Nelson Ruiz No Comments

Why Problematic Termites Are Beneficial In Times Of Drought

Why Problematic Termites Are Beneficial In Times Of Drought

Just about everyone is well aware of the fact that termites inflict significant damage to timber-framed structures, but fewer people are aware of the fact that termites consume wood in order to secure the nutritious cellulose that makes up all forms of plant material. Therefore, termites can also consume smaller wooden items, the paper in books or even champagne corks. Termite damage to structural wood is almost always inflicted by subterranean termites, while both dampwood and drywood termites are the most frequent culprits behind infestations found in smaller objects containing cellulose. Pest control professionals encounter subterranean termite infestations in structural wood far more often than they encounter drywood or dampwood infestations in smaller wooden objects. Subterranean termite damage to structures accounts for a majority of the economic costs of termite damage, which is around 5 billion dollars per year. While subterranean termites may be one of the most economically devastating insect pests that exist, they may also mitigate the negative effects of long-running droughts.

Scientists have long known that termites play an essential role in the health of the ecosystem, as they aerate soil with their subterranean tunneling activity and convert dead plant matter to fertile soil. But now, scientists have found evidence that termites allow soil to retain significant levels of moisture during times of drought. In a large forested area, researchers compared the moisture levels in soil that had been inhabited by subterranean termites with soil that had been free of termites. When droughts did not occur, moisture levels in each area of land remained the same, but during a 20 year drought, termite-inhabited soil retained enough moisture to allow for plant growth. Considering this finding, subterranean termites, although harmful to structures, can maintain a soil fertility during even the most significant of drought periods, thus allowing for the survival of economically valuable cropland.

Considering the above described study, do you believe that subterranean termite activity in crop-soil could be of benefit during dry spells?


Nelson Ruiz No Comments

Termites Can Monitor The Communication That Takes Place Between Termites Of Competing Species

Termites Can Monitor The Communication That Takes Place Between Termites Of Competing Species

While apex predators do exist, animals that exercise total dominance over a particular region’s resources are rare in nature. Unlike the very few apex predators that exist, most animal species are forced to indulge in frequent battles over resources, and these violent battles can be costly for species. It is for this reason that most animals dwell within particular locales that are free of other hostile animals. It is when animals forage away from their nests or shelters that they become faced with threats that could erupt into full blown battles. Considering the relatively small size of termites and the isolated and well fortressed nesting sites that they inhabit, the daily life of a termite clearly entails constant threats from other competing animals, especially ants. In addition to ants, termites face significant competition from other termite species. This is because most regions of the world, especially tropical regions, are home to a variety of different termite species, all of which are competing for the very same resources. Despite the naturally belligerent relationship that exists between most termites of different species, it is surprising to learn that multiple species often inhabit the same nesting site. As you can imagine, interspecies battles between termites occur frequently when they inhabit the same nest. However, by eavesdropping on their more dominant subterranean counterparts, drywood termites can escape from violent encounters before they occur.

It may seem odd that competing termite species may dwell within the same nest, but sometimes, having access to the resources that a nest provides outweighs the risk of falling victim to a violent encounter with an enemy species. However, researchers have long been confused by the presence of drywood termites in pieces of wood that are dominated by a far greater number of subterranean termites. Drywood termite colonies grow to contain a few hundred individual termites, but subterranean termites dwell within colonies containing millions of individual termites. Considering this, it would seem that drywood termites are at a tremendous disadvantage, but how do they continue to survive within such a hostile environment? As it turns out, the Cryptotermes secundus species of drywood termite is blessed with the ability to recognize the vibro-acoustic communication signals that take place between their nearby subterranean enemies, the Coptotermes acinaciformis species. The drywood termites of this species are attracted to their own vibration signals, but they are repelled by the vibrations produced by subterranean termites. In fact, as a cohabitated piece of wood becomes smaller as a result of constant feeding, the drywood termites become progressively more repelled by the vibration signals produced by their subterranean enemies. This makes sense considering that the chances of falling victim to a subterranean termite attack increases as the piece of infested wood becomes smaller. To put it simply, these drywood termites indulge in espionage in order to gain an advantage over their more powerful subterranean enemies.

