Unlike the disappearing bees, termites vanish on a regular basis but it has nothing to do with colony collapse disorder or some unexplained phenomenon. The problem with this vanishing act is however that it is an illusion that lulls the unsuspecting homeowner into a sense of relief and even though they don’t know how the trick was pulled off, the termites are gone and so any further control measures are not needed. This usually results in only two things; higher repair bills and having to pay the treatment costs you thought you had avoided.
If you’ve ever held a termite in your hand or tried to pick one up with your fingers you find out quickly that there isn’t much to them. No heavy armor plating, they don’t have a stinger and lacking eyes they really can’t run away from you very well. Sure holding a soldier might get your palm nipped but it barely registers on the pain meter and honestly I’ve probably squished more termites than I’ve ever held even when I try to be so gentle in scooping them up for a closer look. Their bodies are mostly water and the slightest touch just smears them into a slick sugary mess. (sugar is what they convert the wood they eat in to)
So with all the bugs in the world and the many ways they defend themselves, what’s up with the termite? Why was God so cruel that he didn’t give natures primary wood recyclers some effective method of defense? And; if then they are so defenseless then why do they plague us so? Termites cause more damage to our homes every year then storms and fires combined and that tally is in the billions of dollars. If such a small defenseless bug that can be killed by the clumsy touch of an opposable thumb, what exactly is it then that accounts for this insects success?
Exit stage left
Termites to put it simply, just head for the exits when disturbed or exposed to light. With so little defenses subterranean termites have very few choices and in the animal kingdom there is a saying, “fight or flight” and in the insect world it is no different. At times termite soldiers will fend off intruders if a break in a termite tunnel is made and their powerful jaws can snap an ant in half. If however you turn over a log or open a wall and they are caught exposed on the surface the soldiers and the worker termites will start scurrying feeling their way towards a hole that will lead them back into the dark abyss below ground where they are most safe. Surprisingly this only takes a few moments and the homeowner who runs to the shed to get a can of Raid returns only to find little dirt dirt trails etched in the soil or wood but no termites. On occasion some termites get cut off in these scenarios and do get sprayed and in a couple of hours when the proud hunter human returns to check his work he finds no bugs and declares victory. This is however a mistake as the sacrificed few only represent a small fraction of what the colony is and spraying the surface or the few damaged 2×4′s didn’t even register a hit on the well being of the colony.
On my inspections if I find termites I rarely investigate much, well at least not right away. Nothings worse than running to the house wife who’s in the living room and telling her she has termites only to lead her to the site and find nothing there. I’m not much of a salesman anyway and that would definitely not help. The same disappearing act is what can lead homeowners to believe the problem they found is now gone and therefore they can put off that call to their bug man. Swarmer termites also do the magic act of vanishing into thin air and most of the time the only evidence left behind are wings but no bugs. I don’t know how many times customers have said they had swarmers even several years in a row but they disappeared so they thought that was all there was to it and didn’t call.
On TV there is a show called “Magicians secrets revealed” and it apparently has the slight of hand community in a rage. These tricksters don’t like having the public know how a rabbit is pulled out of a hat but each week the masked magician reveals secrets that have been used for years. I stopped watching it because now I can’t even enjoy a magical illusion without thinking about the fraud behind the trick. Termites however aren’t so concerned about you and me and never tried to hide the fact that they just scoot back to safety when you uncover them. They’ll continue disappearing comforted in the knowledge that most homeowners don’t know the secret and somewhere down there in the subterranean caverns they live in is a plaque on a hewed out wall.