Archive for the ‘Termites’ Category

The History Of Termites In The Panama Canal

The History Of Termites In The Panama CanalAnts

As the rate of global trade intensified during the 1800s, large shipping vessels became more and more of a necessity. However, the isthmus that connects North and South America used to slow the rate of global trade significantly. In order to access the Atlantic Ocean from the Pacific Ocean, ships were forced to steer around the entire continent of South America. In order for ships to access the Atlantic from the Pacific more quickly and easily, an artificial lake was constructed. This artificial lake allowed ships to pass through the narrow Central American isthmus through Panama. This convenient manmade waterbody became known as the Panama Canal. Unfortunately, this area is also a termite hotspot.

The Panama Canal is one of the most monumental and ambitious of all construction projects ever undertaken by mankind. Unfortunately, native termites in Panama occasionally threw a wrench into the construction process. After the canal was finished, several of the canal’s offices and various structures were damaged by termites. Even nearby military bases suffered devastating termite damages. Experts soon realized that Panama contained an extremely high amount of termite species, even for a tropical country. The termite diversity prompted entomologists to carry out numerous termite-related studies in the country. The location and the many different termite species available for study made Panama an ideal region for carrying out termite studies.

When the Panama Canal was completed in the early 1900s, the heavy construction in the region led to the formation of a coastal island. This Panamanian island is now known as Barro Colorado Island. Starting in 1943, researchers began testing certain chemicals on termites in an effort to identify compounds that are toxic to termites. These experiments led to many future termite control methods. For example, the now infamous insecticide known as DDT was first developed in Panama. The science involved with soil treatments was thoroughly explored on the island as subterranean termites were the primary test subjects available. Although no modern insecticides were developed at the site of the Canal, the Panamanian testing grounds allowed researchers to gain a tremendous amount of insight into termite behavior and how termite control measures should be conducted.

Would you be interested in reading any of the old termite studies that took place at or near the Panama Canal following its construction?

Can The Termite Species That Inhabit The US Damage Underground Electric Cables?

Unlike drywood and dampwood termite species, subterranean termite species are unique considering the massive degree of destruction that they cause. Drywood and dampwood termite infestations are not nearly as common as subterranean termite infestations, and it is usually only subterranean termites that infest a home’s timber frame. Unfortunately, subterranean termites are not just destructive to timber-framed homes, as they are also known for causing widespread power outages by chewing on electric cables located beneath the ground.

Formosan and Asian subterranean termites are typically recognized by experts as being the most destructive termite species in the world, and both of these species have established an invasive presence within the United States. Considering their reputation in this regard, one would think that if any termite species could chew through power cables, then it would definitely be one of these two, or both. However, researchers were surprised to find that this is not necessarily the case, as some of the typically less destructive subterranean termite species damage power cables more often than the most destructive species.

When considering a particular termite species’ ability to cause power outages, it must first be determined which termites are capable of penetrating cable sheathings. Generally, cable sheathing that is made from low density polyethylene is one of the least termite-resistant sheathing materials that are commonly used while PA12 (Nylon 12) has been demonstrated as the most resistant to termite pest activity.

Surprisingly, Formosan and Asian subterranean termites only cause minimal, if any damage to cable sheathings despite these two species inflicting the most costly structural damages of all termite species. The R. flavipes, or the eastern subterranean termite, which is the most destructive termite species in the US in front of the invasive Formosan species, is not capable of causing damage to any common cable sheathing. This is good news for Americans, but the termite species that causes the greatest amount of destruction to cable sheathings are the Australian species known as C. acinaciformis and M. darwiniensis. This is not surprising, as these termites have been destroying electric cables since they were first installed below the ground in the country back in 1911.

The unusually large mandible size of worker and soldier termites in these two species is probably what enables them to chew through cable sheathings more effectively than other species. Both the native and non-native subterranean termites that inhabit the US are not capable of inflicting serious damage to underground cables. Subterranean termite damage to power cables has only been a problem in Australia, and to a much lesser extent, Asia.

Do you believe that termites in America can still cause power outages by damaging telephone poles or other forms of infrastructure?


Numerous Unanswered Questions Remain Concerning The Termite-Induced Formations Discovered In Brazil

A few weeks ago, this blog discussed the massive area of land in Brazil that contains approximately 200 million termite mounds. Considering that these termite mounds are contained on an area of land that is as large as the state of Minnesota, it is hard to believe that these mounds went unnoticed until recently. As it turns out, this is just one of the many peculiar and mysterious aspects concerning the unique geographical phenomena. For example, the initial stories released in the media claimed that termites created the mounds nearly 4,000 years ago, but none of these early descriptions mentioned the species of termite responsible for the creation of the mounds. Also, the existence of the mounds were likely known to both locals and scientists long before these recent news articles became published. So how many termite species are responsible for the creation of the 200 million mounds, and are they still active in the area? Why are the mounds resistant to erosion? And what significance, if any, do the mounds have to indigenous peoples living in the area?

