build their nests in hollow trees have the best conditions: the hollow goes down to the moist soil and the encompassing tree trunk provides them with protection from predators, humidity control and food.
These have a thicker outer shell and have adapted to live in small colonies inside timber such as dead branches or perhaps furniture or framing timbers of high moisture content (say 15-20%) which may be due to high relative humidity. Because the subterranean termites are so dependent on moisture, if they are separated from their humid and temperature controlled nests and galleries, they cannot survive. If a load of firewood or mulch is delivered with termites, they will die. If the homeowner has discovered termites in a window frame and has ripped it apart to see the extent of the damage, the termite workers will seal off the next narrow “pass’ back from that damaged area (closer to the nest) and those termites above or further out from the damaged area will dry out and die because they are excluded and can’t get back.
Termites from mounds that arise from soil or are attached to the outside of branches or trunks of hollow trees are also categorized as subterranean termites. The alternative category is the drywood termites.
Our ID Service
Without seeing the termite soldier, we cannot be definite about whether they have found Coptos, Schedos or something else.
Suggest they could take a photo of a soldier and send it by SMS to 0407 30 88 67 or email it.
Our website has an ID chart with drawings and, then there is this section of our website: Termite Identification Service
How our products work against Coptos/Schedos
Our products are not just Bait and Traps. We also offer good advice.
The Bait: Colony Killer Termite Bait
Chlorfluazuron is mixed in with powdered cellulose. Chlorfluazuron is an Insect Growth Regulator or IGR that interferes with the production of their new outer shell during their moulting process. They die. Also, the queen cannot lay viable eggs. Termites of all castes cannot moult once fed bait, but it is the large-scale death of thousands of nymphs that is the usual cause of the colony’s demise.
The chlorfluazuron has no effect on humans, pets, birds or wildlife.
Our bait is the same as is used by professionals but is registered and approved by the APVMA in Canberra for use by homeowners — because it is so safe.
Termites can be enticed out from where they are happily eating inside timber or inside a TermiteTrap if they are not exposed to the open. They will readily enter bait that is enclosed in a cache. Water is added to the dry bait and the sealed caché is placed where they can get to it in security. The harvested bait is carried back to the nest.
It takes time to get sufficient bait back to kill off a nest. Baiting in multiple places accelerates the demise. Nests usually receive un-baited food from other areas of the colony.
This means it will usually take at least a month, sometimes several months, to kill off a large colony. Once baiting is started, it is very important not to do any gardening or landscaping or anything that may cut through any termite tunnels between the feeding site and the nest.
Tunnels are mostly in the top 50-75 mm of soil. It is important to check nearby hollow trees for termites.
Killing a tree nest is quick and, if that’s where the activity is coming from, it would stop within a week or two. If activity continues, there is another nest so baiting is the best, maybe only, option.
Alternatives to baiting used by some professionals
Baiting is more certain.
Professionals have access to dusts and foams to apply into the termite galleries which kill more quickly by poisoning the individual termite. As they die, they are cannibalised and the cannibals die, etc. until the poison gets back to the main nest where the nymphs and royals which do not regurgitate also die.
The time taken is 1-2 weeks, BUT, if the dusting/foaming application is overdone or disturbs the process, the affected gallery is often sealed off.
On later inspection, if there are no active termites, it is easy to jump to a false assumption: it might be because the gallery has been sealed off, not because the colony is dead.
The next thing: termites show up in another part of the building. The first deaths from baiting probably won’t occur for some days. Homeowners can observe the bait in the caché dwindling as it is taken away and then, when more bait is added, it gradually disappears as well.
While replenishing the bait, workers and some soldiers will be seen scurrying through the mass of the white bait. Towards the end of the process, lesser numbers will be seen.
A couple of weeks of no observed life indicates the colony is dead — UNLESS someone or something has severed the tunnels going back to the nest. The rule is: tools down!
