Termites vancouver island

Termites vancouver island


Termite (undetermined), photo by Dave Ingram

Copyright ยฉ 2005 – All rights reserved

Extracted from the forthcoming publication The Insect Families of British Columbia.


Termites are social insects that live in colonies where different functions are performed by separate castes; their societies are one of nature’s most impressive biological organizations. Caste organization varies considerably in different kinds of termites. They may include reproductive individuals, sterile soldiers and sterile workers, but because termites are hemimetabolous, immatures also are potential contributors to the work of the colony. Unlike in Hymenoptera, non-reproductive castes of termites are both male and female. Most species also can produce male and female supplementary reproductives if the primary reproductives (queen and king) disappear, giving colonies flexibility and continuity. The efficient development of the colony is mostly regulated by chemical communication.

There are about 2000 species of termites in seven families world-wide; most are tropical. There are two main grades of termite organization, the so-called lower and higher termites. The former consist of several families, including the ones found in British Columbia, distinguished, among other things, by their possession of symbiotic intestinal flagellates that help them digest wood. The higher termites belong to the exceptionally diverse family Termitidae, which is mostly tropical and includes 75 per cent of all termite species. Instead of flagellates, they have symbiotic bacteria in the gut. This family has successfully evolved away from a direct dependence on wood for nutrition; some groups grow fungi for food.

Termite (undetermined), photo by Dave Ingram

Termites evidently evolved from a cockroach-like ancestor. The most primitive living species, Mastotermes darwiniensis Froggatt, is considered a sort of link between cockroaches and termites: it has several characteristics of the former order: the tarsi have five segments, the hindwing is broad, the wings do not break along a line of weakness at the base, and the eggs are contained in a package like a cockroach ootheca. A fossil termite closely related to Mastotermes has been found in British Columbia.

Three termite families, each containing one genus (one of these is introduced), live in British Columbia. There are only four species, but their life histories are diverse.

The termite body is small to medium-sized (except for the distended queens of some tropical species), cylindrical or rather flattened and usually weakly sclerotized and pale in colour. The head and thorax are often more heavily sclerotized and darker than the abdomen, especially in flying forms or soldiers. Mouthparts are the chewing type and the antennae are thread-like.

When present, the front and hindwings in almost all species are similar; they are membranous with few veins, but often have abundant vein-like wrinkles. The wings are held flat over the body and extend past the end of the abdomen. They are shed after the nuptial dispersal flight; they fracture near the base along a line of weakness. The legs are short, without pronounced spines, and the tarsi typically have four segments. The abdomen is broadly joined to the thorax; the cerci are usually short and the genitalia are normally reduced and hidden beneath an elongated subgenital plate.

Reproductives (kings and queens ) are fully developed sexually — they have functional wings and compound eyes. Queens in some tropical species get very large (5-10 cm long) and may live for years, laying many thousands of eggs. Flying termites appear in large numbers at certain times of the year, mate and start new colonies. Supplementary or secondary reproductives may also occur; they are less well developed than primary ones, but may reproduce in the nest and supplement the queen in building the colony. Soldiers are sterile, wingless adults with enlarged heads and mandibles that aggressively protect colony from external hazards. In some genera, but not B.C. ones, a nasute caste has the head projected into a nozzle that sprays noxious fluids at invaders. Workers are nymphs or sterile adults; they are pale, wingless and lack compound eyes. In some primitive groups, such as the Termopsidae of B.C., worker castes are missing and their function is handled by the immatures (nymphs) of reproductives and soldiers. Workers gather food, care for eggs and young, and build and repair the galleries of the colony.

Although termites play a valuable ecological role in promoting the decomposition of plant material and recycling nutrients, some colonies can damage buildings, poles, fences and other human constructs.


Krishna, K and F.M. Weesner (Eds.). 1969-70. Biology of Termites. Vol.1 (1969) 598 pp.; Vol. 2 (1970) 643 pp. Academic Press, New York, NY.

Vickery. V.R. and D.K.McE. Kevan. 1985. The Insects and Arachnids of Canada. Part 14. The Grasshoppers, Crickets, and related Insects of Canada and Adjacent Regions. Agriculture Canada Research Branch Publication 1777. Ottawa. 918 pp.


This write up is extracted from the forthcoming publication by Cannings and Scudder: the Insect Families of British Columbia.

Illustrations by L. L. Lucas. Copyright ยฉ 2005 – All rights reserved.


Pacific Dampwood Termite โ€“ As their name suggests, these insects will only inhabit damp or rotting wood. These insects will commonly infest rotting logs, fence posts, deck posts, and garden ties. They will also infest homes if there has been severe moisture issues, or prolonged wood to soil contact. Chemical treatment for this pest is rarely required. Simple removal of affected wood and replacement with new dry timbers will eradicate this pest. Correction of the moisture issue will prevent these termites from reoccurring. Our company can apply a residual treatment to new timbers to help protect against reinfestation.

