Of all termite species that are known pests of structural wood in the US, the eastern subterranean termite (Reticulitermes flavipes) inflicts the greatest amount of property damage due to its widespread habitat range. Unlike the small single-nest colonies established by drywood and dampwood termite species, subterranean termite colonies grow to contain between 20,000 and as many as five million individuals, all of which inhabit a multitude of associated nests.

As subterranean termite colonies grow in population size, the initial nest, or “primary nest” becomes too crowded. In response to this overcrowding, workers leave the primary nest to establish multiple sub-nests nearby. The primary nest and all sub-nests associated with a mature subterranean termite colony are interconnected by foraging tunnels to form an underground network of nests. A single network of nests associated with one eastern subterranean termite colony can span an area as large as an entire neighborhood or city block.

The total area that a mature subterranean termite colony occupies represents the colony’s foraging range, and a single eastern subterranean termite colony’s foraging range can cover more than 24,000 square feet or ½ acre. In regions where soil is moist and food in the form of plant waste is prevalent within soil, an eastern subterranean termite colony can continue growing indefinitely. Researchers have documented instances in which two eastern subterranean termite colonies of substantial size shared an overlapping foraging range, but subterranean termite workers generally maintain colony borders.

Due to their underground habitat, there is no easy way to monitor subterranean termite activity around urban and suburban structures. Despite this, urban entomologists and pest control professionals do not doubt that most homes and buildings in the northeast are located in close proximity to multiple eastern subterranean termite colonies. While there is no easy way to prevent subterranean termites from expanding their foraging range into neighborhoods and urban centers, pest control professionals can protect homes from infestations by applying a termiticide or physical barrier system around the perimeter of structures. Unlike chemical and physical barrier systems, baiting programs aim to destroy subterranean termite colonies on properties either before or after the pests inflict structural damage.

Are you familiar with the differences between baits and barriers for termite control?