NOW for using Termite Traps to defend the buildings
Traps are monitors, placed around buildings so foraging termites can easily discover them. The more Traps used, the more likely and sooner termite scouts will find them. When they do, the Tassie oak timber is very attractive to Coptos and Schedos and tunnels are constructed to this newly discovered food source.
This is no different to termites finding their way into any bits of timber lying on the ground. All termite damage to buildings is the result of them coming up out of the soil.
TermiteTraps placed on top of the soil, on pavers or over the expansion joints in concrete slabs and paths are found because termite scouts come out of the soil in their constant search. (And it happens faster compared to monitors buried IN the soil).
Because TermiteTraps can go on pavers and concrete, the building can be surrounded. In-ground monitors can only be placed in lawns and gardens. This claim is scientifically backed.
Trials in the USA showed that 30 monitors placed on the ground were discovered before any of 30 monitors buried in the ground were discovered.
Trials in Brisbane showed that 9 TermiteTraps placed on the ground were attacked before any of the 9 professional in-ground monitors were attacked. Some of the in-ground monitors were attacked later on. You’d expect that.
After all, the professionals have been successfully using in-ground monitors for about 15 years. It’s just that the on-ground Traps are found sooner — because that’s where they’re looking and they can cover more territory in less time.
The TermiteTrap is designed with its base open to the ground and a hole is purposely left open in the top lid.
Once termites have arrived, their arrival signal is instinctive: they immediately block up the hole in the lid to conserve humidity and keep the ants out.
You can notice this mud blockage as you walk past. No need to kneel, stoop — or stop.
Placed on the surface you will always be able to find them. Being made of UV protected polypropylene, the Traps are guaranteed to last for 10 years but greenies will say the UV protected polypropylene could last for 20.
After a successful baiting, the timber can be replaced and the ‘sentries’ go back on duty.
Those requiring urgent answers about living, crawling termites will come, usually as a result of a Google search.
They want answers on many things;
- Confirmation they have termites?
- Can they really do it themselves?
- Can they buy the bait? Is it safe? The cost?
- Will the nest be inside their home?
Whatever their question, you can answer with questions of your own. There are 5 basic answers:
- in timber in a building,
- in the garden such as in mulch, wood scraps or firewood,
- in a fence or retaining wall,
- in a mound, or
- inside a tree.
Found in timber in a building
By the time they contact us, some callers will have sprayed all the termites they could find, maybe opened up and torn apart the infested timber to see the extent of the damage.
As termites usually come from soil level and work upwards, badly disturbed workings can isolate any termites that were working above, say in a door lintel or the roof.
Baiting them above disturbed areas will not be successful if they cannot traverse back to their nest.
If adjoining undamaged timbers containing living, working termites are found, a small 5-10mm hole is made and bait is attached to the outside of the timber using duct or gaffer tape so the workers can get through the hole into the bait and take it back to their nest. (See diagram above).
The more caches the better, but they should not be placed on the same piece of timber or closer than say one metre apart.
Caches should be checked about every 14-21 days and bait added if necessary. Many people can’t help themselves and check too often.
Setting Traps around the outside of the building may intercept termites which have just been deprived of the house they were eating. Placing Traps closer together outside affected rooms can result in one or two of them being discovered so feeding can begin.
Found in the Garden
Live termites found scurrying through mulch, leaf litter, in a load of firewood, etc, are not in a situation where they are able to be baited.
Plenty of people have placed bait in mulch where they saw termites — but it doesn’t work.
Probably because the termites could not secure the bait from ants or they didn’t have secure tunnel access.
The best procedure is to place multiple Traps in the area and wait for them to access them in their usual way.
Found in fences, retaining walls, stacked timber or the firewood heap:
This is solid wood and therefore the termites may well be Coptos or Schedos.
They could also be one of the not-so-serious termites covered above.
We recommend getting them identified; they won’t eat much in the few days or hours it takes.
Photos not only of the soldiers but also of the mud on the fence, wall or timber can be a useful aid to identification.
