Why Are Subterranean Termites Good For Ecosystems?

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Nobody wants to spend thousands of dollars getting rid of termites and repairing the damages they caused. But as much as these pests are typically known for damaging the structural integrity of homes and destroying many types of equipment, they actually have several benefits and positive contributions. In fact, subterranean termites are believed to be helpful in keeping the ecosystem working well.

So why are subterranean termites important for the environment? Subterranean termites offer several benefits to the ecosystem they belong to, including degrading woody debris, returning the nutrients to the adjacent soil, serving as an energy-rich food source for their natural predators, and preventing soil degradation, among others. 

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How Do Termites Help the Ecosystem?

Termites are one of the most destructive pests in the United States that homeowners might find in their homes. The costs of property damages caused by these critters pile up to $5 billion every year and most of them aren’t covered by insurance policies. Homeowners are forced to pay for everything out of their pocket.

Although termites can be a huge threat to human homes and other properties, they actually play a critical role in the ecosystem by offering the following benefits:

  • They Help Degrade Woody Debris – Subterranean termites have strong and saw-toothed jaws that allow them to easily cut through wood and break it into smaller pieces. They’re one of the few destructive species of insects that feed on woody components and debris, thanks to protozoa that live in their digestive system.
  • They Return Nutrients to the Soil – After consuming and digesting wood components, subterranean termites mix them with other substances such as inorganic clay particles and organic leaf litter inside their digestive tracts. When they defecate, their droppings become an important blend of nutrients that keep the soil fertile and healthy.
  • They’re a Food Source for Other Animals – Subterranean termites also serve as an energy-rich food source for several natural predators like birds, spiders, beetles, ants, wasps, frogs, lizards, and a few mammals.
  • They Help Prevent Soil Degradation – Subterranean termites help aerate the soil and improve its porosity as they burrow through it, allowing more rainwater to trickle down into the ground and maintain its moisture. The sticky excretions of these termites also hold the soil together to prevent degradation. 

When Do Subterranean Termites Become a Problem?

Subterranean termites usually infest fallen trees, stumps, and other kinds of rotting wood in contact with soil. Unlike dampwood termites and drywood termites, these social insects have their main colony in the soil because it gives them the moisture and other necessities they need to survive. 

However, they may also attack the wood structures of the foundation of a man-made building especially if they need additional food or space for their colony. Once they manage to reach the inside of a building, they feed on the structural wood and pieces of furniture there. These subterranean termites become a huge problem because of the severity of the damage they leave.

Unfortunately, most cases of subterranean termite infestations go unnoticed for years until the termite damage is already so severe that simple home remedies won’t be enough to get rid of them. Despite their small size, these silent destroyers can cause extensive damage with their hard and saw-like jaws. They easily bite off fragments of damaged wood into smaller digestible pieces until there’s nothing left.

Even a small termite colony of subterranean termites with a few thousand individual termites manage to consume about 5 grams of wood in a day. If left untreated for a couple of years, it’s possible for these subterranean termites to completely collapse a building and cost the property owner thousands of dollars on renovations and repairs. 

How To Recognize Signs of Subterranean Termite Infestation

Wooden structures and pieces are especially vulnerable to subterranean termite attacks if they’re old and untreated, and active infestations may happen inside or outside the house. Here are still a few telltale signs that indicate alarming subterranean termite activity in the property: 

Mud Tubes

Subterranean termites create mud tunnels that they use as pathways to travel from the food source to their underground colonies then back and forth. These tunnels also help maintain the moisture and temperature that the termites need as they forage.

Mud tunnels or earthen tubes are the same width as a pencil, which are found in a variety of locations, but mostly near the foundation of buildings. The tunnels are usually brown and dry in appearance that extends from the ground to the infested wood. They also come in many types, such as working tubes, exploratory tubes, and drop tubes. 

Live Termites and Swarmers

Subterranean termites are divided into 3 different types - specifically, workers, soldiers, and primary reproductives - that affect how they look, but their bodies are generally creamy white to black in color and long, narrow, and oval in shape. The reproductive termites include the colony’s queen, king, and alates. The queen is the largest among the other termites, including the king, soldiers, workers, and alates.

It’s easy to differentiate between soldier termites and worker termites by looking at the size of their jaws: workers have small jaws that are strong enough to chew wood and move materials around, while soldiers have large mandibles and rectangular heads.

Meanwhile, termite alates or swarmers are the winged termites responsible for creating new subterranean termite colonies during mating season. They usually appear during warm weather after the rain to pair up and find a suitable location for a new termite nest. Winged reproductives quickly come and go, so most homeowners only notice discarded wings near windows and wall edges after the swarming season. 

Hollow Walls and Sagging Floors

Damaged floors and walls are alarming signs of subterranean termite activity in the property. Once these pests find their way inside the wooden structures or foundation of the building, they eat the inside of it without damaging the surface.

