White Ants – Everything You Need To Know

White ants are the silent invaders of our homes that many homeowners fear. It’s understood that one in three Australian homes will be infested by white ants every year. This makes Local Pest Control imperative to prevent further property damage. The experts at VIP Pest Control have detailed below some important considerations for homeowners.

“White Ants” (A.K.A Termites) Complete Guide for Australian conditions

This guide provides information on the main species of destructive white ants, or subterranean termites, found in Australia. It also outlines your options for pest control and offers advice on consumer protection when dealing with these pests, which are known to cause significant damage to timber structures. Surveys conducted by the APCA suggest that approximately one in four properties in Australia that are not protected are at risk of being infested by subterranean termites during the lifetime of the building. The use of certain building materials and designs that allow for hidden termite entry and infestation has contributed to an increase in severe timber damage to homes in Australia.

White Ants are exceptionally destructive pests in Australian homes

Subterranean termites, also known as white ants, are highly destructive pests that can cause significant damage to timber structures. These pests have been known to destroy the majority of wall and roof framing structural timbers within three months of construction. White ants are estimated to cause more structural timber damage to homes in Australia than all other natural disasters combined, including fire, floods, storms and tempests. These pests are prevalent throughout the Australian mainland, particularly in urban areas. Unfortunately, home insurance policies in Australia do not cover the repair costs associated with white ant infestations in homes and commercial buildings. White ants build a central colony nest from which they construct underground tunnels that radiate out in search of cellulose within a radius of approximately 100 meters.

White ants are known to build above-ground nests in areas where moisture collects, such as in wall cavities near leaking pipes, shower recesses, or faulty guttering. These pests travel through mud shelter tubes as a means of protection from predators, dehydration, sunburn and to maintain a high-humidity environment necessary for their survival. White ants are highly secretive insects and prefer to enter buildings through areas that are difficult to inspect, such as infill patios, fire heaths, expansion joints, and cracks in concrete slab flooring. They are capable of passing through even the smallest of gaps, such as a 2 mm crack or expansion joint, and can eat through rubber compound between adjoining concrete flooring. White ants are known to travel under parquetry and floor tiles to reach wall framing timbers.

Where can white ants be found?

White ants can appear not just in our homes, but also in nearby trees, old stumps, sleepers, poorly disposed building materials and areas with moisture such as near a leaking hot water service. They build nests from which they will travel up to 100 metres seeking cellulose, commonly found in timber. Unfortunately this timber is often the framework of someone’s home!

There are a high number of cases in urban areas, as white ants can be attracted to established homes, however this doesn’t mean that new developments are safe. Growing suburbs such as Berwick in Melbourne’s outer south east, or new estates in regional centres such as Bendigo, are just as prone to white ants. VIP offer inspection services across metropolitan Melbourne and regional areas including the Mornington Peninsula, Latrobe Valley and Castlemaine amongst others

What are the risks?

White ants can enter properties undetected through difficult to reach locations. A space as small as 2mm is all that’s required- this could be a crack or an expansion join. In such joins white ants are known to have eaten through rubber compounds sealing joins. When in a property they can move unnoticed in walls or under floor tiles.
Home owners are at great risk should they not have a white ant management plan. Not all insurance covers the cost of repairs, which can be tens of thousands of dollars.

Preferring a humid environment between 25 and 35 degrees celsius, white ants are able to find both a warm environment and food inside your home. There are cases of power failures as a result of white ants chewing through electrical insulation in their pursuit of warmth. Other signs of white ants include: mud tunnels, dropping doors, sagging floors, and cracks in paint or plaster.

Whilst the potential for major structural damage is at the forefront of most people’s minds, furniture, fabrics, soft plastics and foam insulation are also at risk.

What are white ants?

White ants are notorious pests for their ability to rapidly chew through wood and destroy homes.

Otherwise known as termites, there are about 360 species of white ants in Australia, most of them are not destructive to human dwellings, but the ones that are, can hide inside your walls, floor, underground or in trees, and chip away wood at your home, causing extensive damage.

