Can you name one type of insect that impacts mankind in a huge way and yet stays out of sight most of the time? This insect is the termite, one of the most widespread insects on the face of this planet, and yet, highly enigmatic. They have existed for at least 200 million years on earth, and are even older than ants, but you will be surprised why most people have never seen a live termite before!
That's why I call termites the most enigmatic insects. For all the damage they cause yearly to human made structures, few people have ever seen a live termite - it's a paradox. But the paradox can be explained away by the behavior of most termites; they usually hate to be seen. Termites live in darkness and are all blind. If they have to cross an open or exposed area, they will almost always cover their trail with earth. And when they eat wood, they do so by not exposing themselves, approaching the wood from the non visible areas.
This is why it is helpful for you to know what do termites look like, so that in the event that you come across them, you can at least recognize them, and take countermeasures to safeguard your home. Termites usually have a few things in common which makes it easier to recognize them, such as straight antennae and a broad waist. However, realize that there are many species of termites in the world, nearly 3000 species known, and only 5% of them are true pests of wood. This small number of species is responsible for causing virtually all the damage attributed to termites.
Mainly, it is subterranean termites like Coptotermes and Reticulitermes species that cause most of the damage, although drywood termite species like Cryptotermes and Glyptotermes also cause a sizeable percentage of the damage.
Types of termites
Termites can be broadly divided into a few categories based on their mode of nesting; these are:
- Wood nesting termites
- Soil nesting termites
- Mound nesting termites
- Arboreal nesting termites
All termite species fall into one of these modes of nesting. Termite nests can be very impressive (as in those termite mounds found on the plains of Africa and Australia), although there are plenty of species that make exquisite little nests in their natural habitat (and never bother humans). A typical nest normally consists of the queen, king, workers and soldiers, nymphs and winged reproductive (from time to time) caste. Termites are the only social insects that have a pure soldier caste, because the soldiers have only one purpose - defend the colony from enemies. Soldier termites look different from the workers by having much larger mandibles or a snout on the front of their heads from which they squirt a chemical repellent.
How do you know if you have a termite problem? The best practice is to conduct regular checks on your premises and learning how to recognize some of the typical warning signs of termite infestation. Remember that prevention is better than cure, because termites normally let slip their presence only when they've extracted as much wood as they possibly can from a wood source; by then, it's too late to salvage the wood.