Termites and Their Control

Termites and Their Control


Description and Rationale


There are around 2,750 known species of termites, many of which can be found in the Philippines. Termites are found everywhere in the Philippines and are constantly causing problems for everyone who lives here. The most commonly used and cheapest way to build homes in the Philippines is with wood so people are always having trouble with termites wrecking their homes.

Are termites only negative in everything they do? Do they help anyone or anything in the environment or people? Is there any reason they should not be completely exterminated when they are causing housing problems? There are ways people get rid of termites that do work, but these methods are harmful to both people and the environment, and are expensive. Is there a solution to this problem? Is there a way that we can rid ourselves of these pests without harming other organisms in the process? Is there also a solution to this problem that is less costly so that more people can afford it?

The purpose of this project is to study and research the termites in the Philippines, to find out if there is a method that can be used that is not harmful to the environment or people, and to find out if there can be a cheaper way to do away with termites in peoples’ homes. Currently the only method that is being used to exterminate the termites is both harmful to the environment and expensive. I hope to be able to find out what species of termites are in the Philippines. Then I would like to experiment and research how they could possibly be killed. I also hope to find an easy and cheap way to do away with termites so that people can save their homes from being destroyed by them.



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Common Names and Synonyms

Termites are often referred to as the “white ant” because of their size and color. Nicknames such as “the little white thing” or “little white ant” come up in discussing this insect. The termites I will be focusing on are a type of subterranean termite. Termites are often confused with ants but there are some major differences between these two insects. I will be specifically studying the Coptotermes vastator. This termite is also known as the Philippine Milk termite.




Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Arthropoda (Jointed leged Animals)

Class: Insecta (Insect)

Order: Isoptera (Termites)

Family: Rhinotermitdae (Subterranean termites)

Genus: Copotermes (Dry wood)

Species: C. vastator (Devastater)



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Morphology and Physical Description

There are a few different roles that termites play in their society and each caste looks different. There are the workers, the warriors, the reproductive termites or swarmers, and the King and Queen, the biggest of those being the Queen. All colonies have a strict caste system that governs their life. A caste system ranks each member of the colony so that each termite is specialized to do a certain job. All of the different ranks of these termites have hard exoskeletons. The pictures above show all the different ranks in the caste system starting with the king and queen, then the eggs, then the worker, then the warrior, then the swarmer, then back to the king and queen.

The king and queen are the main reproducers in a young colony, as the colony matures others begin to be able to reproduce as secondary reproducers. The queen is the largest of all the ranks. Her abdomen is stretched as she reproduces more and more until it is stretched so much that she appears to have stripes. The king is also larger than the workers or warriors but not as big as the queen. The workers are the most plain looking. They are white/cream with a little darker head. The workers are by far the most in numerous of all the different ranks in the caste system. The warriors have six legs and a large head with large pincers. These are much fewer in number. If many of these are killed or more are needed the workers can change into warriors in order to help protect the colony. Swarmers are workers or warriors that have gone the next rank up. They are a bit larger than either the workers or warriors and they have two sets of wings, both the same size. After a quick flight from the colony their temporary wings fall off.

Termites and ants are often confused but there are some distinguishing factors. Ants have a large head, a narrow thorax, and then a large abdomen whereas termites have average head and an average abdomen with no “pinched” middle section.











Ants also have two sets of wings but they are different sizes, whereas termite swarmers have two sets of wings that are the same size. Another difference is the antennae; ants have bent antennas but termites have straight ones. The termite internal anatomy is not unlike other insects. It has a three part digestive system enclosed in a tube. There is also an open circulatory system and a ventral nervous system with a primitive brain in the head. Termites also have no lungs but get their air through openings along the abdomen called spiracles.




Getting Food

Subterranean termites get their food through the wood that they eat. Dead wood is their main diet and termites can eat most kinds of wood. Some tropical and a few non-tropical types of wood have natural chemical resistance to the termites. The termites first feed on the soft, lighter parts of the annual rings in wood and then continue to eat the rest of the wood. Termites are attracted the most to wood that has been decayed by fungi. They gather and collect their food underground or in the darkness of the wood. These pests basically eat anything made of cellulose.



