White Ants & Termites Damages
So much for finding decaying subterranean timber, but common sense tells us that most of the termite’s choicest food lies above ground.
White ants – or termites – do upwards of a billion dollars’ worth of damage to homes every year
Entomologist Ion Staunton looks at the foraging habits of white ants, and how householders can use these instincts against the white ants.
It’s nothing personal. The reason white ants & termites eat houses is that they mistake them for dead trees. Evolved over eons to seek and find dead timber, they have never learned to appreciate the difference between a decaying tree and a timber building structure.
They are both wood, both are edible and both are available. From a white ant & termite’s point of view, that’s pretty well good enough.
Termites do have a few more environmental criteria, so let’s get a bit more specific about their habits. As well as a supply of cellulose for food, termites’ essential needs are shelter and moisture. Being eyeless and thin-shelled, they are happiest in dark, moist and temperature-controlled spaces which protect them from dehydration. And for much of the time, they can meet the nutritional needs of their colony by living an entirely subterranean existence, never straying above ground except in the safety of a piece of timber in which they have built a gallery system.
Source of Termites Food
So why, with so many sources of food close at hand, do they attack our houses – structures which can usually only be reached by exposing themselves to the dangers of the open air?
Well, that’s a question entomologists still ponder. But it’s fair to surmise that they have learned through evolution not to rely on a single source of food. A log may get washed away, or consumed by fire. Termites have evolved to be constantly locating alternative sources of food to satisfy the relentless demands of the nest’s nymphs and royals.
And how do Termites do it? Entomology has yet to find all the answers, but we do know that termites are sensitive to the CO2 given off by decaying timber. Sensing elevated CO2 levels, subterranean termites will head in the direction of the source. So much for finding decaying subterranean timber, but common sense tells us that most of the termite’s choicest food lies above ground – and your house certainly does!
Yet houses are built on concrete slabs which should constitute an effective barrier. Blind, and vulnerable to dehydration through their thin skin, how do termites cope?
Again, we don’t know all the answers, but it seems that while CO2-sniffing again plays a role, a key part is played by rainwater washing down a timber structure and tainting the concrete on which it stands, providing an aromatic pathway to the timber.
Here’s where Termite Monitors come in.
TermiTraps are designed to use termites’ instinctive behaviour against them. They are not a barrier, but they contain a pungent charge of timber that waylays the white ants on their way to the building. They require no training to use. Each has a hole in the casing which serves as a tell-tale that the trap has been attacked, by using another known habit of termites – they protect the immediate environment of their newly-found food source by sealing the hole. When the user sees a sealed hole, they know it’s time to add the bait that the termites will take back to poison the nest.
So is That It?
No. The toxin in Colony Killer Termite Bait is not a true termiticide. Instead, its function is to interrupt the normal growth process that enables termite nymphs to mature into adults. Specifically, when the nymphs in a baited nest moult, the Termite trap toxin prevents the new, adult exoskeleton from attaching to the muscles that are supposed to operate it. This flaw is fatal, and the whole generation of nymphs will die.
As they decompose, they give off noxious gases that eventually overwhelm and suffocate the whole nest – in particular the queen. When that happens, it’s game over.
When you first see your Colony Killer Termite Bait being taken, you have no way of knowing if it is being taken back to a nest with a cohort of termites ready to moult.
So it’s essential that you keep up the bait supply, and preserve the supply lines the termites have built to reach it until it stops disappearing.
Then you can be pretty certain that you’ve killed the colony.