Termites Groom, Bury, and Eat Their Dead

Termites Groom, Bury, and Eat Their Dead

Bugs like ants, bees, wasps, and termites are about as ubiquitous as they come. They’re everywhere; on the ground, in your food, within the walls of your house eating away your floorboards.

So what is it that makes these eusocial insects so darned annoying successful? Actions such as cooperative care of young and participation in common defense are two key contributors, but there is another, not quite so apparent behavioral trait that plays a big role in these creatures’ prevalence. It’s their advanced “undertaking” behavior — in other words — how they treat their dead.

Over time, eusocial bugs have developed sophisticated responses to dealing with their deceased mates. This is vital to the health and fitness of the entire colony because it guards against the spread of dangerous pathogens.

These undertaking behaviors were the focus of a recent study appearing in the online open-access journal PLoS ONE. In their study, “Do Termites Avoid Carcasses? Behavioral Responses Depend on the Nature of the Carcasses,” researchers Kok-Boon Neoh, Beng-Keok Yeap, Kunio Tsunoda, Tsuyoshi Yoshimura, and Chow-Yang Lee of Universiti Sains Malaysia and Kyoto University brought four different species of subterranean termite into the lab and examined their responses to the introduction of termite carcasses in varying forms of putrefaction.

Previous research demonstrated that termites tend to be necrophobic in nature — they avoid dead bodies, but the new study found that termites engage in numerous, complex behaviors in handling their dead, not all of them exactly very ceremonious.

When worker termites detected a carcass introduced by researchers, their first response was to immediately evacuate the area and recruit other, unexposed workers to return to the site and examine the carcasses.

Once this action occurred, behaviors varied distinctly between the separate species of termite. Two of the species swiftly returned to the site, where they immediately began grooming the carcasses. The researchers theorized that termites groomed the carcasses to discern the viability for cannibalization, as many of the groomed carcasses were dragged off and consumed.

Other termite species were slightly more “respectful” of their dead, electing instead to bury the carcasses by walling off the locations where they were discovered.

Adding to the complexity of their behaviors, the cannibalization-prone termite species consumed freshly deceased carcasses and chose to bury those that had been dead for longer durations of time, usually 3-7+ days. For termites, necrophagy — feeding on carrion — serves as an excellent source of dietary nitrogen, but this act has to be appropriately carried out, because consuming older carcasses potentially infected with pathogens and overgrown with fungus would be hugely detrimental to the colony’s collective health.

Over time, humans have established highly advanced methods of handling our deceased in a respectful and sanitary fashion. Examining termites’ sophisticated, albeit slightly less reverent undertaking behaviors, goes to show how ecologically essential these behaviors truly are to highly social and population-concentrated species.


Termites in Trees: Is My Home At Risk?

Most homeowners have heard of termite infestations in the wooden structures of a home, such as floors, attics, support beams and the wood frames behind drywall. But did you realize termites in trees can also be a real problem, especially if termites make their way from trees on your property onto your home and other wooden structures?

Termites in Trees

Read on to find out about signs of termites in trees, including termite holes in trees’ trunks and branches, and learn what to do if trees on your property are home to a termite infestation.

Types of Termites

There are two main types of termites that can cause problems to people’s homes and other parts of their property: subterranean and drywood.

True to their name, drywood termites don’t require much moisture to survive, and thus can thrive within the drier woods found in hardwood floors, attic spaces or higher-up areas of a home. While still an undesirable housemate, this variety of termite tends to live in much smaller colonies and cause far less invasive damage than subterranean termites. Drywood termites can also make their homes outdoors in dead trees or other sources of dry wood.

Subterranean termites, by contrast, live in enormous colonies that number in the hundreds of thousands or even millions, and can cause extensive damage as they eat their way through a house, garage, fence or other structure. Americans spend an estimated $1 billion a year on control measures and repairs due to the damage caused by subterranean termites. That’s an expensive problem!

What Are the Risks of Termites in Trees?

Termites in trees can actually be beneficial in certain settings, since they can “recycle” fallen or decaying trees and stumps, creating room for new growth. In a wild forest setting, for example, termites are simply a part of the natural cycle of life, death and re-growth.