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The only ones, for a time, that reproduce in a colony are the king and queen. The fertilization is internal and the queen can lay up to 500 eggs a year when mature. The king and queen are referred to as the primary reproducers but there can also be secondary reproducers. In insect colonies such as bees, killing the queen bee can kill the entire colony. It is not so easy with termites. If a king and/or queen are killed other individuals will start to develop the needed organs to take their place and the king and queen can be replaced. There can also be secondary reproducers while the initial king and queen are still living. When this happens the secondary reproducers produce the majority of the offspring as there can be hundreds of them producing thousands of eggs, thus making the size of the colony increase at a much faster rate.



Environmental Factors

Termites prefer moist, dark places to live and usually flee the light. Their comfortable temperature is around 28-30˚. Some species will die if the temperature is above 32˚ for a period of time but they do adapt very well to temperatures and do a good job of keeping their tunnels a good temperature and moistness for them. Because termites are so used to the humidity and heat if they are put in temperatures 18˚ or less then they will die.

Because termites are such small insects almost everything bigger than them are potential predators. The main predators for termites are ants, lizards, and birds.

The workers’ jobs are to gather food and water and to create the tunnels. The warriors’ main job is to protect the colony from predators. The swarmers, when the season comes, leave the colony and have a short flight somewhere else to start their own colony. Shortly after landing their temporary wings fall off and they make a small tunnel underground to begin mating to start their own colony as king and queen.



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Origin and Distribution

Termites are found all over the world. There are so many species of subterranean termites that they can also be found on all continents of the world (except Antarctica). The type of species I am focusing on, the C. vastator, is found in the Philippines, Hawaiian Islands, Guam, and in many Asian countries. These termites are originally from Taiwan and were most likely introduced to America through shipping. The tropical subterranean termites that I will be studying here are not invasive species, however, but still cause lots of problems.



Importance to People

The termites do have a few positive aspects for the environment and people even though they are mostly just considered pests. The decaying wood that they eat is turned into fertilized organic material, in other words they help recycle the wood. Although recycling wood is a good thing, it is not always good when the wood they are recycling is your home. Termites have a nasty habit of ruining people’s houses, store rooms, and crops which is why people tend to hate them so much. Many methods are used to try to get rid of these pests but few seem to work well. There are repellents which just make them go away, probably just temporarily. There are also insecticides that are used that kill them. The main problems with these methods are that they do not always work effectively and they are harmful to the environment and people.



Survivability and Endangered Status

The subterranean termite, or any kind of termite for that matter is not an endangered animal. There are so many in just one colony and they send out so many new “couples” to start their own colony each year that it seems impossible that they could be endangered or have to struggle to survive anywhere. I believe it’s not so much preserving these insects that is the problem, it is learning how to get rid of them because there are so many.




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Potential Solutions

Is there a perfect solution to the termite problem all over the world especially in Manila squatter areas? There has yet to be invented or discovered the perfect solution to this problem. Termites eat people’s homes, store houses, and crops. The biggest problem in the squatter areas are the people’s houses being destroyed. Right now there are numerous methods that people use to try and help, prevent and solve this problem. However, there is yet to be determined a perfect solution that kills and rids the area or termites forever, or one that does that and is not harmful to the environment or to people. I’m sure people are constantly working on coming up with different solutions and hope that one will soon be discovered for all these people to use. Another problem for the people is being able to afford treatment. Right now the substances that seem to work the best are quite costly and many squatters are not able to afford them and are forced to simply abandon their home when the termite infestation becomes too bad. Below are 6 possibilities including an analysis of advantages and disadvantages for each one.