Subterranean Termites โ€“ This insect is less common in our region, but is far more destructive. These insects will live in the ground beneath your home. They will then emerge through a crack in the foundation and begin to feed on the sill plates of your home. If left untreated, they will then work their way up into the studs of your house. These termites need to be treated by a professional pest management company.

Contact Us or call us at 250-920-6267 for a free estimate.

How do I know if I have Subterranean Termites?

The first sign of the presence of this pest is their mud tubes. These insects only travel through these tubes. You will commonly find these mud tubes on the ground level or crawlspace area of your home. They are commonly found around the hot water tank or next to the baseboards in the ground level of the home. These tubes are made of granular dirt and or sand. When you disturb these tubes you may be able to see opaque white grubs, these are the worker termites. Another sign that these insects are infesting your home is the presence of flying reproductives. The reproductives are quite small and black with wings that are twice as long as the body. They resemble small flies and are commonly mistaken for flying ants. If you suspect you have these insects call our company for a free estimate.

Treatment for this pest is quite involved, and requires drilling and injection beneath the slab of your home.

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Our service areas include:Victoria, Sidney, Sooke, French Beach, Mill Bay, Shawnigan Lake, Duncan, Nanaimo, Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Galiano Island, Mayne Island, Saturna Island, Pender Island, and Salt Spring Island

Our technicians are university trained, government licensed & fully Insured. We use green, environmentally conscious alternatives and provide a written guarantee. Old Island Pest Control is locally owned and operated and are available 7 days a week.

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Are termites killing your home softly?

The closer to the U.S. border you live, the bigger the risk

September 29, 2012 01:00 AM

Living on Canadian soil has its benefits, such as world-class resources, a robust economy and workforce and nature’s playground in our own backyard. Another huge benefit – especially as a contractor and homeowner – is something that our soil doesn’t have: a lot of termites.

That’s not to say we’re termite-free. But for now, termites aren’t a big issue for the majority of Canada. They are in the U.S. And the more south you go, the worse it is. So any affected areas in Canada are going to be pretty close to the border.

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There are some areas in southern Ontario (including Toronto), Winnipeg, southern Alberta and southern British Columbia – including Vancouver – that have been known to have termites. But you need to do your research. Every area is different.

I always say never ignore your environment. If you’re building in an area that’s known to have termites, there are construction measures you can take. In fact, according to most local building codes these construction measures are a must.


First, all stumps, roots and wood debris needs to be removed to a minimum depth of 300 mm (11 1 /2 inches) under the building. Then, there should be a minimum clearance of 450 mm (17 1 /2 inches) between structural wood elements and the ground below them.

If you live in an area where foundations are insulated, there needs to be a metal or plastic barrier between the insulation and finished materials. This stops termites from passing through or behind insulation.

Structural wood supported by anything directly touching soil needs to be PT, or pressure-treated, with a chemical that’s toxic to termites. If the vertical clearance between wood elements and the ground is less than 150 mm (or five inches), they need to be pressure-treated with a preservative that makes them resistant to decay.

The same goes for any wood that is exposed to precipitation and can accumulate moisture. BluWood is a good example of a product that protects lumber from moisture, mould, rot and – you guessed it – termites.

Why is it important to make sure wood elements are resistant to decay? Because termites – and other insects, like carpenter ants – need soft wood to tunnel through to create passageways and nests.

But unlike carpenter ants, termites will actually eat the wood – and not just wood. They’ll feed on all cellulose-based material, including books, boxes, furniture and drywall. And because termite colonies are hard workers – working non-stop 24 hours a day – they can do a lot of damage in not a lot of time.

The damage termites wreak on homes is a direct result of their eating habits. The products we use to build homes just happen to be on their menu. But homeowners rarely see the damage happening because termites eat wood from the inside out. So you usually don’t know you have a termite problem until it’s really serious. But there are clues.

For example, if you find wood in your home that sounds hollow when you tap it, there’s a pretty good chance it is hollow. Termites make wood look like swiss cheese on the inside until there’s nothing left but dust – or at least, what you think is dust.

Ever wonder what termite-poop looks like? It actually looks like sawdust – go figure. Makes sense for something that eats wood. By the way, the technical term is frass – not termite-poop. (I don’t want to get more angry emails.)

You should also keep a lookout for cracked or bubbling paint and mud tubes on exterior walls, wooden beams or in crawl spaces.

Also look for discarded wings. Some people are surprised to know that termites have wings. But they drop them once they find a good place to nest.