White ants infestation must be dealt with a safe, controlled management by an exterminator, lest you inflame the ants and activate their war instincts.

When is white ant season?

White ants season or “White Ants Australia” is a summer phenomenon when white ants typically thrive and multiply.

As their population grows, white ants leave their colonies in swarms to

search for new nesting grounds and feeding areas. This is when your home may come under attack by a passing termite swarm.

Drywood termites, for instance, are known to join “White Ants Australia” in late summer.

Even if the weather is not warm, you should not slacken in checking/you should regularly check the health of your home’s timber, as undetected termite damage may be older than just a couple of months.

What do white ants look like?

White ants look similar to black ants in shape and size, and most are 4 to 10 mm long. White or cream, they are lighter in colour than black ants though their heads may be brown or orange.

Their bodies may have a bulkiness or thickness to them that is unlike any regular black ant.

Considering there are many varieties of white ants in Australia, you must never rush the process of identifying the species that is infesting your home. Sometimes, what looks like a termite might not even be one, the reason why having an informed analysis done by an expert is highly recommended.

How do white ants enter houses?

There are many ways that a white ant can enter your house.

White ants can enter your home through:

  • Gaps between doors
  • Pipes and the spaces that pipes use to access your home
  • Vents
  • Windows

Some species of white ants also travel through mud and soil, meaning their pathway into your home may be covered up by dirt or completely underground.

Any wooden object that you bring inside your home can unknowingly bring termites.  Do you check second-hand objects for infestations before bringing them into your home?

What are white ants food source?

White ants have a digestive system that converts timber into a liquid food source. The worker ants accomplish this by using symbiotic protozoa in their gut. They feed their partially digested, semi-liquid food to other white ants through a process called trophallaxis, which involves regurgitation from the mouth or passage through the anus.

White ants have a highly organized social system and are known for their engineering abilities and strong survival instincts. They obtain moisture from soil and decaying timber and communicate through the use of pheromone signals. These traits are utilized in modern white ant control methods, including baiting systems that make use of the mutual feeding, grooming, and close social habits of white ants. Recently, advanced baits with a delayed lethal effect on white ants have been introduced to the Australian market from the United States. 

These baits are readily passed between white ants through grooming and feeding and are effective in controlling infestations. White ants require a high level of humidity and temperature (between 25 and 35 degrees Celsius) in their central colony nest. They are known for eating through the center of susceptible timbers, leaving only a thin veneer of wood and paint. White ants will also pack mud into cracks and joints in timber to prevent loss of humidity and dehydration.

Signs of White Ant infestation

White ants will rarely exit environments that provide them with the means to survive.

Your home’s timber may appear normal on the outside while it is being tunnelled through on the inside.

Fortunately, hollow wood makes a sound when it is knocked and is indicative of infestation.

Aside from wood, some termites require humid, damp soil to survive. If a swarm of termites is in your home, you may see them on the move after a humid storm.

Higher-ranking termites have wings that you may find discarded around your property.

Keep an eye out for suspicious piles of dirt around the perimeter of your home; this could be a sign of white ants.

Once your VIP Pest Control expert has done an analysis of your home and has identified exactly where your pest is eating, traversing and nesting, they can make an informed judgment as to what kind of pest species  it is.

 

What are the specifics and history of Australian White Ants (termites)?

The biology of Australian white ants, also known as subterranean termites, is quite interesting. Despite their name, white ants are not actually ants at all. They are ground-dwelling insects that originated from prehistoric cockroaches and are known for eating wood. In fact, the oldest known termite was found preserved in amber fluid in Arizona and is estimated to be 220 million years old. Within a white ant nest, there is an interdependent caste system, with members of different castes each having a specific role to play, including the queen, king, winged swarmer or reproductive (young king and queen), soldiers, and workers.

