So Just What are Termites?
Termites belong to the insect group Isoptera, and there are hundreds of species of termites in Australia, though the bulk is not a problem for homeowners. They can live in peace. Only about 20 or so species are pests, and this group can be further whittled down, depending on where you live. Broadly, most termites fall into the following groups:
- Dry-wood termites, so called because they require a lot less water than most other termite families. Though less prevalent than subterranean termites, they can cause real damage to buildings.
- Dampwood termites, which contains a few pest species such as Porotermes adamsoni in eastern Australia.
- The Mastotermitidae family, featuring the giant termite (Mastotermes darwiniensis), a real problem for tropical areas of northern Australia.
- Subterranean termites; common to much of Australia.
Termite habits and biology
Termites are sometimes referred to as white ants, though this is not correct. They are small to medium-sized insects with pale bodies, a darker-colored head and bead-like antennae.
In Australia, the subterranean termite is the main culprit when it comes to timber damage, foraging underground for food (cellulose) and capable of traveling up to 50-100 metres away from the main nest in narrow earthen tunnels.
These termites are highly organized creatures, living in colonies that may contain many hundreds of thousands of termites, with duties clearly marked out from the queen and king to soldiers and the tireless worker caste. Nests may be deep in the ground or in the base of trees.
The main essentials for subterranean termite survival are: an underground system of tunnels and chambers that protects them from predators such as ants and birds and the drying outside environment, moisture and food. Knowing something about how termites operate and what conditions are favorable to them will help you to know what makes your house attractive to them (or not).