What do termites look like?
Termites are small insects, but can be seen with the naked eye. They have soft, grey, brown or white bodies. Baby termites are white and have two antennae sticking out, looking very similar to ants (even though they are more closely related to cockroaches!). Some termites, known as a swarmer, can fly and have two pairs of wings.
Where are termites found?
Termites are sometimes seen as a pest, but of the over 250 described species of termite in Australia only a few will damage our homes and gardens. Mostly termites go about their business in the bush around us, creating new soil by feeding on grass, wood or rotting organic matter.
- Termites are social insects with different members of the same species having different roles. There are soldiers and workers, queens and kings, each with a special function in the colony.
- Termites are great weather metres, sensing changes in air pressure associated with changing weather conditions.
Termites – the full story
As the weather warms up in spring and summer, termites commence their social swarming.
In order to create social swarms, the colony emerges from being underground after at least three years. Flying termites are at their reproductive stage and are short lived.
A swarm can be quite a sight, one minute it’s clear outside and the next you may think that a part of the sky has greyed as the sheer mass of a swarm can be truly spectacular.
Termites swarm in order to start new colonies. Colonies send off large numbers of winged reproductive termites called ‘swarmers.’
A swarm is recognisable by the sudden appearance of hundreds to thousands of these swarmers, usually seen at dusk. This swarm strategy means that there are more termites than predators can cope with, guaranteeing some termites survive.
The swarm often lasts just a few minutes, as swarmers fly a short distance, then fall to the ground and lose their wings. Most swarmers die within a day or so of the swarm.
Termites are great weather metres, sensing changes in air pressure associated with changing weather conditions. A combination of several successive days of above average temperatures followed by light rain triggers swarming. Swarms activity varies geographically occurring most often in spring.
Termites are social insects with different members of the same species having different roles. There are soldiers and workers, queens and kings, each with a special function in the colony.
Winged termites found new colonies – any member of the swarm is a potential king or queen and for these otherwise social workers, it’s each termite for itself. The future pairs look for damp, rotting wood so most houses are not at risk. It is rare for pairs to survive, but those that do may live for more than seventeen years.
Termites are important in nutrient recycling, habitat creation, soil formation and quality and swarmers are a great source of food for countless predators. Termites assist our soils in their ability to store water. Termites are great buddies for our country but are not such welcome guests in our backyards.
How to tell a termite from an ant:
- Have antennae that are almost straight
- Both wing pairs are the same size and wings are virtually twice as long as their body
- Wing veins are not visible to the naked eye
- Wings break off easily, with just a touch
- Have antennae that are elbowed (bent)
- Wings differ in size. The outer pair is larger than the second pair
- Wing veins are usually easily seen with the naked eye
- Have sturdy wings that do not break off easily
- Timber pergolas, veranda decks and steps should not be in contact with the ground
- Do not plant trees, shrubs and climbers against buildings
- If the building is on a slab, avoid piling soil or timber against external walls
- If the floor is on stumps or brick piers, inspect the ‘ant’ caps regularly for breaches, and make sure no flooring timbers are in contact with the ground
- Remove all timber debris from under the house
- Move timber away from the house and store the timber in a dry, well ventilated location
- Provide good ventilation under all suspended floors
- Leaking water pipes encourages termites so fix these as soon as you discover them
- Never disturb what you think may be termite activity as this will encourage termites to move elsewhere which makes future detection and eradication more difficult
Did you know?
- Termites have been used to find minerals such as diamonds and gold.
- Around the world, lots of people eat termites. Winged termites are apparently very nutritious.