After mating, the queen white ant becomes an egg-laying machine, with her body becoming greatly enlarged. She can live for more than 25 years and produce more than 2,000 eggs per day. The king and queen live in a central chamber and are cared for by the worker ants. The worker ants, which make up the largest caste in the colony, are responsible for all tasks within the nest, including gathering food (such as timber and other cellulose), constructing tunnels, repairing and expanding the nest, grooming each other, and feeding the soldiers, king, queen, and young nymphs until they mature. Worker ants are 3-4 mm long, have no wings, are sterile, and are blind. They work 24 hours a day for several years and have a lifespan that varies by species.

Soldier ants are known for their orange-colored, armored heads and mandibulate pinchers, which they use to crush attackers such as ants. Some soldier ants also have a hard, pointed snout that can eject a sticky latex to ensnare their enemies. They are often the first to be seen by homeowners in large numbers when termite workings (shelter tubes or damaged timber) are opened, and they rush out to guard the opening while the worker ants repair the damage.

Swarmers, also known as alates, are white ants that are often seen swarming on hot, humid summer evenings around dusk. They have eyes but are poor fliers and are carried along by the wind. When they land, they shed their wings and seek out a mate to become the king and queen of a new white ant colony. Swarmers are released in large numbers when a mature white ant nest is well-established, and they attract a mate through the use of pheromone chemical signals. If you see swarming white ants, it is a clear indication that a large white ant nest is nearby, and it is essential to have a thorough inspection and report completed by a termite control expert in accordance with Australian Standard 3660.

What is the life cycle and behaviour of Australian White Ants (termites)?

After mating, the queen white ant becomes an egg-laying machine, with her body becoming greatly enlarged. She can live for more than 25 years and produce more than 2,000 eggs per day. The king and queen live in a central chamber and are cared for by the worker ants. The worker ants, which make up the largest caste in the colony, are responsible for all tasks within the nest, including gathering food (such as timber and other cellulose), constructing tunnels, repairing and expanding the nest, grooming each other, and feeding the soldiers, king, queen, and young nymphs until they mature. Worker ants are 3-4 mm long, have no wings, are sterile, and are blind. They work 24 hours a day for several years and have a lifespan that varies by species.

Soldier ants are known for their orange-colored, armored heads and mandibulate pinchers, which they use to crush attackers such as ants. Some soldier ants also have a hard, pointed snout that can eject a sticky latex to ensnare their enemies. They are often the first to be seen by homeowners in large numbers when termite workings (shelter tubes or damaged timber) are opened, and they rush out to guard the opening while the worker ants repair the damage.

Swarmers, also known as alates, are white ants that are often seen swarming on hot, humid summer evenings around dusk. They have eyes but are poor fliers and are carried along by the wind. When they land, they shed their wings and seek out a mate to become the king and queen of a new white ant colony. Swarmers are released in large numbers when a mature white ant nest is well-established, and they attract a mate through the use of pheromone chemical signals. If you see swarming white ants, it is a clear indication that a large white ant nest is nearby, and it is essential to have a thorough inspection and report completed by a termite control expert in accordance with Australian Standard 3660.

White ants constantly groom and feed each other. To control white ant infestations, it can be helpful to install and monitor a baiting system near areas where white ants are foraging. Regular inspections (preferably monthly) may reveal the presence of dead or sick worker ants, which may change color and take on a mottled appearance as they spread the bait to other white ants, leading to the eventual elimination of the entire colony. White ant baits are designed to be non-repellent to the ants and have a delayed effect, allowing time for the poison to be passed on to other members of the colony, including the queen. With a sufficient dosage taken back to the nest, it is possible to eliminate the entire white ant colony.

What are the main species in Australia of white ants that cause devastation and destruction?

It is essential for a white ant inspector to accurately identify the species of white ant present in a building or its surroundings. Some white ant species do not attack dry, seasoned timber, while others can cause significant damage to building timbers in a short amount of time. 