Also, be careful of any swarms of winged insects that disappear after a while. It could be termites looking for a good place to nest.

And if the swarm is followed by a lot of discarded wings, you know they’ve found one.

If you think your home could have termites, your best bet is to call a professional pest inspector. They know exactly what to look for and how to find it.

They’ll use a combination of probing, tapping and listening techniques to find termites – some even use fibre-optic scopes that can peer inside walls. They’ll also check decks and fences for any damage.


Termites love moisture. So call a professional to repair anything that’s leaking, including faucets, water pipes and A/C units. Keep your gutters and downspouts clean. Keep your vents clear and open – adding screens to outside vents is also a good idea.

Remove plant materials, leaves and mulch around your home that could attract these critters. And store firewood and lumber away from the foundation or any crawl spaces.

Your next job is finding a qualified contractor who has plenty of experience dealing with these kinds of pests.

They’ll block access routes by sealing up cracks where bugs might enter. That includes openings around pipes and heating ducts.

They will make sure water is diverted away from your foundation. And the repair or replacement of any structure should be done with materials that can stand up to nature’s demo team.


Article by D.k. Mcewan Kevan, Spencer K. Monckton
Published Online January 28, 2007
Last Edited May 17, 2016

Termites are social insects of the infraorder Isoptera. They may be thought of as โ€œsocial cockroaches,โ€ as they evolved from their wood-eating cockroach ancestors approximately 200 million years ago.

Termites are social insects of the infraorder Isoptera. They may be thought of as โ€œsocial cockroaches,โ€ as they evolved from their wood-eating cockroach ancestors approximately 200 million years ago, making them the earliest known example of social insects. Often called “white ants,” termites are only distantly related to true ants. Their colony-based lifestyle evolved independently of other social insects โ€” for example, ants, bees and wasps.

There are more than 3,100 species of termite worldwide, only a handful of which are found in Canada โ€” namely, the dampwood termite (Zootermopsis angusticollis), western subterranean termite (Reticulitermes hesperus) and eastern subterranean termite (Reticulitermes flavipes).

Because termites feed primarily on cellulose โ€” a major component of plant material such as wood โ€” they destroy many plant-based products, such as house frames and utility poles. As such, they are often considered pests.


Most termites are pale and waxy, about 5โ€“15 mm long, and have short, slender antennae, short legs, and a cylindrical or slightly flattened body. Beyond these general characteristics, each caste of termite (workers, soldiers and reproductives) varies slightly in appearance. Workers are soft-bodied and pale, with mouthparts for chewing, while soldiers are larger and darker in colour, with longer, hardened heads. Soldiers of most species have long, hooked jaws, which they use as weapons; some have long snouts for spraying defensive chemicals. Workers and soldiers are wingless, while reproductives have four long wings of similar shape. The wings are shed after they find a mate. In most cases, termites either have small eyes or no eyes at all. Many species have a pore on the front of the head to secrete pheromones and/or defensive chemicals.

Distribution and Habitat

Termites are mostly found in tropical regions and are most diverse in tropical west Africa, and in rainforests in South America and southeast Asia. Termites may live underground in moist habitats, or above ground in dry habitats. Many species build mounds, some of which protrude up to nine metres above the ground.Subterranean species, like those found in Canada, do not build mounds, and are usually found in wood that is buried in or in contact with soil.

Canada has two native and one established species that are mainly found in human-made structures and environments. Two are native to British Columbia: the Pacific dampwood termite (Zootermopsis angusticollis) mainly infests moist deadwood, while the western subterranean termite (Reticulitermes hesperus) is the regionโ€™s major termite pest. The eastern subterranean termite (Reticulitermes flavipes) is found in many of eastern Canadaโ€™s densely populated areas, and is known for the most extensive termite-caused destruction in Canada and the United States. It is thought to have been introduced by ship to Toronto sometime between 1935 and 1938.

Other species are sometimes found in localized infestations in Canada: two small colonies of Cryptotermes brevis have been found in British Columbia, one infesting a wooden case imported from Peru (Port McNeill, BC), another infesting a cupboard in Vancouver, while a large colony of Incisitermes minor was found in 1989 infesting a home in Toronto. At least two other species have been found in Canada: Cryptotermes domesticus and Cryptotermes dudleyi.


All termites are social, forming colonies with differentiated castes. Most species have three castes: workers, soldiers and reproductives. This is true of all Canadian termites, though colony structure varies in complexity among other species. Colonies are founded by two primary reproductives (often called โ€œqueenโ€ and โ€œkingโ€), who tend the nest and feed their young until enough workers have developed to take over these tasks. Workers make up most of the colony, and their tasks include nest building, repair, foraging, feeding, and grooming of nest-mates. Soldiers are responsible for defending the colony, and both workers and soldiers are sterile.