Do you think that subterranean termites are capable of differentiating between their own vibration signals and those of other species?



Nelson Ruiz No Comments

A Massive Art Exhibition Is Allowing Visitors To Explore Termite Habitats From A Termite’s Perspective

You probably have not heard many artists claim to have been inspired by insects, let alone termites, but one famous artist, Nicholas Mangan, is an exception in this regard. Mangan has recently contributed an art display to the Taipei Fine Arts Museum as a part of the museum’s exhibit titled: Post Nature–A Museum as an Ecosystem. Most of Mangan’s work highlights aspects of the ecosystem that many people are unfamiliar with. For example, Mangan’s latest exhibit focuses on the positive effect that termites have on the ecosystem.

Mangan is calling his exhibit Termite Economics, and it consists of 3D printed models of different termite habitats, including nesting mounds, earthen tunnel networks and dwelling chambers within blocks of wood. All of his 3D models were constructed from plaster, dirt, synthetic polymer paint, and plywood. In addition to the habitat models, Mangan also commissioned drone footage of particular regions of Australia’s arid landscape where termites are known to be active. This footage is played on a continuous loop in order to provide spectators with a termite’s point of view as it navigates terrain and approaches its nest. The footage is played on a computer that is situated amongst Mangan’s models. This exhibition was inspired by current termite research being conducted by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, or CSIRO.

Researchers working for CSIRO are currently studying how subterranean termites can lead humans toward rare mineral sources that are located far below the ground where they cannot be viewed by humans. Mangan believes that CSIRO research shows how social cooperation among termites allows the insects to achieve feats that are beyond human capabilities, such as complicated mound architecture, and in this case, mining, so to speak. Mangan’s exhibit allows people to understand how the mining and world-building capability of termites reflects manmade economic systems and social hierarchies. For Mangan, a termite colony is like a tiny universe that closely resembles human sociality.

Do you believe that termite sociality is similar to human sociality?

Nelson Ruiz No Comments

Termites May Have Infested The Primitive Dwellings Built By Ancient American Indians

Termites May Have Infested The Primitive Dwellings Built By Ancient American Indians

Termites are among the oldest of all insect groups, so these destructive pests must have been known to ancient humans. It can be assumed that ancient peoples dreaded termites just as much as moderns do. In fact, there exists evidence to suggest that termites may have infested the primitive homes constructed by Native Americans thousands of years ago.

It is not uncommon for archeologists to recover ancient termite fecal pellets from dig sites. Back in 1984, an entomologist correctly identified a mysterious and tiny object that had been unearthed in Arizona. This object was a prehistoric fecal pellet, and it originated from an area of Arizona that contains remnants of ancient living structures that had been built by Native Americans at least ten centuries ago. Although this termite pellet, and many others, were well-preserved, it was determined that the pellet had been burned, possibly as a result of burning firewood that contained termite colonies. It was also determined that the fecal pellets had been expelled by either drywood or dampwood termites.

Unlike subterranean termites, which dwell within soil, both drywood and dampwood termites live out their entire lives within one single piece of wood. For these termites, their home is also their food source, therefore, foraging is not necessary for these termites. The drywood termite pellets found within the ancient structures did not exactly resemble the fecal pellets that are expelled by modern wood-dwelling termites in Arizona. While this finding is peculiar, researchers are more interested in how the drywood termites came to be associated with ancient Native American dwellings. One theory states that ancient Native Americans burned and stored firewood that contained termites. Another theory states that termites infested certain wood and plant materials that were used to construct ancient structures.

In Snowflake and Phoenix, Arizona, termite fecal pellets were unearthed from ancient fire pits. Pueblo and Anasazi Native American tribes were known for using wood and plant materials for constructing the side walls and roofs of their largely mud-constructed homes. Many of these woody plant materials likely contained termites before they were collected as construction materials. However, researchers have not yet found direct evidence of ancient termite infestations within the woody plant materials contained within ancient prehistoric homes unearthed in Arizona, but a termite presence within ancient firewood seems certain.

Do you believe that termites have been viewed as pests for as long as humans have been using wood to build homes?