The current status report for all 6 of these treatments to kill, prevent, and help solve this problem are treatments that they are currently used and available in Manila and squatter areas. Despite the fact that some of them do not work very well they are all still used at one place or another. If I could have gone further on my action step I could have taken the dead termites that I had put each substance on and a few days later gone and caught some more fresh termites and put them in each jar. Then I would have been able to test how long each substance seems to be effective. If the residue of the substance is still strong enough to kill the termites put in the jar a few days later then it is a better treatment than one that does not kill them a few days later, because then the substance that does not work a few days later would not be worth using if it only kills the present termites but does not even keep them away for a little while. Or I could soak a plank of wood in each substance and see how the termites react to each plank of wood.


Possibility 1

Professional Treatment



The professional treatment is the most effective of all the possibilities. It not only kills the present termites, but keeps any other termites from coming for a time. Also you do not have to apply the termite treatment yourself over and over, but every time that the treatment needs to be applied the professionals will come and do all the work for you. It also means that it will be applied better and will probably be more effective because professionals will be more thorough about applying their substance.



The biggest drawback to having professional treatment is the cost. It is really expensive and most squatters cannot afford to pay for this treatment. It costs about 8,000 pesos to treat 60sq. meters. Also, this treatment is one of the more harmful treatments to the environment, and puts harmful chemicals into the air and soil that are bad for human bodies as well. Another drawback to this treatment is that it only lasts for 3 months so they have to continue to come back 4 times a year to apply it and the cost starts adding up.


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Possibility 2




The best thing about this substance is how well it works. Apart from the professional treatment, it works the best.



By far the worst thing about this substance is it’s cost. It costs about 500 pesos per gallon and it takes about 20 gallons to treat a 60sq. meter area. This adds up to 10,000 pesos per treatment! It is effective, but not as effective as professional treatment and it costs more. Because it is not as effective, costs more, and one would have to apply it themselves it would seem that solignum is not as good of a choice as the professional treatment in all areas. Solignum is a petroleum based product and as such is not good for the environment.


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Possibility 3




The only real advantage to using detergent is that it is very accessible and not too expensive. Detergent costs about 200 pesos per 5 gallons and at 20 gallons per average squatter house (60sq. meters) it costs about 800 pesos per treatment. Detergent has only a small effect on the environment and is not toxic to people.



The disadvantages to using detergent are mainly that it does not work very well and the termites come back in a few days. I asked my Ate if she has tried to use detergent and she said that she did but the termites came back in a few days and it had almost no lasting effect.


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Possibility 4




Kerosene kills the termites that are there currently and is cheaper than the professional treatment. It also is more effective than detergent.



Kerosene is not that effective and is pretty expensive for not working very well. It costs just over 200 pesos per ½ gallon, so over 8,000 pesos to treat an average squatter house. This treatment is only a little effective and is more expensive than solignum, which works better. Like solignum, kerosene is bad for the environment and the fumes are noxious to humans. It is also highly flammable and most squatters are cooking over open flame which is a deadly combination.


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Possibility 5




Bleach is probably the best treatment for people who have low income to use. If they cannot afford solignum or the professional treatment then bleach is the next best thing. It kills all the present termites immediately and prevents them from coming back for a while. This treatment is also reasonably priced. It costs about 375 pesos per gallon and it takes only 2 gallons to treat a house. Bleach is not terribly damaging to the environment and non-toxic to the residents of the house.



The main disadvantage to this method is that it only lasts for three weeks. Besides having to apply it yourself you would have to apply it more often than most treatments, instead of every 3 months, it is every 3 weeks.


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Possibility 6




Woodtec is a wood-treatment remedy that is made locally and used often. It did not kill all the termites immediately when I tested it, but they all did die eventually. Because they did not all die immediately I assume that it is not popular because of it’s fast acting-ness but rather because it’s lasting residue keeps the termites away really well. It is also reasonably priced, as it costs 250 pesos for a little bottle of 100 ml which is concentrated woodtec that is to be mixed with water 1 ml of woodtec to 250 ml of water or oil. About 200-300 ml of woodtec is used per square meter for treatment.



Woodtec does not work as well as solignum or the professional treatment. You have to buy a little bit and dilute it your self before use.


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Delrosario, Jun. Text interview. 5 may 2007.


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