If you’re finding termite activity in your home, medicine the first question that comes to most people’s minds is “How?” How did these termites end up in your home? Or even in New Jersey, for that matter? In a world filled with Argentine Ants, German Cockroaches and Norway Rats, how did termites get to the Northeast, particularly New Jersey? Easy answer to that, they were always here!
Most commensal pests that we deal with, like their names might imply, are imported from Europe in much the same way our goods, livestock and produce have been transported from Europe. Not so with Termites. Let’s take a quick look at this pervasive and usually beneficial insect in New Jersey.
The particular species of termite we have here in New jersey is the Eastern Subterranean Termite (Reticulitermes flavipes). The “EST” is native to the eastern seaboard of North America and ranges from Florida to Maine and as far west as Texas. Fortunately, our local ecosystem is home to only one species of termite so New Jersey residents don’t have different types of termites to deal with. The Eastern Subterranean Termite lives in large colonies of thousands of individuals, sometimes colonies can number over a million! Individual worker termites are small, white, almost grub like insects. Termites have often been described as “worms” or “small grubs” in wood, as a matter of fact “termite” is a derivative of a Latin word meaning “wood worms”.
Termite colonies have different roles for individuals to fulfill, workers are certainly the most numerous but the colony cannot live without its Queen. The King and Queen Termite, also known as the “primary reproductives”, are the control center of the termite colony. Not only does the queen lay the eggs to spawn generations of workers and soldiers, she also gives out the command chemicals that termites use to communicate with each other. Without this chemical control from the Queen, the colony would break down unless the colony was able to replace the queen.
Besides the workers and the primary reproductives, there are two other types of termites found in a colony, soldiers and secondary reproductives. These two groups compose less than 10% of the total number of insects in the colony. As you may have guessed, soldiers are required for the defense of the colony and have darkened heads and large strong jaws. Secondary reproductives are sexually mature termites and most often have wings used in an annual reproductive flight, or swarm, that takes place in the early spring. If king or queen termite dies, oftentimes a secondary reproductive will be “promoted” and become the new king or queen. Also in larger colonies, sometimes there will be multiple females laying eggs to assist the queen.
If you’d like to know a little bit more about the eastern Subterranean Termite or its relatives, click here.