In an urban setting, however, termites can infest a tree on your property, which also provides them with a pathway to your home, garage or other wooden structure. As the colony attacks an otherwise healthy tree, the termites destroy a valuable source of beauty and shade, and also create the danger of falling limbs—or even an entire tree that could fall—possibly harming you or your family, damaging other parts of your property or creating liability issues with nearby neighbors. Once these destructive pests finish consuming the tree, the termites can easily move on to your fence, garage or house.

So how can you tell if you have termites in your trees?

Signs of Termites in Trees

One of the telltale signs that you might have termites living in the trees on your property is if you see termite holes in trees. These are just what they sound like: small holes where the insects have tunneled into the wood of the tree’s trunk or branches. You might also be able to spot wood shavings at the site of the holes or fallen around the base of the tree.

To check for termites, use a shovel or spade to dig around the tree’s roots and look for the insects, which look like large, winged ants. You won’t have to dig deep; subterranean termites live just beneath the surface of the soil.

Other signs of termites in trees include:

  • Discarded wings or the carcasses of dead termites in the soil around the base of a tree
  • Clusters of small, white eggs in the soil around a tree’s base
  • Tubes of mud on the trunks or branches of a tree

What to Do if You Think You Might Have Termites in Your Trees

If you spot any of the warning signs that might indicate a termite infestation in your property’s trees, it’s time to call an experienced termite professional. Time is of the essence. The sooner you can have your termite infestation removed, the less risk there is of damage to your home, garage or other areas of your property.

How to Prevent Termites on your Property

To prevent termites from moving in or returning to your trees, it’s important to keep up with regular tree maintenance. Always have dead or decaying limbs, trees and stumps on your property removed in a timely manner, and be sure to have the wood hauled off, burned or otherwise destroyed to ensure the termites are gone. Annual termite inspections are also a wise idea, especially if you’ve dealt with termite infestations in the past and know that your trees or other portions of your property are prone to these invasive pests.

Trust ABC for your Termite Control

If you suspect a termite infestation in your trees, trust the termite specialists at ABC Home & Commercial Services to make a thorough inspection, properly diagnose the problem and then determine the best solution for getting rid of the colony. Whether termites are in your trees or in your home, ABC can take care of the problem and take measures to prevent future infestations.



What are the most common signs of termites?

Because so much of the damage caused by termites is within the inner walls of a structure, it can be difficult to know if you have a termite problem. However, there are three warning signs to help you determine if you have a termite problem.


Winged termites are often the first sign of a subterranean termite infestation. Swarming termites are attracted to light and are often found near windows, doors, vents and light fixtures. Experiencing a termite swarm is the #1 sign that your property has a termite problem. Worker termites are small, light-colored insects that move quickly when exposed to light. They are also the family members that cause the most damage to a structure. Even if you haven’t seen signs of termites, check windows, heating vents, doors, sinks and bathtubs for dead termites or termite wings.

Mud tubes provide shelter for termites and have a muddy, flattened appearance approximately the width of a drinking straw. Look for mud tubes along cracks, beneath flooring, around baseboards, on pipes, piers, chimneys, behind siding, plumbing and other fixtures. Mud tubes may also extend over concrete foundations and other exposed surfaces.

Another way to check for termites is to tap wood along the walls, baseboards and windowsills every few inches with a screwdriver handle. Damaged wood will sound hollow and, if the area is extremely damaged, the handle may break the wood’s surface. If the area is active, you may see worker termites inside. Dark areas or blisters in wood flooring are an indicator of a subterranean termite infestation. Because subterranean termites are preventable, it is a good idea to have your property regularly inspected by a trained specialist.

How much damage can termites really do?

Termites cause an estimated $5 billion in property damages and repair costs annually. In fact, termites damage more homes than fires, floods and tornadoes. More than 4 million homes in the United States are at risk of infestation this year.

How do I know if I have winged ants or swarming termites?

Winged termites have pigmented bodies with broad waists and two pair of wings that are equal in size and shape. Subterranean termite swarmers have bodies about one-quarter of an inch in length. The swarmers quickly shed their wings after a brief flight. Winged ants have pinched waists and two pair of wings that differ in size and shape (front pair is much larger). Flying ants shed their wings like termites. Termite wings are all the same size. Collect a few and call Terminix to have them identified if you want to be sure.

