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"Interesting" Termite Info:  

Everybody knows that termites can destroy a wood structure, but most people do not understand that the termite also contributes to the ecosystem and helps with nature in fertilizing the soils and keeping the environment free from fallen trees and dead leaves. Here is some interesting information about termites that nobody realizes. Termites out number the human population by about ten to one and live in over seventy percent of the world. Worker termites work without stopping and are basically blind. They find their way to wood by smelling the cellulose in the wood. The workers bring food back to the nests after constructing them, which is an intrigue design with airflow and ventilation systems unlike humankind could ever do. Scientist actually studies the mounds to inspect and learn from the termite on building buildings with the proper airflow and ventilation. Some believe that termites live for as long as forty years, being productive and reproductive. This accounts for the reason the population of termites reaches into the millions, if not billions. With the knowledge of these facts, we can appreciate the termites more, but we do not want them as visitors in our home. They do well in the wild, but can be so destructive in our homes and other buildings containing wood and this includes your lovely furniture you keep in your home or outside.

Termite FACTS:

Termites live in colonies that, at maturity, can number from several hundred to several million individuals. A typical colony contains nymphs (semi-mature young), workers, soldiers, and reproductive individuals of both genders, sometimes containing several egg-laying queens. Because of their wood-eating habits, termites sometimes do great damage to unprotected buildings and other wooden structures. Their habit of remaining concealed often results in their presence being undetected until the timbers are severely damaged and exhibit surface changes. Once termites have entered a building, they do not limit themselves to wood; they also damage paper, cloth, carpets, and other cellulosic materials. Particles taken from soft plastics, plaster, rubber, and sealants such as silicon rubber and acrylics are often employed in construction. Termites usually avoid exposure to unfavorable environmental conditions. They tend to remain hidden in tunnels in earth and wood. Where they need to cross an impervious or unfavorable substrate, they cover their tracks with tubing made of feces, plant matter, and soil. Sometimes these shelter tubes will extend for many feet. Your home and its surrounding environment can offer just the right combination of food, moisture and warmth to attract termites. A crack in the foundation as thin as an average business card (1/32”) is all the space termites need to move into your home. Areas of insufficient grading, which allow water to form in puddles around the foundation, as well as run-off moisture from air conditioning units and debris in crawl spaces, are all prime targets for termites. Inspections of your home by a licensed termite specialist can help identify clues of a termite invasion. The pattern in which Subterranean Termites feed on a piece of wood is hard to miss. These cellulose-loving insects can leave nothing behind but the wood grain. However, termite damage is usually hidden, due to the insects’ habit of eating the wood from the inside out.

The soldier caste has anatomical and behavioral specializations, providing strength and armor which are primarily useful against ant attack. The proportion of soldiers within a colony varies both within and among species. Many soldiers have jaws so enlarged that they cannot feed themselves, but instead, like juveniles, are fed by workers. Many species are readily identified using the characteristics of the soldiers' heads, mandibles, or nasus. Among the dry wood termites, a soldier's globular (phragmotic) head can be used to block their narrow tunnels. Termite soldiers are usually blind, but in some families, soldiers developing from the reproductive line may have at least partly functional eyes. It's generally accepted that the specialization of the soldier caste is principally a defense against predation by ants. The wide range of jaw types and phragmotic heads provides methods which effectively block narrow termite tunnels against ant entry. A tunnel-blocking soldier can rebuff attacks from many ants. Usually more soldiers stand by behind the initial soldier so once the first one falls another soldier will take the place. In cases where the intrusion is coming from a breach that is larger than the soldier's head, defense requires special formations where soldiers form a phalanx-like formation around the breach and blindly bite at intruders or shoot toxic glue from the nasus. This formation involves self-sacrifice because once the workers have repaired the breach during fighting, no return is provided, thus causing the death of all the defenders.

Worker termites undertake the labors of foraging, food storage, brood, nest maintenance, and some of the defense effort in certain species. Workers are the main caste in the colony for the digestion of cellulose in food and are the most likely to be found in infested wood. This is achieved in one of two ways. In all termite families except the Termitidae, there are flagellate protists in the gut that assist in cellulose digestion. Our knowledge of the relationships between the microbial and termite parts of their digestion is still rudimentary. What is true in all termite species, however, is that the workers feed the other members of the colony with substances derived from the digestion of plant material, either from the mouth or anus. This process of feeding of one colony member by another is known as trophallaxis and is one of the keys to the success of the group. It frees the parents from feeding all but the first generation of offspring, allowing for the group to grow much larger and ensuring that the necessary gut symbionts are transferred from one generation to another. Some termite species do not have a true worker caste, instead relying on nymphs that perform the same work without molting into a separate caste.