Nelson Ruiz No Comments

Termites Are Threatening Mexican Vacation Homes

Termites Are Threatening Mexican Vacation Homes Owned By Americans

Mexico is a common destination for American expats during the winter season. Most American expats in Mexico are retired senior citizens, and some simply own second homes in the country. Although taking annual winter vacations in a tropical paradise would be nice, the country’s termite problems should be taken into account before any American purchases a home in the country. Unfortunately, both termite control professionals and reliable termite control methods are relatively difficult to come by in Mexico. Not only is it comparatively more difficult to find assistance with eradicating termites from infested homes in Mexico, but the scientific literature concerning native and invasive termite species in the country is almost non-existent. According to the United Nations, studies concerning termite diversity and termite ecology in Mexico have never been carried out. Therefore, buying a Mexican timber-framed home that will remain uninhabited for most of the year can be a bit of a gamble in termite-rich Mexico. For example, back in 2011, officials with the Mexican Government worried that Americans would avoid purchasing Mexican homes due to a termite-induced property recession that had been occuring at the time. Property purchases in the country continued to take a hit after the United States Government, which was also experiencing a property recession at the time, warned Americans against buying homes in Mexico.

You would be surprised by how many American expats in Mexico have struggled with the country’s native termite population. The rainy season in Mexico causes an influx of termite swarms in well populated cities at a time of year when American snowbirds are typically not around to monitor possible termite activity on their mexican property. Subterranean termites are a major problem in Mexico, just as they are in America, but surprisingly, drywood termites are almost equally as destructive in the country. Drywood termites in Mexico can be as large as ants, and they attack a variety of different portions of a home as well as various forms of infrastructure such as untreated softwoods, particle board, paper, plastic, cardboard, and even insulation around pipes. Unfortunately, many homes in Mexico were not constructed to survive termite attacks, as untreated timber is often used to construct homes on termite-rich soil that is never treated with insecticides. Much of the furniture that is bought and sold within Mexico is also constructed with untreated lumber. The shipping of termite-infested furniture items is a serious issue in Mexico due to the lack of treated wood available in the country. In fact, it is even recommended that paper grocery bags and cardboard packaging be immediately and safely disposed of in Mexico due to the probability of a termite presence in such materials.

Do you think that the availability of termite control professionals in Mexico may be greater in regions that see many tourists?

Nelson Ruiz No Comments

How Do Termite Colonies Respond To Overpopulation And Underpopulation In The Nest?

If you have always found insects to be fascinating, then you may have noticed that not many people share your enthusiasm for creepy-crawlies. For many people, insects are nothing more than annoying, disgusting or even dangerous pests. While insects may not make for the best topic of conversation at parties, the capabilities of some insect species are nothing short of impressive. For ages, people of all types have marveled over the group of insects that are today referred to as “eusocial insects,” or simply, “social insects.” These insects are well known for living in colonies that operate according to a caste system. Social insects include bees, ants, wasps and termites. All social insect types are unique and very different from typical solitary insects, even dreaded termites. In fact, many experts regard termites as being the most unique of all social insects, as some species build towering and castle-like structures that are known as “mounds.” A mound is only one type of termite nest. For example, some termite nests are located entirely underground, while other nests exist within pieces of wood or on tree limbs. Termite nests may differ, but the colonies that exist within termite nests are quite similar in functioning, no matter the species being considered.

Termites are divided into three groups within a colony. These different groups, or castes, are known as workers, soldiers and reproductives, but all termites are genetically identical upon hatching as nymphs. Although scientists still have much to learn about how caste-differentiation occurs as termites age, it is well understood that a colony’s population must be constantly regulated by the queen’s pheromones so that productivity is not hampered by overpopulation or underpopulation. In the vast majority of cases, there exists only one reproductive queen and king in each colony, and the ratio of soldiers to workers must be closely monitored and regulated by queens. In case a worker or soldier dies or becomes lost, one of the many underdeveloped nymphs that are kept on reserve within a colony begin to develop into either workers or soldiers in order to replace the missing termites. In cases where one caste becomes overpopulated, selective cannibalism occurs in order to restore a colony’s proper balance. If massive amounts of soldier and worker termites die during a predatory attack, a queen sends a chemical message to nymphs in order to prompt their maturation into a soldier or worker. It has been theorized that these chemical messages, or pheromones, activate an organ near a nymph’s brain that prompts the release of the hormones responsible for making nymphs grow into soldiers or workers. This organ is known as the “corpora allata,” but experts still aren’t sure if hormones are the only bodily chemicals responsible for causing nymphs to suddenly mature into full workers or soldiers.

