A deeper dive into the world of termites


September 28, 2022

Photo: cturtletrax/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Photo: cturtletrax/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Pest Management Professional magazine (PMP): Some time ago, we interviewed a guest termite who gave us a lot of good information about subterranean termites (see “Callback Cures” of PMP’s September 2021 issue). That information made us thirsty for more information about this cryptic, yet fascinating insect. Today, we are going to catch up with our previous guest termite who agreed to return. Welcome back to PMP!

Termite (T): Thank you, and I am glad to be back. I mean, I am really glad to be back. Since our last interview, I was able to avoid termite baits, soil treatments and wood treatments, and I didn’t even get tricked into going into a monitoring station. Besides that, I survived blistering heat — even underground — and flooding in my native area.

PMP: Well, we’ll give a free pass to one termite, I think. Because you are so helpful, I am sure our industry won’t mind that you made it back.

T: Thank you. Yeah, this spring I watched a bunch of our swarmers fall prey to hungry birds. Geez, every turn seems to have a danger.

PMP: Let’s get to it. You mentioned heat in the soil. In general, people believe that the warmer the soil, the more active you are. Is that correct?

T: Well, it is hard to define “active.” But there was one report by a researcher who monitored the temperature of the soil and control using a popular soil termiticide. The theory was that more control equated to termite activity.

Greg Baumann

Greg Baumann

PMP: Interesting. What did they find?

T: Surprisingly, effectiveness or efficacy was best just under a soil temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit. As the soil cools, uptake was less; hotter soil meant that we slow down.

PMP: Wow! That will be news to a lot of readers. Let’s shift gears and talk about reproductives. While many people believe a termite colony has a single queen, are there instances where there are multiple queens?

T: That’s a matter of definition. Most colonies have a single queen and king; however, depending on the species, there may be multiple royal couples — or at least, many other reproductives in the colony. These secondary reproductives may even produce more eggs than the queen. Their functions are the same, but the designation “queen” usually is reserved for the original queen that started the colony. So technically, there might be one queen, but there also are several producing reproductives there, too.

PMP: That’s fascinating. At one time, the industry used to say “Gotta get the queen,” but that’s not really true. A termite colony is somewhat like a society, isn’t it, with the haves and have-nots?

T: Um, that might be why we are called social insects, right?

PMP: Fair point. Here’s something else we want to know: Some people believe termites can “smell” slightly rotted wood, and that is like a dinner bell for the workers. Is that correct?

T: Believe it or not, a researcher where subterranean termites are very common took some rotted wood and extracted what he thought might be a chemical to see whether the termites were attracted to it. What he found is that termites don’t have a sense of “smell,” but when they encountered the extract, they did follow that trail.

PMP: So that means that perhaps someday, the extract could be produced synthetically and used as a lure.

T: Perhaps, but of course, we termites hope not.

PMP: This is the last question. Some work has been done using termites as biofuel. Have you heard of that?

T: That’s disgusting, from my point of view! But yes, I did hear about that. It could show promise, but that’s a lot of termites for a gallon, don’t you think?

PMP: Well, all great accomplishments start as just an idea.

T: OK, I’ll concede that.

PMP: Thanks. Might we expect you back for a future interview?

T: Hmm. Your industry just keeps getting better and better at termite control, but if I can avoid the baits, the liquids, the wood treatments and the monitors, I’ll be back.

About the Author

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Greg Baumann is Vice President, Technical Services & Regulatory Affairs for Nisus Corp.

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