Right now, termites are swarming almost every night in Fiji.
The locals have worked out a strategy which goes like this:
As the swarms begin at dusk, turn all the lights out inside and build a bright fire outside in the yards, or for community togetherness, out in the streets.
Swarming termites are seen going for the fire. After all there are no lights on to attract them to the houses.
A Fijian phoned me after seeing our website to ask what could possibly be done about this major problem of termites. I’ve begun getting info on the main termite species, their habits, etc., but first I had to tell him that although there is great value in the community spirit, there is next to not much effect on the termite population. Here’s why….
A termite colony matures in about 3 years in Fiji and from the third or fourth year, the queen begins producing some eggs that will develop to become reproductives instead of the usual workers and soldiers. Then, a few months after that batch of reproductive eggs are laid, they all have developed wings, climbed up to the high points of the colony’s network of attacked timber and, just on dusk, someone yells “Geronimo” in termitese and they launch themselves into the dark like parachutists.
Yes, they do seem to be attracted to light, (or, perhaps you only see the ones that are in the light). Eons ago there wasn’t a lot of electric light in the prehistoric forests and I doubt their habits and instincts have changed since Thomas Edison brightened up our lives in about 1900. To add to the Fijians’ belief, the high point of a termite colony is often the roofing timbers of the house they are eating, so when 10,000 or so termites emerge into a room with a light on, there is going to be a lot of termites flitting around the light. If there are no flyscreens on open windows, thousands of them will, like Elvis, leave the building and be noticed wherever there is a lit area—like around a bonfire.
The success rate of pairs establishing a successful colony out of all the ones that emerge is nothing but a wild guess. My common sense logic tells me that if it was greater than about half of 1%, we would be unable to build timber framed houses. The Fijian success rate may be a little higher because there in less understanding of the need to keep timber from touching the ground. Their timber framed houses often have the frame on un-reinforced concrete slabs cracking within a couple of years, thereby providing easy and unseen access to the timbers.
Here in Australia, there are building codes and standards which are designed to ensure that any termites getting ideas have to build their tunnels out over the edges of the foundations where the home owner or pest inspector can see them. Just because there are codes it doesn’t mean that they are always being followed. Each year a couple of hundred thousand homes in Australia are still attacked.
If you see a termite swarm when you are sitting outside this year, here is a very rough indicator of the risk to your home: if you see a couple of dozen winged termites, there is a nest somewhere within say 200-300 metres of your home. If you see hundreds, the nest is a bit closer. If you see thousands, get a flashlight and go looking to see where they may be emerging from. It’s probably in your place or your neighbors’ (or from a tree in yours or your neighbor’s place). Please don’t go out pointing a torch in the air above your head if there is lightning (unless your name is Rod).
Lastly, a note to help: termites are the only insect with their forewings the same size as their hindwings (and the wings are a bit over 1cm long).