Termite workers are pale, soft-bodied insects about one-quarter of an inch or less in length. They appear to have a head and body because their thorax is broadly joined to their abdomen. Their antennae are straight.

Termites are mistakenly called white ants, but are not ant-like in appearance. Ants are usually heavily pigmented and have three distinct body regions: head, thorax and abdomen. Ants also have a very narrow or pinched “waist,” and their antennae are “elbowed.”

Winged termites, also known as swarmers, have pigmented bodies with broad waists and two pair of wings that are equal in size and shape. Subterranean termite swarmers have bodies about one-quarter of an inch in length. The swarmers quickly shed their wings after a brief flight. Winged ants, on the other hand, have pinched waists and two pair of wings that differ in size and shape (front are much larger).

How can I tell if pest excrement is from termites or other insects?

Drywood termites produce small bun-shaped excrement. This often accumulates on surfaces directly below infested areas. Evidence of activity can include small “pin holes” in the surface of the infested area and the droppings accumulating below. Swarmers might also be observed. The adult reproductives swarm to start new infestations in other areas of the structure. This usually occurs between early summer and late fall depending on where you live.

There is mud tunnel on the drywall of my exterior wall. Should I be worried about termites?

Mud tunnels are one of the top indicators of subterranean termite activity. Contact your local Terminix branch as soon as possible.

Do termites really eat wood?

Yes, termites really eat wood. In nature, termites play a useful role helping wood be recycled to the soil as humus, an organic material that provides nutrients for plants and increases the ability of soil to retain water.

Using bacteria, protozoa and microbes that live inside their stomachs, termites are able to digest cellulose, the main constituent of wood. They are extremely well organized and persistent in their search for new food sources. Contrary to what one might think, they will eat anything containing cellulose – wallpaper, books, boxes, carpet backing, drywall and even furniture.

Can termites make their way through concrete?

Termites cannot go through solid concrete, but they can get through a crack only 1/32 nd of an inch wide. Openings this size or bigger often occur where two pieces of concrete abut – like when poured separately – and around plumbing penetrations through the concrete or where the concrete has cracked.

How long do termites live?

A worker termite may live from one to two years. A queen termite may live for decades.

Why do winged termites lose their wings?

Swarmers use their wings to fly a short distance from their nest. They then break off their wings and never fly again, burrowing themselves in the soil to spend the remainder of their lives building a new colony.

What will termites do after they swarm?

Subterranean termite swarmers attempt to pair with a swarmer of the opposite sex within their colony. They must locate a suitable habitat to establish a new colony of their own. They need moist soil, preferably in direct contact with wood, in order to survive. The termites that swarm inside a structure and cannot get out will quickly die from lack of available moisture. The termite colony that produced the swarmers will continue to be active after the swarm has taken place.

How do termites get ins >

Termites don’t need much room to squeeze inside your home or business. In fact, they can enter a structure through a space as small as 1/32 nd of an inch.

Subterranean termites usually enter a building from the soil along its foundation or through cracks in the slab, expansion joints, weep holes, voids in brick or block and around plumbing. Decks, porches and other wood structures in direct contact with the ground are also easy access ramps for termites.

While most subterranean termite infestations can be traced to a colony living in soil outside the structure, some infestations begin above the ground. This occurs when a termite king and queen begin a new nest within a structure or when foraging termite workers become isolated and cannot return to the parent colony. Such conditions are most common in high-moisture areas. Structures with flat roofs or chronic leaks can also be at risk because the structure can retain enough moisture for a termite colony to establish itself. Constant moisture allows a termite colony to survive even without a connection to the soil. In such cases, the structural moisture problems may be as damaging to the home as the termite activity.

Common construction practices can also contribute to termite problems by providing termites admittance into a structure or creating ideal damp conditions for colonization. Some examples of these practices include wood-to-soil contact, form boards not being removed after construction is completed, wood refuse buried under the slab, improper drainage and stucco below grade.

Spreading mulch over the soil adjacent to a structure’s foundation can also provide an inroad for termites to creep into a building.

Does the builder of a new home usually protect it against termites?

There are only a few states that require soil pretreatment for control of subterranean termites during construction. It is usually the mortgage lender that requires this, especially in termite-prone areas.

