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    South African Termites

    This list is non-exhaustive

    Termites are mainly active in South Africa in the warmer summer months and become very active after the first Spring or summer rains when the winged “Alate” termites take flight and start new colonies. They fly vast distances and are commonly seen in most areas of the country in their thousands and these flying termites are normally referred to as ‘flying ants’. You can read more about the biology of termites on our downloads page by clicking to see our brochure here

    There are about 2750 species of termite worldwide. They can be divided into three groups based on the location of their colonies; subterranean, drywood, and dampwood termites. Of these, subterraneans and drywoods are primarily responsible for damage to human-made structures.

    Coptotermes Formosanus Shiraki; Formosan Subterranean Termites(en:Termite)
    Coptotermes Formosanus Shiraki; Formosan Subterranean Termites(en:Termite)
    Fertile Termite Queen
    Subterranean Termite
    Coptotermes Formosanus Shiraki; Formosan Subterranean Termites(en:Termite)Fertile Termite QueenSubterranean Termite

    Identification & Physical Description

    Subterranean termite colonies can have up to 2 million members! Their colonies are divided into three groups: workers, soldiers and reproductives.

    • Alates (swarmers): Dark-brown to black in color, about ¼ to ½ inch long with two pairs of wings that are very close to being equal in length.
    • Workers: No wings, about ¼ inch or less in length and cream colored.
    • Soldiers: No wings, large mandibles (jaws), termite colony defenders, are creamy-white in color, but their head is often brownish in color.

    Life Cycle

    Different rates of growth from egg stage to adult, depending on individual species; one primary queen per colony, which can lay tens of thousands of eggs in its lifetime, but eggs also can be laid by supplementary reproductives in an established colony.

    Food & Water

    Termites eat wood, wallpaper, plastics and fabric made from plants.

    Nesting

    As their group name suggests, the nest is usually found below ground. Nests may be found above ground, but only when sufficient moisture conditions are available to support the above-ground nest and the colony is old and well established.

    Subterranean termites need contact with the soil to survive. They live in underground colonies or in wet areas aboveground. They build tunnels to reach food and every spring, groups of reproductive termites fly off to start new colonies.

    Risks

    Subterranean termites are the most destructive kind of termite. They can eat a lot of wood and they can cause a lot of expensive damage to a house! They can destroy building foundations, wooden support beams, plastic plumbing pipes, sub-flooring, insulation … even swimming pool liners and filtration systems! Termites can also injure or destroy living trees and shrubs.

    The vast majority of termites use wood and humus as their primary source of food. In the Gauteng area, there are two species of grass consuming termites:

    1. The snouted harvester termite (Trinerviterrnes trinervoides) and

    2. The harvester termite (Hodotermes Mossambicus).

    The Snouted harvester termite occurs mostly in open grassland areas or fields and builds a cone looking mound and when broken open, looks like a sponge. The Harvester termite would normally occur in and around the Greater Johannesburg area in residential properties.

    The sponge-like mound which is produced by the Snouted harvester termite is a maze of passages and cells with grass normally stored in cells near the outer crust. The bottom of the mound extends about 30 cm into the ground and it is here that the queen, king and their brood reside.

    The construction of the mound is intelligently designed in that it provides effective ventilation and a precise temperature for the larval termite’s growth and development. The outer crust of the nest provides effective protection and can also be used as an area where grass could be dried for consumption. The main reason why this termite is recognized as a grassland pest is that due to their high nest density in an area drastically reduces the available grass in the area to grow.

    The nest structure of the harvester termite is completely different in that they never build surface mounds, but they nest in the soil. There are normally visible signs of soil mounds (loose soil) which can look similar to mounds created by moles. The soil dumps are composed of loose solid particles which have been excavated to form nests and connecting galleries. Harvester termites have several underground nests which are about 60 cm in diameter and interconnected and can more than 10 cm below the soil surface. The nest covers a large area underground and is not necessarily under a soil mound. The queen could be in any one of the nests and in younger colonies, she probably moves between nests.

