A few days before Christmas flying insects could be seen heading skyward near a gate on our place.
I went for a look and saw a patch of ground coated with a rippling, shimmering film of white.
A closer inspection revealed thousands of winged termites that suddenly began taking to the air. In only a few minutes virtually all of the swarming termites were gone.
Most of those termites will be eaten by birds or die while searching for new homes. But some will likely survive.
Most people would have a much higher opinion of termites if they would keep to themselves. Instead, we’ve provided a generous invitation to termites by building many of our houses, garages and other structures from their favorite food: cellulose.
In the natural world termites serve an important purpose. Microbes in their gut serve as recycling machines that busily transform into food the cellulose in leaves and the wood of dead trees. In the process, they release carbon dioxide, methane and other gases. Their waste adds nutrients to soil.
Termite colonies can include many thousands of individuals.
Like ants, they are organized into castes of workers, soldiers and a queen and her attendants.
The queen can live for years and produce many thousands of offspring. Queen ants mate only once with a male, which then dies. Termite queens live with a male known as a king.
Texas termites are classified as either subterranean or dry wood. Subterranean termites live underground, where they excavate complex tunnels to food sources they find.
A warning sign for house owners is a tube of dry soil anywhere along an exposed concrete foundation.
Beware of a possible termite invasion if you see a tube that extends from the soil and disappears under siding or wood.
Dry wood termites need no contact with soil. A king and queen can set up housekeeping simply by slipping through a crack into an attic or wall.
Termites can cause major structural damage and cost property owners considerable money. An industry has blossomed in response. It provides jobs for termite exterminators and those who repair the structures they damage.
Termites are so common in Texas that homeowners should learn about how to identify them and protect their property. One way to learn more about termites and pest control specialists in your area is to enter some key words and the name of your city into a web search engine. If you don’t have access to the web, try a public library.
A good online termite site is urbanentomology.tamu.edu.
This Texas A&M site provided some of the facts in this column.