Understanding Termites: Biology, Behaviour, and Signs of Infestation


Understanding Termites: Biology, Behaviour, and Signs of Infestation

Termites, colloquially known as “white ants,” are pervasive and highly destructive pest species that pose a significant threat to properties in Perth’s metropolitan area. These seemingly innocuous insects can wreak havoc on wooden structures, causing extensive damage that often goes unnoticed until it becomes a costly problem.  


Gaining knowledge about biology, behaviour, and the telltale signs of infestation is of paramount importance for homeowners and property managers alike. This way, you’ll know when it’s time to call in professionals like Adaptive Pest Control. 


The Hidden Threat of Termites 

Termites are endemic to Perth and the wider Western Australia region. The temperate climate, with its mild winters and hot, dry summers, provides an ideal environment for termite activity year-round. 


They are often called “silent destroyers” because of their cryptic behaviour. They can remain concealed within the wood, out of sight, and feed on the structural components of homes and buildings for extended periods. This hidden nature of termite infestations can result in homeowners being unaware of the damage until it becomes severe, necessitating costly repairs. 


Given the prevalence and potential for extensive damage, education about termites is a vital first step in protecting properties. This understanding will empower homeowners and property managers to take proactive measures to prevent and detect infestations early.  

Ultimately, the goal of APC is to help homeowners and property managers identify, prevent, and address termite infestations in a timely manner, mitigating the potential for substantial financial and structural losses. This article aims to shed light on the intricate world of termites and equip you with the knowledge you need to safeguard your properties effectively.  


The Biology of Termites 


Termites are remarkable and highly organised social insects with a complex biology that plays a significant role in their ability to thrive and cause damage to Perth’s properties. The most common types of termites are as follows: 


Subterranean Termites: 

  • Reticulitermes are the most prevalent subterranean termites and are responsible for the majority of termite infestations in metropolitan areas. 
  • Colony Structure: Subterranean termite colonies are incredibly well-organised and consist of various castes, including workers, soldiers, and reproductive termites. 
  • Worker Termites: These are the smallest members of the colony and are responsible for foraging, gathering food, and maintaining the nest. 
  • Soldier Termites: Their primary role is to defend the colony against predators, primarily ants and other threats. 
  • Reproductive Termites: The queen and king are the reproductive members of the colony. The queen can lay thousands of eggs daily, ensuring the colony’s continued growth. 
  • Dependence on Moisture: Subterranean termites require moisture to survive, which is why they often build mud tunnels or shelter tubes to maintain a humid environment. This dependency on moisture makes them prone to infesting damp wood. 


 Dampwood Termites: 

  • Dampwood termites, specifically Neotermes, are attracted to wood with high moisture content. 
  • Colony Size: Unlike subterranean termites, dampwood termite colonies are smaller and typically contain fewer individuals. 
  • Preferred Habitat: They are commonly found in decaying logs, damp wood in basements, and areas with high humidity. 
  • Damage Potential: While less common in metropolitan areas compared to subterranean termites, dampwood termites can still cause significant damage to structures with moisture issues. 


Drywood Termites: 

  • Drywood termites, belonging to the Cryptotermes species family, are unique in that they don’t require soil contact and can directly infest dry wood. 
  • Colony Size: Drywood termite colonies are relatively small compared to subterranean colonies. 
  • Hidden Nature: These termites can be particularly challenging to detect because they infest wood discreetly, often tunnelling deep inside timber. 
  • Localised Infestations: Drywood termites tend to create localised infestations within specific wooden items or structural components, making their presence less obvious until the damage becomes significant. 


Knowledge of such things as environmental preferences forms the basis for effective termite prevention strategies and early detection, ultimately safeguarding your property. Regular inspections by pest control professionals like Adaptive Pest Control can help identify termite activity and address issues promptly. 


The Behavior of Termites 


Termites exhibit a range of behaviours that enable them to thrive as social insects and, unfortunately, pose a threat to structures.  


  1. Foraging Behavior:
  • Feeding on Cellulose: Termites are cellulose-feeding insects, and wood is their primary food source. They can digest cellulose with the help of symbiotic microorganisms in their gut. 
  • Subterranean Termites: These termites construct mud tunnels or shelter tubes to access above-ground wood sources, protecting them from open air and light. This behaviour allows them to reach wooden structures discreetly. 
  • Dampwood and Drywood Termites: Dampwood termites are attracted to wood with high moisture content, while drywood termites infest dry wood directly. Both types are less reliant on underground tunnels and often establish themselves within the wood they feed on. 


