What are termites?
Termites are a group of eusocial insects that, until recently, were classified at the taxonomic rank of order Isoptera but are now accepted as the epifamily Termitoidae within the cockroach order Blattodea.
Most of their colonies contain millions of individuals and can consume lignocellulose (the major component in plant fibers) much more efficiently than other terrestrial animals. Termites are incredibly destructive to wooden structures and homes; thus, they have been given various names such as “white ant” and “eater ants.”
There are approximately 4,000 species classified into 16 families and 29 subfamilies, with one subfamily unassigned. Their classification remains controversial, with the relationship between termites and other cockroaches still being reassessed after decades of research. They are known to be serious detrivores in the subtropical and tropical regions.
What do they look like?
They are pale-colored, soft-bodied insects that grow to about 2 cm long (exceptionally to 10 cm) and 1 mm wide. They have oval heads, shaped like a wedge with two small eyes taking up the rear corners. Their bodies are aliformed – having characteristics of an ant’s body form but lacking constricted waists.
Unlike ants which undergo complete metamorphosis, their life stages are similar except for some variation in the adult forms. The first instar is known as a nymph, and it looks like a smaller version of an adult termite. It has wing buds that will develop into functional wings after the molt to the next stage. They have straight antennae with bead-like segments that can be shed, presumably as a defense mechanism.
Termite soldiers protect their colonies by pressing their heads against potential enemies and manipulate them using strong mandibles. The mouthparts are formed into a long sharp structure called a stylet or rostrum; this is covered in thick saliva and penetrates the skin of the enemy insect, injecting enzymes and immobilizing them.
Colonies produce sexually immature workers (called false workers), soldier castes (the only ones with wings), and egg-laying queens. The first instar worker nymph after hatching from the egg may be a false worker. It will molt into a soldier or a reproductive queen, depending on its diet.
What is their lifestyle?
They are eusocial, meaning they live in colonies with one fertile male and female (a king and a queen termite), relying heavily on pheromones as a means of communication.
The other individuals are sterile workers who maintain the nest environment and feed immature young. There may also be multiple soldiers working together to defend the colony.
Termites in Ohio or termites globally, mainly feed on dead plant material and cellulose, generally in the form of wood, leaf litter, soil, or animal dung. The worker caste of insects is known to have different forms of specialization within their caste depending on the diet they get. For example, workers that are nourished with wood are called ‘wood eaters,’ whereas those feeding on grasses and leaves are known as ‘fodder.’
What is the cascading effect of termites in Ohio?
Like other insects, termites can be both beneficial and destructive. They contribute immensely to decomposition processes through mechanical digestion (mastication) and chemical digestion (gastric acid), making nutrients more readily available for absorption.
Their dietary habits include fungi growing on wood, unlike symbiotic fungi found in ants’ stomachs, which are mutualistic. Wood destroying fungi are known to benefit from compromised immune systems of termites by surviving in their gut.
It has been shown that these same wood-decaying fungi also produce antibiotics that can inhibit other pathogenic bacteria, demonstrating the existence of a microbiome within the fungus gardens of ants.
What are possible solutions against Termite infestation?
The best defense for homeowners against termites in Ohio is prevention through regular inspections and early detection. The next option would be treated with available chemical control or non-chemical alternatives such as physical barriers, baits, and microbial pesticides.
Insecticidal dusts are available in powder form containing 0.5% – 10% active ingredient. Alternatively, there are liquid formulations in the form of concentrates (1%-10% active ingredient) or ready-to-use aerosols. These pesticides are applied by either a power duster, hand pump sprayer, or airless paint sprayer.
General sanitation is essential when trying to prevent termite infestation. Keeping your home clean can help keep food sources like sugar, starches away from them. Homeowners with wood in their homes should regularly check for signs of termites such as fecal pellets and silky tubes, which are telltale signs of infestation, especially if they’re found near walls and floors.
Termites are unassuming little bugs that don’t get much regard, but they can cause serious damage. Termites in Ohio roost in large groups and eat through wood at a rapid rate. When termites infest a structure, it’s time to call the exterminator. Keep them out of your home by following these tips:
- Don’t plant trees close to the house; termite colonies love living in mature trees that shelter and feed them. If you want to add some greenery to your property, put potted plants several feet away from the walls and keep vines and flowers off of structures.
- Prevent moisture problems in the home. Fix all leaks, check water lines frequently for breaks and be mindful of humid areas in your house when humidity is high.
- Don’t let firewood pile up against the house. Move it at least six inches away from the walls, but ideally, keep it several feet away to avoid termite infestations.
- Don’t stack wood or put anything that’s made of wood on concrete blocks. Termites will eat through them quickly if they’re sitting in damp locations like crawlspaces or basements.
- Eliminate sheltering dark locations near the home where termites are likely to make homes, such as dense plants, piles of debris, or dead trees with hollowed trunks or dead portions.
Termites aren’t too big of a danger to humans, but they can damage the structure of your home and hurt its value if left undisturbed for years. Some termites even carry diseases, so it’s important to get help removing them right away if you think there’s an infestation in your home.