Has a particular insect species ever inspired you to study insects?

Nelson Ruiz No Comments

Now That The Monsoon Season Has Arrived, Termites Are Swarming In Arizona

Now That The Monsoon Season Has Arrived, Termites Are Swarming In ArizonaSubterranean Termites in Arizona

Many people probably assume that monsoon season in the southwest United States is just as unpleasant as the winter season in Minnesota. It is not uncommon to hear uninformed individuals comparing monsoons to hurricanes, as if they are similar climatic events. Some people believe that monsoons are enormous title waves, as confusing monsoons with tsunamis is inexplicably common. The truth is, unless you live in the American southwest, you have no reason for knowing what a monsoon is. Monsoons are basically heavy rainstorms that occur within desert regions. As you can imagine, residents of the American southwest find respite in the heavy rainfall that occurs every year during the months of July and August. However, monsoon season also comes with a few negatives. For example, the heavy rainfall that occurs during monsoon season increases termite activity, especially drywood termite activity. Currently in southern Arizona, the region’s monsoon season is causing drywood termites to swarm.

Most people are well aware of the fact that subterranean termites are the most destructive type of termite. No matter which region of North America you find yourself in, subterranean termites are more abundant than drywood and dampwood termites. If a pest control operator is called to a termite infested house within the dry, hot Arizona desert, then there is nearly a 100% chance that the pest control operator will end up using the particular insecticides that kill subterranean termites. Both drywood and dampwood termite eradication efforts require particular insecticides that do not work on subterranean termites. This is exactly why identifying the type of termite responsible for structural damage is key, especially during monsoon season when drywood termites suddenly begin to swarm.

Every year, monsoons in Arizona cause termites to come out of their well-hidden habitats. Termites are drawn to three things: moisture, heat, and, of course, wood. These three things are abundant within the natural environment that is located within the particular area of Tucson known as Pantano Wash. This area of Tucson is free from residential developments, which is why swarms of drywood termites have been spotted numerous times in the area. However, this area will soon undergo rapid construction, which will inevitably lead to drywood termite infestations in future structures.

Are you seeing an increase in termite activity in the region where you live?

Nelson Ruiz No Comments

The Islands Within The Okavango Delta Were Created By Termites | Termite Control

The Islands Within The Okavango Delta Were Created By Termites | Termite Control

The world is full of remarkable land formations that capture the fascination of many people, particularly scientists. Some land formations are mysterious in that researchers have yet to understand how they were formed. Land formations that are commonly found to be awe inspiring stand a good chance of making it onto the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. Unbelievably, termites are credited with contributing to two different types of land formations. These land formations include the famous fairy circles in Africa and the islands located in the Okavango Delta in northern Botswana. The fact that termite activity is largely responsible for these land formations has only recently been understood by scientists. The islands in the Okavango Delta in northern Botswana were not only made by termites, but the Okavango Delta was recently added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

In order to have a land formation be considered as an UNESCO World Heritage site the area must be deemed to have “outstanding universal value”, and the islands located within the Okavango Delta certainly qualify. The land formations are unique because they are essentially small islands located in a wetland in the middle of the desert. This particular delta is also strange in that it does not flow into the ocean. The islands could only have been formed by multiple ecological factors that rarely work together to create land formations.

When it comes to the formation of the delta’s islands, termites are the factor that scientists had never considered until fairly recently. The islands began as termite mounds that eventually grew trees and formed into islands. As the trees grew, more water and nutrients were brought up to the surface in order to nurture the tree’s growth. After awhile this process drained the delta of water, but the water was replaced by water from nearby floodplains. Researchers believe that most islands within Botswana’s deltas originated as termite mounds.

Have you ever visited a delta containing islands that were most likely formed by early termite mound building activity?

Nelson Ruiz No Comments

How Do Termites Successfully Escape From Predators?

How Do Termites Successfully Escape From Predators?

