Most people have heard of termites. Some associate them with cartoons from their childhood - playful little critters found lazily dining on logs and furniture. Others have had first-hand knowledge of their dining modus operandi. Regardless of how people associate the word termite, chances are the name alone brings images of destruction, anguish and $$$. But really, what are termites?

Termites are insects; plain and simple they are insects that eat wood. In Australia termites are known as white ants, although they have no relation to the ant species. In fact, ants are the termite’s main predator. Termites are more closely related to the cockroach, more specifically the order Blattaria. Similar to other insects, termites have a social structure of shared labor, have mating systems where multiple breeding generations are present at a time and have a collective approach to raising their young.

 A termite can measure between 1/8 of an inch to an inch long. Termites can have between a few thousand to over a million termites in a single colony. In most termite colonies, there are reproductive termites (known as kings and queens), their young (known as nymphs), workers and soldiers. The role of each member plays an important role in the development of the colony’s society. Queens are termites that have flown, mated and are producing offspring. Kings are males that have flown, mated and are in close proximity to the queens. The workers have the important role of nest maintenance, foraging, food storage and in some species, colony defense. A soldier’s societal role, as its name implies, is charged with strength and defense again attacks from ants.

 In order to house the thousands of termites in a colony, termites construct the largest nests of any insect. A termite nest is an intricate structure made of combination of mud, soil, partially digested wood, feces and saliva. Nests are commonly built underground, but some species build their nests above ground. In urban environments, where termites have set up nests in residential areas, nests can be under homes or behind interior and exterior walls. One of the more common signs of termites in your home is the thin tubes running up walls and floorboards. These tubes are made up of the same material as the nest (yes that’s right, saliva and feces) and can be found in almost any area in the home.

 It’s important to understand that, although termites can be destructive to homes and other wooden structures, there are ways to treat these insects before real damage is done. Termites are slow eaters, especially those in arid climates and can take months to cause real damage, but it’s important that you have your home regularly inspected and treated to ensure your home is closed for business for these wood-eating pests.