Termite workers are generally blind due to undeveloped eyes. Despite this limitation, they are able to create elaborate nests and tunnel systems using a combination of soil, chewed wood/cellulose, saliva, and feces. Some African and Australian species have mounds more than 4 meters high. The nest is created and maintained by workers with many distinct features such as housing the brood, water collection through condensation, reproductive chambers, and tunnel networks that effectively provide air conditioning and control the CO/O balance. A few species even practice agriculture, with elaborate fungal gardens which are fed on collected plant matter, providing a nutritious mycelium on which the colony then feeds.

Termites are generally grouped according to their feeding behavior. Thus, the commonly used general groupings are subterranean, soil-feeding, dry wood, damp wood, and grass-eating. Of these, subterranean and dry wood are primarily responsible for damage to human-made structures. Termites mostly feed on dead plant material, generally in the form of wood, leaf litter, soil, or animal dung, and about 10% of the estimated 4,000 species (about 2,600 taxonomically known) are economically significant as pests that can cause serious structural damage to buildings, crops or plantation forests. All termites eat cellulose in its various forms as plant fiber. Cellulose is a rich energy source (as demonstrated by the amount of energy released when wood is burned), but remains difficult to digest. Termites rely primarily upon symbiotic protozoa (metamonads) such as Trichonympha, and other microbes in their gut to digest the cellulose for them and absorb the end products for their own use. Gut protozoa, such as Trichonympha, in turn rely on symbiotic bacteria embedded on their surfaces to produce some of the necessary digestive enzymes. This relationship is one of the finest examples of mutualism among animals. Most so called "higher termites", especially in the Family Termitidae, can produce their own cellulase enzymes. However, they still retain a rich gut fauna and primarily rely upon the bacteria. Some species of termite practice fungiculture. They maintain a 'garden' of specialized fungi of genus Termitomyces, which are nourished by the excrement of the insects. When the fungi are eaten, their spores pass undamaged through the intestines of the termites to complete the cycle by germinating in the fresh fecal pellets. They are also well known for eating smaller insects in a last resort environment.   

So, what is Dry Rot? 

Dry rot (also known as brown rot) is one of the most severely damaging decaying forces on household wood in the world. Approximately 20 billion board feet of timber are destroyed by wood rot in the United States each year-- far more than is damaged annually by fire! Replacement wood used to repair damage caused by wood rot accounts for almost 10 percent of the annual wood production in the U.S. alone. Wood rot in general leads to about 17 billion dollars of damage each year in the United States.  

"Dry Rot" is a term most often used to describe a particular kind of dry, cracking, rotting wood. However, dry rot occurs because of a variety of brown rot species, most notably the "true" dry rot fungus known as Serpula lacrymans. It originally got its name from the thought that it did not need water to survive and used a fermentation process to survive. This has long since been proven untrue, and it is now more appropriately called "brown rot", although the old name hangs on. However, dry rot does need much less moisture than other types of wood rotting fungi -- a wood moisture content of at least 28-30% -- to survive. While there is no official proof on the subject, many contractors have observed that dry rot also will not grow on wood with too much moisture.

The Bad News and The Good News

  • While dry rot is not the most common type of rot, it can deal serious damage to your home and endure conditions that are too dry for other types of rot to thrive. In fact, up to a 75% loss in the toughness of the wood is possible with just a 1% decrease in the wood's weight of the wood.
  • Dry rot fungus spores are present in most homes and can survive for several years, waiting for the right conditions to grow.
  • Dry rot can pull moisture from moist areas to dry areas. It grows through mortar, concrete, masonry, and behind plaster.
  • Despite its name, dry rot needs moisture to produce spores-- at least 28-30% moisture content within the wood with a relative humidity of 95% or higher. Most softwood timbers in dry homes, especially in the upper levels, have a moisture content of 12-15%.
  • Dry rot problems can easily be solved by controlling moisture by sealing and dehumidifying the space.
  • Treatment of the wood products such as boric acid are known to eliminate and prevent dry rot fungi.