FEBRUARY
1988

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

02-18-88

Termites: Nature's Wood Destruction Crew

In nature's grand scheme of things, insects have many jobs, for example, clean-up detail. Being on the clean-up crew may not be your idea of a good time, but it's a job that has to be done. Can you imagine what the world would be like if dead plants and animals remained on the surface of the earth? Combine this with the paper and beverage containers that we humans throw on the roadsides and you've got a real mess. Therefore, be thankful that clean-up is a way of life for some insects!

Termites are one of the insect cleaner-uppers. Their job is to help rid the world of dead trees. Termites destroy wood by eating it. However, eating wood is one thing, digesting it is another. To aid in wood digestion, termites have in their guts protozoa, which are microorganisms that break down cellulose.

All of this is a nice plan. However, when humans started building structures out of wood, the termites continued to do their ecological task. To a termite, dead wood is dead wood! It matters not that the wood is part of the finest house on the best street in town. Of course, when termites attack houses, people become hostile a~~ call the little creatures pests and try and get rid of them.

Ogden Nash recognized the economic importance of termites as structural pests when he penned the following:

Some primal termites knocked on wood
And tasted it, and found it good,
And that is why your cousin May
Fell through the parlor floor today.

To many homeowners the thought of termites is a sober one indeed. In the springtime, at least in the case of termites, what has been out of sight comes to mind. It is in the spring that termites swarm. Swarming is a process where termites leave the underground nest chambers and disperse. This is one time in the year when the termites can be readily seen. But they can be easily confused with ants, which also swarm.

If termites are detected in a home, the best approach for control is to select a termite control service. However, do not panic! Termites work slowly, so you have time to purchase the service at your convenience. Also, choose a reliable firm; the termite business is one that is attractive to fly-by-night businesses.

Based on fossil records, termites are one of the oldest insects. So when termites eat the wood from which we have fashioned our houses, they are doing what comes naturally, as they have for the last 350 million years or so!

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Steve Cain