Termites groom one another and perform โ€œproctodeal trophallaxis,โ€ which is the exchange of fecal matter between individuals. These behaviours have two very important consequences. The first involves the colonyโ€™s structure: castes are regulated and maintained by hormones or pheromones spread about the colony by reproductives and soldiers via grooming and trophallaxis. The second involves the termite diet, which consists mainly of cellulose, a sturdy plant sugar that most animals cannot digest. Termites do not directly digest cellulose, but instead have symbiotic gut microbes that do it for them. These symbiotic microbes are lost each time a termite moults (which they must do periodically as they grow), so a constant communal exchange of fecal matter is needed to ensure that all individuals in the colony can continue to digest food.

Reproduction and Development

Once a colony matures (which may take up to 10 years), new reproductives are produced by its founders once or more per year when they expose newborns to the appropriate pheromones. From these mature colonies, large numbers of winged reproductive individuals emerge and form mating swarms, in which males and females pair off, land, break off their wings, and seek a suitable nesting site where they begin producing a new colony. The two founders mate for life and the female is usually much larger than the male, being full of unlaid eggs. Termites undergo incomplete metamorphosis, meaning that juveniles are much like small adults, and are therefore active in the colony. Unlike in social bees, wasps and ants โ€” whose worker and soldier castes are exclusively female and develop from fertilized eggs, and whose reproductive males develop from unfertilized eggs โ€” the sterile worker and soldier castes of termites include both males and females, and all individuals develop from fertilized eggs.


Termites primarily feed on cellulose, a major component of wood and other plant materials. They are important decomposers, as they break down dead trees and fallen logs into usable substances for other plants, while simultaneously aerating and mixing the soil. Termites are especially dense and environmentally important in tropical areas, where their colonies cover up to one-third of the soil surface and cycle up to one-third of all plant material through their guts. Globally, the total mass of all termites approaches three times the total mass of all humans. Much like in cows, which also rely on symbiotic microbes to digest cellulose, methane is formed as a byproduct in the guts of termites, and consequently, termites contribute significantly to atmospheric levels of this greenhouse gas (see Climate Change). Though they mostly attack deadwood, termites can also do considerable damage to living woody shrubs and trees.

The colonies of many termite species are inhabited by other arthropods, such as beetles or flies; these species co-evolved with their termite hosts, and live in a mutually beneficial arrangement. Some tropical species tend gardens of fungi; in East Africa, these termites form the largest known colonies, which may be up to 100 years old.

Interaction with Humans

Termites cause economically significant damage in human environments. Due to the commercial movement of wood, as many as 28 species of termites are considered invasive throughout various parts of the world. Termites damage and destroy a variety of plant-based products, such as house frames, utility poles, fence posts, furniture, books, fabrics and so on. In Canada, the most significant termite pest is the eastern subterranean termite, Reticulitermes flavipes, which infests wood in contact with soil(the soil provides the termite colony with necessary moisture). They may also build above-ground mud tunnels from the soil to nearby wood. Infestations of R. flavipes spread slowly and can be recognized by the swarms of reproductives in very early spring. Infestations can be prevented by designing buildings with wooden components safely separated from the ground and sealed away from the outdoors, or by applying chemical treatments directly to wood or to soil (fence posts and utility poles are often pre-treated with such pesticides). Termites can also be controlled using baits, which contain poisons that either kill their symbiotic gut microbes, or are carried back to the colony and spread around through grooming and trophallaxis. Unlike their eastern relative, colonies of the western subterranean termite, Reticulitermes hesperus, can live in wood without contact with the soil, as long as there is enough moisture and food to sustain the colony.

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Termite // Key Terms

Social insects

Species that divide labour between reproductive and non-reproductive groups (castes) have overlapping generations of adults, and co-operatively care for their young. Many other insect species are considered โ€œpresocial,โ€ as they exhibit some but not all of these characteristics.

A chemical secreted by one individual that alters the behaviour of others who detect it. Pheromones are a form of chemical communication.

The periodic shedding of the hard insect cuticle or exoskeleton in order to allow growth. Once hardened, new cuticle does not stretch, and so must be shed when the insect grows too large for it.


The process by which an insect passes through a series of life stages as it grows from egg to adult. In complete metamorphosis, the stages are as follows: a juvenile or larval stage, an intermediate or pupal stage, and adult stages.

Incomplete metamorphosis

Unlike complete metamorphosis, this process does not have a pupal stage. Instead, juveniles โ€” or nymphs โ€” resemble adults more and more as they grow.


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