Since termites are relatively small organisms, you would think that they would stand almost no chance of surviving an encounter with a predator. Surprisingly, a termite’s small size affords them many advantages during predatory attacks. For example, subterranean termites, as their name suggests, spend most of their time below the ground’s surface where predators cannot reach them. Despite this advantage, subterranean termites still need to beware of predators that also burrow within the soil. Other types of termites, most of which are non-soil dwellers, such as many drywood and dampwood termite species, dwell within pieces of dead or living timber.

Termites protect themselves by avoiding exposure to the outside world as much as possible. Termite-built nesting structures, tunnels and mud tubes keep termites hidden from their predators. However, termites are sometimes attacked within the wood and nests that they inhabit. When termites are a

ttacked within these shelters, researchers cannot possibly observe their escape strategies. Luckily, the black-winged termite species is in a unique position to shed more light on the methods of escape used by termites under attack.

The black-winged termite is native to southeast Asia, and they are known for building mud tubes along the length of trees from the crown to the routes. Given this termite’s exposure to predators during mud tube construction, researchers are able to observe how this termite escapes from predatory attacks.

Past studies that focused on termite escape behaviors could only be conducted within laboratories. These lab studies showed that termites escaped from predators immediately, but the recent field study showed termites indulging in a “wandering behavior” in response to an attack. Wandering behavior has been observed in other animals under similar hostile conditions. Socially inclined animals that move in herds may take time to develop a team strategy for escape, and this can look like wandering to observers. An individual termite may feel restrained from escaping alone from a predator if the colony is still in danger. In a termite’s case, the survival of the colony is more important than individual survival. This may explain why individual termites escape at lower speeds than termites escaping in groups. In this case, the slow-moving individual termite may be more focused on serving or regrouping with its colony rather than successfully escaping from a predator. Immediately after a predatory attack, termites may also wonder in order to survey the outside conditions before making a getaway. Finding safe places in the environment to hide is a necessity for termites that were born and raised within nests.

Have you ever seen a group of termites fleeing in response to a disturbance?

Phoenix Termite Control Experts

Swarming Termites Are Harassing Pedestrians Around The Daniel Boone Hotel

Every year toward the beginning of the summer season, winged termites vacate their nests in order to establish new colonies as queens and kings. Swarming termites cannot harm humans, but that does not stop them from annoying homeowners, tourists, and random pedestrians. Termite swarms are particularly easy to spot in the southeast, where the subtropical humid climate allows termites to thrive. As the month of June progresses, termite swarming activity begins to occur in more northern states.

For the past month, the internet has been constantly reporting on the unusually frequent termite swarms occuring in southern states this year. Now, these annoying swarms have reached the state of Kentucky where they are harassing pedestrians in one downtown area. In the town of Whitesburg, pedestrians are being rattled by swarming termites that are coming from one particular building. The historic Daniel Boone Hotel is currently being renovated, but that is not stopping termites from inhabiting the premises. It is in this hotel where many of the troublesome termite swarms have been originating.

One resident of Whitesburg, Medra Blair Bowen, posted a video to Facebook that shows numerous termites coating the outer hotel wall, as well as the sidewalk below the wall. Bowen posted a caption below the video that demanded something be done with the hotel so that downtown pedestrians won’t be forced to dodge termite swarms. Bowen is also concerned with the likelihood of her business succumbing to a termite infestation.

Bowen owns an insurance agency that is adjacent to the hotel, and she knows first hand how troublesome the termites have been for her customers and pedestrians in the downtown area. Bowen claims that she and many other nearby business owners called hotel managers in order to complain about the lack of pest control treatments being applied to the building. Initially, the managers did nothing in response to the several complaints. However, once she posted the video, pest control professionals were seen spraying the building the next day.

The Mayor of Whitesburg has stated that termite swarms are common and harmless in this region around this time of year, and that neither the hotel nor any other nearby buildings have become infested. Despite these claims, Bowen believes that buildings located near the hotel are still at risk for termite infestations since the termite spray had not been applied to the interior of the the Daniel Boone Hotel.

Do you believe that it is the local government’s responsibility to protect businesses from termite infestations in this case? Should the local government be able to legally require the owners of the Daniel Boone Hotel to have termite inspections conducted?