I have an old tree stump infested with termites. Should I have it treated?

You don’t need to treat the stump, but you may want to give your home termite protection. In areas of the country where termites are common, it is not unusual to find them in the ground, in tree stumps or in debris near a structure. If your home has not been treated to control or prevent termite entry, you should maintain a close watch for termites and have a Terminix specialist inspect and implement a termite control program.

Subterranean termites nest in the ground and forage for food (cellulose or wood) over areas up to one-half of an acre or more in size. There is a high probability that if they are detected close to your home, they will eventually infest it – if they have not done so already. Treating the stump will not have any great impact on the colony or its continued search for new food sources. Contact your local Terminix branch for an inspection and to find out your control options.

Preventative action makes good sense in any termite-prone area, and you should also consider having Terminix implement a termite control program before you notice an infestation.

Remove all wood debris from around your home, especially after new construction and remodeling. This includes wood form boards along foundations, tree stumps and roots, as well as firewood stacked near the house.

Since termites need moisture to survive, grade the soil around your foundation so it carries water away from the house. Keep gutters and downspouts in good repair.

Will subterranean termite swarmers infest my house, furniture, closets, etc.?

Subterranean termite swarmers are looking for moist soil in close proximity to wood in order to start a new colony. The likelihood of these conditions existing inside your home is very low, so unless the swarmers get outdoors, they will not survive.

There are homes with termites in my neighborhood. How can I protect my house?

Termites forage year-round and they spread most commonly underground. If your home is currently termite-free, it could become infested by termites that are active nearby. A preventative termite control program will help avoid termite infestation. Contact your local Terminix branch for additional information about termite biology, habits and treatment options.

I live in a stucco home. Should I be concerned with termites?

Termite problems are common in stucco homes. Usually this is because the stucco exterior finish extends beneath the soil level around the outside of the structure. This creates a small space between the foundation and the stucco finish, permitting termite entry that is completely hidden from view.

Another situation involves the “synthetic” stucco finishes that have a base layer of rigid foam board. This type also often extends beneath the soil level, and once the termites access the foam, they can move anywhere around the structure. This type of exterior finish is also prone to moisture intrusion, which will help support the termites once they get in.

How do I get r >

More than likely, a home infested with drywood termites will require tent fumigation. Tent fumigation involves covering your home with tarps and introducing a fumigant gas to penetrate all infested wood. It is the most effective method of controlling drywood termite infestations.

How can I prevent a termite infestation?

Terminix will get to subterranean termites before they get to you. The Bait Barrier Plan establishes an advanced treatment perimeter around your home and provides annual monitoring to check for termite activity. A second option, the Subterranean Termite Coverage Plan, offers an annual professional Termite Inspection and free treatments if termites are discovered. Both plans are backed by an ongoing guarantee protecting against any costs from future treatments or damage repairs.

My house does not have termites – should I still get a termite treatment?

Yes. Without an effective prevention program, like our Bait Barrier Plan, your home is open to termite damage, which could remain unnoticed until it becomes a serious problem.

The Terminix Bait Barrier Plan is designed to eliminate termites and their colonies.

Keep in mind that just because you don’t see termites does not mean your property is safe from infestation. Subterranean termites live in colonies that can house hundreds of thousands of termites. They work 24 hours a day and are often difficult to detect since 80 percent of the wood they eat is hidden within the structure.

How long does it take to eliminate or control a termite colony with bait?

Individual termites can be affected within a few days after consuming the bait, but it may take several months before an entire colony is controlled or eliminated. This varies depending on the time of year, geography, the number of termites in the colony, the number of colonies infesting the structure and the species of termite.

How do I control termites and avo >

There are many effective options based on the type of termites found at your home. Terminix recommends a Termite Inspection in order to determine the best method and treatment plan. Liquid treatments use applications to the soil at potential entry points into the structure. As the termites forage for food sources, they come into contact with the treatment area if they try to enter the structure.

Soil treatments are intended to control termites for extended periods of time, although they may be breached because of physical disturbance of the treatment zone (landscaping activities, construction, erosion), tree roots growing through the treatment zone and natural degradation of the termiticide, among others. For these reasons, most termite control treatments are available with renewable guarantees.


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