We can then advise the best treatment method. TermiteTraps set near these walls, fences and firewood heaps are likely to be attacked and are easily baited once they are.
Found in mounds
Just completely destroy the mound.
Found inside a hollow stump or a hollow tree.
Coptos and Schedos often build their nest inside hollow trees and stumps. So do a few other species, but as it is very easy to kill termite nests inside trees, it should be done no matter which species it is. The treatment will not kill the tree and, although insecticides are used, they are poured down the inside of the tree and remain there away from people, pets and wildlife. If termites are found inside a building and a hollow stump or tree is within 30-50 metres, it is possible they are coming from a nest inside it. One way to check this is to ID the soldier termite in the house and compare it with a soldier from the tree. To do this, when drilling the tree, check the fluting of the auger bit or place a blade of grass into the drill hole and withdraw slowly; soldiers are often found on the grass ‘attacking’ it. If, after pouring 30 or 40 litres of insecticide into the hole the activity in the house ceases a week later, it probably came from the nest in the tree. If activity inside continues, they are from another nest and baiting must continue. The insecticide inside the tree will last for about 10 years but setting Traps around the buildings is still recommended because termites don’t only set up nests in trees — and we know for sure, termites are in their neighborhood!
How our system works:
The baiting aspect is covered above in “How the products work.” The TermiteTrap Monitors work because there are 22 of them, and they are put where termite scouts go looking. The Bait works because it doesn’t kill workers before they have delivered it back to their nest. Regular inspections are a sensible back-up. The Traps are simply placed on surfaces around the buildings. They can be partially imbedded into gravel, stones or mulch to put the base of the Trap in continuous contact with the soil so termites can more easily seal off the bottom to keep ants out. The distance apart is recommended to be about 3 metres (10 ft) although, if there is an area where termites have been noticed, or it is damp, Traps can be placed closer together to provide more opportunities for termites to find one sooner. As there are 22 Traps in a carton this will be sufficient for most suburban blocks. We advise using all the Traps even if they are placed closer than 3 metres — or you can suggest they give a couple to a neighbour to increase the buffer zone around their home. Bait is only added to Traps that are attacked. The carton of bait will usually be enough for a large colony or a couple of small colonies and will keep for years in the unopened original containers.
Comparison with barrier treatments:
Some barriers are highly effective. Stainless steel mesh, granular glass, granite particles of correct size and metal caps on piers, stumps, etc will keep termites from passing through the gaps around plumbing. Insecticidal membranes installed by accredited professionals during construction prevent termites getting through from the soil for at least 50 years. The job of a barrier is to force termites to show themselves on the way in. Which is why regular inspections are essential. The barrier most questionable is the insecticidally treated soil under and around buildings. Building Codes and Australian Standards should be met during the construction of all buildings. This usually includes soaking the soil under and around foundations. The intention is there but the actuality is different. Soil for landscaping is too often built up to a level above the edge of the slab which can allow termites to get through any gaps in the masonry wall including weepholes. And, where concrete paths are butted up level with the first course of bricks or blocks there is an expansion joint and usually no insecticidally impregnated soil below it. Termites can come up through any gap wider than about 3mm to tunnel unnoticed in through a gap to the timbers inside the building — and all the timbers join up! Exterior insecticidal soil barriers supposedly applied during construction are almost never continuous along the whole outside perimeter of the building. The various tradies and labourers keep disturbing the poisoned soil (if it was ever treated) as they work outside around the building. The insecticides only last about 10-15 years and when a pest professional quotes to re-apply it, there is almost no chance, even with drilling paths and driveway concrete, that a continuous barrier will result. And it will cost $thousands. Setting TermiteTrap monitors around a building and annual inspections of the building inside and outside is much more cost effective.
The bloke that invented the on-ground Traps and the Bait in foil pouches is also the bloke that wrote the text books the pest professionals study to get their licence. He has simplified termite control so homeowners can do a proper job themselves without using poisons.