Surprisingly, only one single termite species is responsible for creating the 200 million mounds contained within the 88,800 square mile area. The termite architects are known as Syntermes dirus, and they are native to Brazil. These termites are not extensively described in scientific literature, but they are known for their relatively large body size and their prevalence in the semi-arid grasslands of South America. Although it may be hard to believe, but the Syntermes dirus termite is not a mound-building termite in the true sense of the term, as the mounds built by these termites do not contain an internal structure of any kind; instead, the mounds contain a vertical access tunnel leading from the termite’s subterranean habitat to the top of the mound. To put it simply, Syntermes dirus termite mounds are more like ant hills than the complicated mounds that most people are familiar with.

The simple mounds created by Syntermes species are prevalent throughout South America’s semi-arid region, and they are well known to locals, even the “recently discovered ones.” Locals refer to these particular mounds as murundus, but their origin has long been regarded as a mystery to researchers. However, recent studies have described how unique climatic conditions allow murundus to remain standing in spite of rainfall and other erosive natural forces. Several years ago the American botanist, Roy Funch, published two articles that described the mounds that were recently purported to be discovered for the first time in northeast Brazil, but they gathered little attention, partly because Funch is not an insect expert. Locals have been removing soil from these mounds for as long as anyone in the area can remember, as the hardness of the mound soil makes it ideal as a home construction material.

Do you think that you would be able to recognize the difference between a termite mound and a pile of soil?

An Important Church Built Prior To The American Revolution Has Been Destroyed By Termites

An Important Church Built Prior To The American Revolution Has Been Destroyed By TermitesFormosan Termites

In the United States people do not often encounter buildings or homes that have existed for more than a century. This is in contrast to many other countries in the world where centuries old structures can be found on every block. For example, old castles and fortresses dating back to the medieval period can still be found standing in many locations throughout Europe. Despite the fact that America is a relatively young nation, some historically significant structures can still be found standing in many regions of America. Most of these old structures consist of colonial log cabins that have been preserved over the years. For the most part these timber-framed structures exist outside of urban areas, and they are few and far between even in rural regions. In addition to old log cabins, there is still an abundance of historically important churches located in America. One of these antiquated churches is known as the Blackwater Presbyterian Church. This church was built in 1763, several years before the founding of the United States. Sadly this church was recently demolished due to an extensive termite infestation that had lasted for decades.

During the past two decades, the structure has undergone extensive renovations in an effort to keep the church standing for the good of the surrounding community. However, during the past year, the church started to lean to one side. Thorough inspections revealed that termites had damaged just about every support structure within the church. Once the owners removed the structure’s floorboards, they realized that the termite infestation was more serious than they had thought. According to the groundskeeper, the church was no longer safe to inhabit, as termites had weakened the floorboards and the wooden support beams. In response to this infestation, the church was recently torn down, leaving only its foundation. The church was painstakingly taken apart by hand so that as much material as possible could be saved. It has not yet been decided if a new church will stand in place of the old one.

Do you believe that the Historical Preservation Society should allocate funds to repair termite-damaged historical structures?


The Types Of Homes That Are At The Greatest Risk Of Sustaining Irreparable Termite-Induced Damages

The manner in which a house is constructed can influence its susceptibility to termite infestations. Certain home construction materials and architectural styles can make termite infestations relatively difficult to detect in completed homes. Certain types of construction can also provide numerous access points for termites in finished homes. Although termites infest a home’s timber components in order to consume the nourishing cellulose contained within, houses and buildings made of brick, concrete and other cellulose-free materials are not immune to termite infestations and termite-induced damages.Timber beam of door damaged by termite

In many parts of the world, most notably Europe, apartments are constructed from brick masonry. These structures are referred to as “attached brick terraces,” and they are similar to the townhouses that are common in North America. Unfortunately, the exposed brick exterior of attached terrace structures is relatively vulnerable to rainwater. This is because barriers made from damp-proof materials are usually not installed beneath the exterior brick surfaces of these structures. As a consequence of this particular design flaw, rainwater absorbs into the masonry, causing moisture levels to progressively rise over a period of time. Termites find the high-moisture environment within these buildings to be an ideal habitat. Invading subterranean termites tunnel through moist brick masonry in order to access internal wood sources, such as a terrace’s timber frame, hardwood floors, stairway timbers, door jambs and roof timbers.

The construction of brick veneer over a concrete slab is the type of construction that tends to conceal termite infestations more effectively than any other construction type. Termites can easily access the timber frame located beneath the veneer by entering through the edges of the underlying slab, which is concealed by paving, garden beds or other obstructions. However, termite inspectors are not able to access the timber frame within these homes due to the slab acting as a barrier. This allows termites to continuously damage the concealed timber frame without pest control intervention. The timber frame in these homes is also made from Oregon or radiata pine in most cases. This type of timber is highly desired by termites, but the maple and cedar joinery timbers that are accessible within brick veneer homes are not sought after by termites. In other words, termite-infested timber within brick veneer homes is concealed from inspectors. It has also been noted that brick veneer homes are often built over termite-rich areas of land, which significantly contributes to the high rate of irreparable termite damages documented as occurring within these homes.

Are you curious as to how your home’s construction materials and architectural style influences the likelihood of developing a termite infestation?



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