The easiest way to find out if the walls and floors are already weak is if they start sagging or sounding hollow when knocked. It’s also common to find small holes when inspecting the walls and floors, because termites use them as entry points to burrow inside the dead wood. If there are large holes, then you might be dealing with carpenter ants and not subterranean termites. 

Peeling Paint

Subterranean termites may also attack drywall to eat the cellulosic materials and paper components there. When they do, they leave a space between the surface of the drywall and the paint, causing moisture to accumulate there. This eventually leads to peeling, cracking, or bubbling paint that requires replacement to look new again.

While there are lots of other factors to consider why the paint of the building’s drywall suddenly starts peeling, there’s a huge chance that termite activity is to blame especially if other signs of termite infestation are also present. For cases like this, it’s best to consult a pest management professional to perform a thorough examination of the property for possible subterranean termite infestation. 


Pellets or frass refer to termite droppings that these pests produce after burrowing through wooden structures. Subterranean termites create tiny holes on the wood to get rid of their droppings and keep their nests clean, so homeowners are likely to find termite droppings near the entrances of mud tunnels.

It’s difficult to tell the difference between sawdust and termite droppings especially if it’s your first time seeing them, but you can use a magnifying glass to closely examine its size and appearance. They usually look granular or hexagonal compared to the shiny slivers of sawdust. 

What Are Eco-Friendly Ways to Eliminate Subterranean Termites?

Subterranean termites are an important part of the ecosystem that allows it to work effectively, but these pests wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between dead tree stumps in a forest from the wood in a home. For those who want to reduce their carbon footprint while keeping the termites at bay, here are a few natural ways to get rid of the subterranean termites that found their way to the property: 

1) Water and Vinegar

White vinegar is one of the most effective insect repellents that can keep different kinds of pests away. Although vinegar in its purest form repels termites, many homeowners choose to mix it with water or lemon juice. Adding a few drops of essential oils like orange oil or neem oil enhances the effects of the original solution.

Once the vinegar solution is ready, spray the mixture around the house to repel termites. Make sure to focus on areas with visible entry points or termite mounds. Apply some of the vinegar mixture on surfaces where termites might attack, like fences, building corners, and garden borders. Depending on the severity of the termite infestation, the vinegar solution might take a few days to work. 

2) Salt

Salt is another commonly used household item that’s also handy when it comes to natural termite control. Mix the salt with warm water until all the granules are fully dissolved before spraying it on the holes and edges of doors, windows, and walls. The salt dehydrates and kills the termites, so don’t hesitate to apply more of the salt solution in areas with termite activity.

Using a syringe also works if spraying the solution isn’t enough. Start by finding cracks and holes on the walls created by termites then inject the salt solution there to kill the termites inside. 

3) Extreme Temperature

Hot and cold treatments are offered by pest management companies to get rid of termites without the need for harsh chemicals. When using extreme heat, the temperature of the treatment area should be 120° to 140° Fahrenheit for at least 35 minutes to kill off the termites. On the other hand, cold treatments require a room temperature of 15° Fahrenheit or lower for several days.

The main problem with using extreme temperatures to eliminate subterranean termites in a home is the damage it may cause to other items in the vicinity. Extreme heat or cold can break glass, spoil food, or ruin furniture, so make sure these items are out of the way before starting the treatment. This kind of pest control method also produces the best results if the entire house is treated first before focusing on certain rooms or areas. 

4) Nematodes

Nematodes are tiny parasitic worms that are considered natural predators of most termite species. They kill termites by entering the insect’s body and leaving symbiotic gut bacteria there. The bacteria poison the termite’s blood, but the entire process usually takes a couple of days to take effect.

Typically bought from garden stores, local hardware stores, farm feed shops, or online nematodes are also sensitive to UV light and heat so make sure to store them in cool and dark environments before using these microscopic worms to eliminate termites. 

5) Borates

Borates (or Borax) is a natural repellent that uses a mixture of salt and boron to eliminate termites. It usually comes in a powdered form that’s mixed with water or sprinkled directly to the problem areas around the house.

Subterranean termites that eat or come in contact with this active ingredient die, depending on how strong the solution is. The main problem with using this approach to get rid of termites though is that it’s difficult to ensure that the borates fully spread to entire mature colonies. Diluting it reduces the potency, but it spreads further among the individual termites. 

6) Wet Cardboard

Wet cardboard is effective in luring termites out of hiding because it’s a combination of the two things they love: cellulose and water. Soak a piece of cardboard with enough water and leave it to areas of the house where there’s termite activity.

Once the termites have started eating the wet cardboard, take it out of the house and burn it to kill the trapped termites there. Repeat the process until you’ve drawn out most of the termites at home. 

Keep Your Home Safe From Subterranean Termites with Pinnacle Pest Control

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Subterranean termites are an essential part of the ecosystem, but they also become destructive pests once they reach the wood structures of your home. Eco-friendly solutions and homemade repellents only work for a few hundred termites, so you’ll need the help of a pest control company like Pinnacle Pest Control to get rid of the pests for good.

Say goodbye to your pest problems and prevent reinfestations by calling our team now at Pinnacle Pest Control.

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