Termites are very small, pale insects that live in colonies with a Queen in a nest, similar to ant colonies. Although they are often called “white ants”, they are notants. Termites eat non-living, cellulose based material. This means they do not attack healthy, growing trees or plants. Normally they would eat dead trees, stumps and fallen logs or branches, but they will also eat seasoned timber, paper, cardboard and even piles of lawn clippings. (These materials are especially appealing if slightly damp or rotting).
There are many, many species of termite in Australia. Most just eat rotting logs, fallen branches etc and pose no threat to timber in buildings and other structures. Only a few species of Australian termites are likely to eat seasoned timber. When urban pest controllers use the term “subterranean termites”, or just “termites”, they are referring to these seasoned timber termites only. In particular, they do not mean “drywood termites”, FAMILY: KALOTERMITIDAE.
This name simply means termites that live and must always remain “below the ground”. Subterranean termites cannot survive exposed to air or light. This is an important point to remember in understanding termites and termite treatments. If subterranean termites meet an obstacle they cannot tunnel through (eg some rock, metal or certain plastics), they search for a way around it. If they must move out of the soil to go over the obstacle, they will build tiny mud tunnels that go over it and then back into hiding on the other side. (These mud tunnels are often called “termite workings”).
It is also important to remember that termites, like ants, live in colonies. These colonies are based in nests with a queen ever pumping out new termites. The nest may be several metres away from any termites found on your property. This means that killing a few termites that you may see WILL NOT solve the problem. There are hundreds more unseen termites right behind them! The entire colony must be destroyed.