    It takes numerous years for the queen to become so large that she is no longer able to move, that is the reason why it is very difficult to reach the queen. During the night a column of Snouted termite workers leaves the nest guarded by several soldiers to collect dry grass. The workers are pale in colour and the soldiers have a reddish-yellow head. The soldiers have easily identified apart from the workers; they have a larger head region, but cannot bite. They have glands from which a colourless irritant fluid can be squirted as a sticky thread when the soldier is fighting off predators, including its most common predator; the Aardwolf.

    Harvester termites are normally seen in the winter months when grass is dry and there is lower rainfall, they emerge from holes in the ground. The workers emerge from the nest holes and collect grass on the ground or chew a grass stalk to a length which can be carried. If the grass stems are particularly thick and there are several workers out collecting, they sound like a rodent gnawing.

    Harvester termites prefer to collect dry grass, but they do collect Kikuyu grass. Open patches occur on a lawn and on closer inspection one may notice a sealed hole in the centre of the patch, this is an indication that harvester termites are present. This hole is the site from which the termites have emerged to forage. They rarely use the same hole to exit from and it is no indication that the nest is directly underneath.

    The nest structure could be several meters away. These workers use the sunlight for navigation. On warm nights when there is a full moon or other available light these termites may emerge to forage. The workers are not accompanied by soldiers, but the soldiers do appear very quickly when danger occurs. The soldiers have large orange to yellow heads with large jaws for biting, using physical aggression rather than chemical defence.

    The main differences between the two species of harvester termites are that the snouted termite (Trinervitermes trinervoides) has a conical shaped mound, soldiers which engage in chemical warfare and workers which are paler in colour and forage at night. The harvester termite (Hodotermes Mossamicus) is unusual in that the workers are pigmented, dark in colour and forage during the day in sunlight. The workers are large enough to be collected and eaten by certain African tribes. They are not mound builders. There have been no records of the snouted termite entering buildings, but the harvester termite has been known to enter buildings where the workers collected paper, curtain material and carpet underfelt for food. They do not damage woodwork.

    How termite prevention & pest control works

    Inspection

    A qualified Flick inspector will call at a time to suit you, to carry out a thorough inspection. Years of experience in the field and specialised training have equipped him to know just what to look for. He will then identify the termite species and size of
    the infestation, their food and water sources and method of access. All these are essentials that must be known to decide on the best control measures.

    He will provide you with a comprehensive obligation free quotation for treatment.

    This of course carries the Flick Warranty – if re-infestation occurs during the warranty period, additional treatment will be provided free of charge.

    Signs of a Termite Problem

    Appearance of damaged wood
    Since subterranean termites build their nests underground, damaged wood usually has an accumulation of soil or mud within the tunnels of the wood they are eating. Since subterranean termites only eat the softwood, damaged wood appears to be layered, the result of the workers not eating the hardwood portion. In addition, subterranean termites feed “with the grain” rather than across the grain, as do drywood termites.

    Interesting termite facts

    • Certain pens smell like termite pheromones. If you draw with these pens near termites, the termites will follow the drawn lines.
    • In the Marvel Universe Groot was originally an alien invader, ‘The Monarch of Planet X’, who was defeated by termites.
    • There is a mid-rise shopping center in Zimbabwe which uses an air conditioning system inspired by African termite hills. It is ventilated and cooled by natural means, and uses less than 10% of the energy of a conventional building its size.
    • Lace monitors dig into a termite mound to lay their eggs, the termites then reseal the mound keeping the eggs at a constant temperature. The lizard returns 9 months later to dig the eggs out so they can hatch.
    • The U.S. Department of Energy is researching ways to replace fossil fuels with renewable sources of cleaner energy, and termites are considered a possible way to reach this goal through metagenomics. Termites produce up to two liters of hydrogen from digesting a single sheet of paper, making them one of the planet’s most efficient bioreactors.
    • When attacked by a horde of ants, a group of termites forms a circle with their heads facing outward, in effect collectively protecting their soft bodies with their rock hard heads. Letting the ants surround them completely, they stand their ground as brothers and sisters and fight for dear survival.
    • The U.S. Department of Energy is researching ways to replace fossil fuels with renewable sources of cleaner energy, and termites are considered a possible way to reach this goal through metagenomics. Termites produce up to two liters of hydrogen from digesting a single sheet of paper, making them one of the planet’s most efficient bioreactors.

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