Around half of Arizona’s nearly 20 termite species dwell within colonies that each contain anywhere between a few thousand to well over 1 million individual specimens. All three termite groups are represented in Arizona and they can be found in various areas spanning the entire state. Drywood and dampwood termite colonies are located in above ground wood sources, but the vast majority of subterranean termite colonies are, as their name makes clear, located below ground. Above ground colonies can be found in dead vegetation (including trees), tree stumps, loose wood that makes contact with the ground, and of course, in structural wood within homes. The most destructive termite species in Arizona, desert subterranean termites, maintain a network of interconnected colonies that span much of the southern half of the state. Most homes and buildings in Phoenix, Tucson and other cities in the region are likely located above or near at least one desert subterranean termites colony. Several studies carried out in Tucson have found that desert subterranean termites and one other non-pest species of termite are the two most abundant termite species in the city, and probably the rest of southern Arizona. These termites are responsible for a significant portion of the 3 billion dollars in damage that subterranean termites inflict upon structures each year in the US. Luckily, however, researchers may have found a way to keep these termites from infesting homes. This particular termite control method sees desert subterranean termites eaten from the inside out by ravenous worms.
For years, scientists have been controlling agricultural insect pests by planting entomopathogenic nematodes within crop soil. These nematodes are microscopic roundworms that parasitize and kill many insects. Studies have shown that these nematodes reduce the number of foraging eastern subterranean termites and many other termite species in the US, but they were not tested on desert subterranean termites until somewhat recently. Not too long ago, researchers released these nematodes into the dry southern Arizona soil where they effectively reduced the number of workers from the desert subterranean termite species. Juvenile nematodes travel through the soil in search of hosts, once a termite host is located, the nematodes enter the specimen through natural body openings. While inside the termite specimen’s body, the nematode feeds on tissues and cells, and it releases a bacteria that infects the hemolymph, which is like an insect’s blood. From there, the termite specimen quickly dies, and the nematode exits the carcass in search of new termite hosts.
Have you ever found termite damage to your landscaping ornaments or trees?