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Soon after rain showers, swarms of flying termites, alates or winged reproductive’s, emerge from their underground nests during summer evenings. When sufficiently distant from the parent nest, they land, shrug off their wings, and scout about for a mate. The pair then excavates a burrow to start a new colony. A week after swarming, the female lays her first eggs, which are tended by the couple, a task soon taken over by the maturing workers. After some four months, the nest is sufficiently developed to send foraging workers to the surface. For the next few years, most of the eggs develop into workers and a small number of soldiers. When the nest is sufficiently large, winged reproductive’s again develop.
Subterranean termites can cause the most damage of any termite species. These termites build distinctive tunnels, often referred to as “mud tubes,” to reach food sources and protect themselves from open air. They eat wood 24 hours a day, seven days a week, using their saw-toothed jaws to bite off small fragments of wood one piece at a time. Over time, subterranean termites can critically damage a building structure, sometimes causing a total collapse. Subterranean termites threaten homeowners across the country, as they’re found across South Africa.
Why Do Termites Make Mud Tubes?
The two primary purposes behind the construction of a tube are shelter and ease of transportation. Many surfaces within a home are like walking on broken glass to delicate termite feet.
Protection is also needed because of the subterranean species of termite choosing not to live inside of the structure upon which it feeds. With this in mind, there are a few different varieties of tubes with different purposes.
Tubes for Exploring
Subterranean termites will initially start searching for viable wood sources with thin, fragile mud tubes. This type of tube is only meant to be used temporarily and will not usually be connected to a food source.
Tubes for Transportation
The most common type of tube is known as a working tube and this type may have active termites traveling through it if you brush away the soil. These tunnels are very thick and will typically branch out to various lanes for both food transport and lanes to repair any damage to the tunnel.
Tubes for Protection
A third type is known as a termite castle and this tunnel is incredibly wide (upwards of five feet in width) and is used primarily once a year. A castle is almost always surrounded by termite wings as this structure is only used to accommodate and protect swarming alates as they prepare to leave a colony.
You will likely see a termite with wings if you were to ever seek out activity in this type of mud tube. Each year, the alates are vulnerable to predators as they prepare to leave the colony, therefore, this temporary tunnel is constructed to protect the alates as they are guided by workers to exit holes within the castle.