Termites work underground and live in tunnels of mud mixed with their excreta and saliva. Their tunnels are built for the purpose exploring and finding food. In most areas of Australia, they will not build these tunnels out in the open as they must maintain a high humidity environment to survive. A dry termite is a dead termite and this is why you don’t see termites crawling around like ants.
A termite colony consists of the following:
- Queen - She produces thousands of nymphs (baby termites) every day. The queen is enormous compared to the other castes in the colony. In several species may she may live more than 25 years.
- Soldiers - They are sterile, blind and wingless males and females which guard the nest. Soldier termites have prominent jaws, and they give off a defensive, and sometimes repellent chemical. Their main function in the colony is to protect the termites from natural enemies such as ants.
- King - Together with the queen, the king is responsible for reproduction. The king and queen live together in the very centre of the nest.
- Workers - These termites are sterile and blind, and are the most numerous in the colony. They provide the food for the colony by eating wood or any material containing cellulose. They will work 24 hours a day and live for several years.
- Reproductives - Also known as alates, they are the caste of termite that form new colonies. Following the nymph stage they develop wings and when mature they are released in their thousands to establish new colonies. Reproducives develop eyes before they fly away from the colony. This generally occurs in spring and their swarms are quite often mistaken for flying black ants. They are swept along by the wind then land, drop their wings and mate to become the king and queen of a new colony.
A termite's sole food is cellulose (sugar molecules) which is found in trees, logs and plants. It is also still present in the timber used in construction. This is why timber wall and roof frames are susceptible to termite attack.
They also attack other materials in a house which include:
- Timber decking and floor boards
- Timber fences, gate posts and pergolas in direct contact with the soil
- Skirting boards and architraves
- Bathroom and kitchen cupboards
- Fixed timber furniture
- Carpet strips and the carpet itself
- Cardboard boxes
- Newspapers, magazines and photo albums stored in garages or sheds
- Electrical cabling