Grand Designs Australia

Understanding termite behaviour

The nerve-racking part about buying a house is that more often than not it is the unseen problems which cause all the heartaches. Termites scare people the most. Part of this fear comes from the unknown. They conjure up vivid pictures of nasty little creatures chomping up a house to a pile of rubble. Most people don't understand termites, but like everything, once the cause and remedy are explained, the problem doesn't seem so bad.


Termites in Australia

Termites are everywhere! If it is any comfort, although Australia has its share of destructive termites, they are nothing compared with their cousins in tropical Africa who can reduce a house to rubble in three months. In northern Australia, they can grow up to 15mm long and devour wood, cow dung, paper and corn. They are even known to attack lead-coated cables, make holes in plastic water pipes and even attack billiard balls. There are over 300 species of termite in Australia, but only about 30 cause damage of any economic significance. Only Tasmania is free of "economically significant" termite attack to buildings.


Termites in other States may be smaller than the species in the north of Australia but can be more numerous and just as voracious. Termites tend to be prevalent in moist sandy soils, like beach-side suburbs especially where underground water is present (one in ten houses or more is likely to have had termite trouble) but clay and other soils are also quite susceptible.


Termite Behaviour

Termites hate light and heat, preferring dark moist environments because their bodies are very prone to drying out. They will never be found in the open and their activity is always well inside the timber they are attacking. In very bad infestations they may eat most of the available timber, leaving only a very thin veneer on the surface. They can completely gut a piece of wood leaving no evidence of their activity on the outside.


You will find termite nests underground or in rotted tree stumps and wood piles or anywhere where humidity is high. Underground galleries are dug to search for wood. The galleries preserve the moist atmosphere of the nest and shield termites from light and protect them from predators. If the conditions are right, the Queen termite can produce up to 2000 eggs a day!

Mud shelter tubes are the best way of identifying termite activity. Termites construct shelter tubes when they leave their underground tunnels to look for food. The tubes are usually about 20mm wide and look like piled-up mud trails made of soil and faecal material bounded together by termite saliva. The tubes may be seen climbing up the walls between the ground and floor-boards or in timber stumps. Once new food is found, the colony can virtually excavate the whole of the inside of the timber, leaving only a honeycomb of tunnel walls and a thin outer layer which preserves the controlled atmosphere. The destruction can be devastating and quick.

The best way to deal with termites is to quickly identify termite activity and keep your home well ventilated. Find out how you can protect your home from a termite attack on this factsheet.

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