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Most pest species of subterranean termites in North America belong to the endemic genus Reticulitermes. Reticulitermes species are found in every states in the continental United States except Alaska, but are most common in the warm and humid southeastern region. The eastern subterranean termite, R. flavipes is the most widely distributed and is found in the entire eastern region of North America as far north as Ontario, Canada, and south to Key Largo, Florida. Its counterpart, the western subterranean termite, R. hesperus Banks, is found along the entire Pacific Coast ranging from southern California to British Columbia. Reticulitermes tibialis occurs in the inter-mountain region of the West. In addition to R. flavipes, two other Reticulitermes occur in Florida, R. virginicus, and R. hageni.

Description and Identification

Because of their cryptic nature, structural infestations of subterranean termites are usually not visible. Most people become aware of an infestation when annual flights of winged termites (called alates) occur in structures. The alates of R. flavipes and R. virginicus are dark brown, while those of R. hageni are yellowish brown. Alates of R. flavipes are generally larger (approximately 0.4" long including wings) than those of R. virginicus or R. hageni (approximately 0.3" long). Alate wings of Reticulitermes species have two hardened and thickened veins that are visible along the entire front end, but lack the small hairs that are characteristic of the Formosan subterranean termite, Coptotermes formosanus Shiraki. After indoor flights, most alates are found dead near windows or in sinks and bath tubs - usually with their wings still attached.

Indoor swarm of eastern subterranean termite, Reticulitermes flavipes (Kollar).

As with other termite species, Reticulitermes colonies contain three primary castes; the reproductives (king, queen, alates, alate nymphs, and supplementary reproductives), soldiers, and workers. Alates and soldiers are used for species identification

                                          LIFE CYCLE OF SUBTERRANEAN TERMITES

Soldiers of subterranean termites (Rhinotermitidae) are distinguished from those of drywood termites  by their smaller size and the relative width of the pronotum. In subterranean termites, the pronotum (segment immediately behind the head) is narrower than the head, while in kalotermidis they are equally as wide. Eastern subterranean soldiers are further distinguished from those of Formosan subterranean by the rectangular-shaped head of the former compared to the oval-shaped head of the latter.

                                            Formosan Soldier                       Eastern SUB Soldier          

Subterranean termites form a network of interconnected feeding sites beneath or above the soil surface. A single colony of subterranean termites, especially those of  Eastern Subs, may contain 100,000 - 1,000,000 termites and forage up to 150 feet in search of food (Su et al. 1993). When subterranean termites search for food aboveground, they may enter a house through small cracks or joints in the foundation, or by building shelter tubes along the foundation wall. These tubes are highways connecting the underground termite population with aboveground food sources.

                                                                     SHELTER TUBES


Because termites consume cellulose, the main structural components of plant cells, any wood material in a house is a potential food source, but they may also damage non-wood material in search of food. Because termites rarely show themselves in the open, infestations can be difficult to detect until damage becomes severe. In addition to the presence of alates and shelter tubes, wood material can be probed with a screw driver or ice pick to locate infested wood. The surface of severely damaged wood may appear blistered or peeling, as termites hollow out the wood leaving a paper-thin surface. Eastern subs tend to cover the wood they feed upon with soil, thus giving wood a more "dirty" appearance than Formosan Termites-infested wood. However, it is not advisable to identify the termite species based solely on damage as there are many exceptions.

                                                TERMITE INSPECTION AND CONTROL

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