  1. Feeding Habits:
  • Consumption of Wood: Termites feed on wood from the inside out. They chew through the wood, creating tunnels and galleries, while leaving a thin outer layer that may appear intact. 
  • Subtle Damage: This feeding behaviour can result in seemingly undamaged wooden surfaces, making termite infestations challenging to detect until substantial damage has occurred. Tapping on wood surfaces to listen for a hollow sound can help in identifying termite damage. 


  1. Reproduction:
  • Colonial Organisation: Termite colonies are highly organised and consist of various castes, with each member having specific responsibilities. 
  • Swarming Behavior: Termite colonies produce winged reproductive termites, often referred to as swarmers. These swarmers leave the colony during the breeding season to establish new colonies. Spotting discarded wings from a termite swarm can be a clear indicator of termite activity nearby. 


  1. Defense Mechanisms:
  • Soldier Termites: Termite colonies have soldier termites with powerful jaws. These soldiers are responsible for protecting the colony against predators, primarily ants, which can threaten the colony. They tap their heads on wood surfaces to signal danger or communicate with other colony members. 
  • Creating Tubes: Subterranean termites construct mud tubes not only for moisture control but also for protection against predators and exposure to the elements. 


Identifying the behaviour of termites has allowed individuals to take proactive measures in preventing infestations as it subsequently leads to the ability to recognise the signs of infestation. 


Infestation Signs 

Detecting termite infestations early is crucial to prevent extensive damage to your homes or businesses. Here are the key signs to watch out for. 


  1. Mud Tubes:
  • Subterranean termites are known for their construction of mud tubes, also called shelter tubes. 
  • Appearance: These mud tubes are typically brown or grey and have a cylindrical shape, about the size of a pencil. 
  • Location: Look for these tubes along the foundation, walls, or wooden structures. 
  • Paint damage: If these tubes become damaged or break, they can allow moisture to infiltrate the wood beneath painted surfaces. Excess moisture can lead to paint blistering, bubbling, or flaking. 


  1. Discarded Wings:
  • After a termite swarm, you may find discarded wings around windowsills, doors, or on the ground. 
  • These reproductive termites, or swarmers, leave their original colony to establish new ones. 
  • The wings of swarmers are uniform in size and shape and are often longer than the termite’s body. 
  • Seasonal Occurrence: Swarming typically occurs during the spring and early summer, making this period critical for vigilance. 


  1. Hollowed or Damaged Wood:
  • Tap wooden surfaces, such as beams, floors, or support structures, to check for a hollow or papery sound. 
  • Hollow Sound: Termites feed on wood from the inside out, leaving a thin outer layer that can appear intact. 
  • Cracked or Damaged Wood: In advanced infestations, you may notice visible cracks or damaged areas on wooden surfaces. The wood may even crumble easily upon touch. 


  1. Tight-Fitting Doors and Windows:
  • Termite damage can cause wood to warp or swell, making doors and windows difficult to open or close. 
  • Sticking: If you notice doors or windows sticking when you try to open or close them, it could be an indication of termite damage. 
  • In severe infestations, the structural integrity of wooden floors may be compromised, leading to noticeable sagging or buckling. 


  1. Accumulation of Frass:
  • Drywood termites, in particular, push out faecal pellets, known as frass, from small exit holes. 
  • Appearance: Frass resembles tiny, oval-shaped pellets and often accumulates in small piles below infested wood. 
  • Texture: It has a gritty feel and can vary in colour from light beige to dark brown. 


  1. Clicking Sounds:
  • Some homeowners report hearing clicking or tapping noises coming from walls or wooden structures. 
  • Cause: These sounds are produced by soldier termites as they tap their heads on the wood. While less common, this auditory clue can be an early sign of termite activity. 


Knowing these signs will help you take proactive measures to protect yourself against further damage. So, once you’ve noticed you may have a termite problem, what do you do next? 


APC Can Help 

The pest control experts at Adaptive Pest Control have extensive knowledge and experience in dealing with termite infestations. Our residential and commercial expertise allows us to accurately assess the extent of the infestation and develop a targeted treatment plan.  


While hiring a pest control expert may involve an upfront cost, it can ultimately be cost-effective in the long run. We can quickly and efficiently address termite issues, potentially saving you money on extensive repairs caused by unchecked infestations. 


Dealing with a termite infestation can be stressful and knowing that professionals are taking care of the problem can provide peace of mind. APC possess the knowledge, experience, equipment, and safety protocols necessary to address termite infestations effectively while minimising risks and providing long-term solutions. So if you’re in need of some professional protection, contact us today!