Unlike drywood and dampwood termites, subterranean termites forage and nest soil. Considering that their habitat lies below the ground’s surface, tracking the movements of subterranean termites is very difficult. In fact, it is their cryptic habitat that has prevented researchers from studying subterranean termite behavior in detail, as there exists no easy way to monitor the behavior of insects that dwell well below the ground’s surface. However, researchers have determined that subterranean termites can travel at least as far as 50 feet below the earth’s surface. Termite workers and soldiers from almost all subterranean termite species are blind, as their pitch dark habitat makes eyesight a pointless sensory ability. The inability to track their movements is one reason as to why subterranean termites are far more destructive than their drywood and dampwood counterparts. After all, if subterranean termite movements across land could be monitored, then far fewer homes and buildings would sustain damage from these insects. Subterranean termites reach new territories by two means, foraging and seasonal migratory flights by winged reproductives (alates).
Termite alates can clearly be observed swarming to new locations to start colonies, but observing these flights does not help much in the effort to track termite movements. This is because termite swarms do not cover much ground, and most alates die while swarming, but termite swarms can reveal where existing termite colonies are located. Also, termite swarms only occur during one or two months out of the year, which does not help experts keep regular tabs on termite movements. It is when termites are foraging that they make unseen advances into new territories that may contain timber-framed homes and buildings. Termites travel the greatest distances by foraging, and this foraging expands termite colonies into new urban and suburban areas. For example, studies have shown that one single subterranean termite colony can have a foraging zone that covers a few thousand square meters of ground, and can contain five to seven million termites that do nothing but forage. Not surprisingly, researchers have long been working to develop technological methods for tracking subterranean termite movements in an effort to prevent the insects from inflicting damage to homes and buildings.
Do you think that monitoring subterranean termite movements can ever be possible?