Subterranean termites, unlike dampwood and drywood termites, travel through ground soil in search of food sources. When worker termites locate a food source, they release trail-pheromones to guide other workers to the site before they all transport the food items back to the colony. Occasionally, subterranean termites will stumble upon a home where they access structural wood by means of mud tubes. Considering their obscured dwelling conditions beneath the ground’s surface, researchers have long struggled to observe termite foraging behavior. Even today, research studies that describe the size of a subterranean termite colony’s foraging range remains sparse.

While it is known that subterranean termites often locate timber-framed homes while foraging, it is not well understood how this species is able to cover more ground than other subterranean termite species. Researchers are still curious as to what dispersal method subterranean termites rely on in order to access new food sources, particularly a home’s structural wood. By learning more about subterranean termite dispersal, researchers can develop more effective preventative termite control methods.

Not long ago, a group of researchers studied eastern subterranean termite colonies in Massachusetts in order to shed more light on their cryptic underground foraging behaviors. According to researchers, encounters between foraging workers from different eastern subterranean termite colonies occur often, and by working together, they are able to cover more ground. This intercolony cooperation allows subterranean termites to avoid foraging in areas that have already been cleared by foreign workers from other colonies, thus allowing eastern subterranean termites to rapidly disperse into new areas of Massachusetts.

This cooperative method of dispersal is only possible due to the eastern subterranean termite species relative tolerance of foreign colony members, which is a behavior that is not shared by most other termite species. Resorting to inter-colony cooperation in order to avoid wasting time foraging in areas that have already been cleared of food, may be the reason why eastern subterranean termites are the most widely distributed and most common termites found infesting homes in the US.

Have you ever found termite mud tubes on a home?