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Termites are Still a Threat in the Colder Months

While it is true that most insect activity subsides with colder weather, termites are still quite active and still pose a constant threat to our property.

Subterranean termites are a social insect, which means that the colony has a caste structure (not unlike bees and ants). There are kings, queens, alates, nymphs, soldiers, and workers (it is the worker caste which causes damage to our property). In the colder weather, the workers will travel smaller distances for food, as the colony draws more of the population back to the nest in order to control the nest temperature. Therefore the distance of your property to the nest, dictates a major part of your risk factor at this time of the year, and as a result it is important to know what a termite nest looks like.

Identifying termite nests

In some cases, the termite nest may be totally underground, and therefore impossible to detect with the naked eye (this is when a termite monitoring/baiting system is useful). However other termite nests are quite obvious when you know what to look for.

  • Arboreal termites often have very obvious nests which look like a big dark coloured mound up in the tree branches, equally obvious are the mud mound nests found on the ground.
  • Termites will often nest in dead trees or stumps and therefore it is very important to have dead trees and stumps completely removed from your property.
  • The more voracious termite species can often nest within a living tree, and it is not until you look very closely at the outer bark that you discover what lies within.

Termites are soft bodied animals, and cannot be exposed to the open air for a prolonged period without drying up and dying, therefore if there is any point where air can enter the nest, they will seal it off with mud. In addition the termites create “swarm cuts” in the tree which they temporarily seal off with mud. These are later used in humid weather for the release of the winged reproductive caste (the alates).

The telltale signs to look for on a living tree is therefore any mudding on the outer bark layers. Generally if a tree is less than 30 centimetres in diameter at the base, it will be too small to contain a termite nest, however nothing should be discounted including the species of tree.

A nest of subterranean termites in a Turpentine treeThe photo at right is of a “Turpentine” tree which appears quite healthy. I don’t often find termite nests in “Turpentine’s”, however this one did contain a nest of subterranean termites, and is less than 15 metres from a brand new house.

I drilled into the root crown area and took a temperature reading which confirmed the presence of the nest. By a bit more drilling and a few more temperature readings, I was able to locate the colony centre which then allowed me to minimise the amount of insecticide used to eliminate the nest. After a period of three weeks had passed, I re-tested the temperature, which confirmed that the nest had been eliminated. It has now been a few months since the treatment, and the tree is looking even healthier than ever. In addition the source of the risk element to the property has been eliminated, a great result all-round.

If the home owner is unsure if their trees contain termite nests or not, then I would always recommend involving a professional and following the local council regulations regarding trees (especially if removal or pruning is required).





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