Termites: Know Your Enemy

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Termites: Know Your Enemy

What are termites?

Termites are insects of superlatives.
Termites appear to have been the first communal insects. They are one of the most wide-spread insects on the planet, occurring on every continent except Antarctica. They also have the longest lifespan of all insects, with queen termites reported to live for as long as 50 years.

Termites are extremely resilient.
Clear fossil evidence tells us termites have been around at least 100 million years, though there is less definitive evidence dating back 300 million years. This would mean that termites survived one, possibly two, of the worst mass-extinction events in the Earth’s history. It should come as no surprise that they are so difficult to get rid of.

Termites are not a type of ant.
Ants and termites belong to two separate orders of insects and their biology is also quite different. Ants, along with bees and wasps, are members of the order Hymenoptera, whereas termites, along with cockroaches, are members of the order Blattodea. Termites, thanks to symbiotic, cellulose-digesting gut microbes, can eat and digest wood. In contrast, Ants excavate tunnels in wood without eating it. Bore holes from tunnels excavated by ants will include wood shavings among the piles of waste, while those left by termites consist solely of fecal pellets. Luckily, for those of us who have no desire to pick through piles of insect waste, termites can be distinguished from ants based on the following physical characteristics:

  • The waist of termites is not very distinct, whereas ants have an extremely narrow waist
  • Termites have straight antennae with knobs on the end, while ants have elbowed antennae.
  • When wings are present, termites have four wings of equal length, while the wings of ants tend to be relatively shorter, and the fore wings are larger than the hind wings.
  • Worker ants tend to have a darker, often reddish, coloration, while termite workers are translucent and white or creamy-colored.

Termites are economically devastating.
Termites cause more than $5 billion in damage in the U.S. annually. Termite infestations in the Southwest account for $1.5 billion of that damage. If you reside in Scottsdale, San Tan Valley, Chandler, Gilbert, Phoenix, Mesa, or Tempe, AZ, and you suspect you have a termite infestation, contact Atomic Pest Control to prevent contributing to that figure further.

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