Coptotermes acinaciformis white ants termites

Coptotermes acinaciformis is a common white ant species found throughout Australia, particularly in urban areas or areas with a high number of eucalyptus trees. These ants are highly destructive to buildings and other timber structures and are the most widely distributed and destructive timber pest in Australia, believed to cause more than 70% of serious damage to buildings in the country. A single colony of Coptotermes acinaciformis may contain over one million white ants and are known to be highly voracious.

Coptotermes acinaciformis white ants build their nests out of sight, often within the base of eucalyptus trees or underground. They may also build their nests within enclosed patios or under concrete on ground flooring, which provides ideal conditions for moisture retention, temperature control, and humidity regulation within the central nest. These white ants may also construct subsidiary nests away from the main colony, which may be found in wall cavities of buildings where there is a reliable moisture source, such as from a leaking shower recess, faulty guttering, or rusted down pipes.

mastotermes darwiniensis

Mastotermes darwiniensis is a white ant species found commonly in tropical areas of Queensland, the Northern Territory, and Western Australia, north of the tropic of Capricorn. These ants are highly destructive and can cause severe damage to houses, buildings, bridges, posts, poles, and living trees, shrubs, fruit, vegetable crops, sugarcane, and rubber trees. They have also been known to attack rubber tires on tractors and cause damage to leather, hide, plastic, or lead-sheathed cables, bitumen, bagged salt, flour, and even glass. Mastotermes darwiniensis is the most ancient of white ants in the world and is found only in Australia. These ants build their nests secretly below the soil surface or in the trunks and root crowns of trees and stumps. When a nest reaches maturity (over 100,000 ants or more), it may “split off” to form other nests over a wide area, which can sustain life for a long period of time without contact with the original nest.

schedorhinotermes intermedius

Schedorhinotermes intermedius is a type of white ant that is commonly found in eastern New South Wales and south eastern Queensland, particularly along the coastline, Great Dividing Range, and adjoining slopes. This species is known for its tendency to “gouge” affected timber and its preference for nails used in construction. When you first encounter them, you may see both major soldiers (6mm in body length) and minor soldiers (4mm in body length). These white ants are highly destructive to buildings and timber structures, and if mostly major soldiers are present, it is likely that the colony is large and capable of causing severe and rapid damage to structural timbers. Schedorhinotermes intermedius white ants often build their nests in tree stumps, root crowns of living, dead, and debilitated trees, under houses or enclosed patios, or in areas where timber has been buried or stored in contact with the soil.

Nasutitermes exitiosus

Nasutitermes exitiosus is a type of white ant that is commonly found in New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, southern Queensland, and Western Australia, particularly in urban areas or areas with a high prevalence of eucalyptus gum trees. This species is known to cause damage to buildings and other timber structures, although the severity of damage is not as high as some other white ant species. Nasutitermes exitiosus white ants build mound nests that protrude 30-75 cm above the ground. These nests can be easily controlled by knocking off the top of the nest and applying an insecticide treatment inside.

Coptotermes frenchi

Coptotermes lacteus white-ants are found in eastern NSW, the ACT, and the south eastern areas of Queensland, including Brisbane and the coastal region to Rockhampton. These white-ants are particularly prevalent along the entire coast-line, along the Great Dividing Range and western slopes. Coptotermes lacteus white-ants are known to attack timber structures that are in contact with the soil, such as stumps, dead trees, timber fences, and poles. These white-ants may also attack timber that has become weakened by weathering or decay, particularly in damp sub-floor areas. The nests of Coptotermes lacteus white-ants are often built as mounds up to 2m above ground level, with hard clay walls. These nests can be easily controlled by knocking the top off and treating the nest with insecticide.

Nasutitermes exitiosus

Nasutitermes walkeri is a white ant species commonly found in eastern NSW and south eastern Queensland, particularly in the coastal and mountain regions along the eastern side of NSW. They can cause damage to damp timbers and are often found attacking fences, poles, and other timber structures that are exposed to wood decay due to weathering or being in contact with soil. The nests of Nasutitermes walkeri are typically found in trees on the main trunk or a large branch.

heterotermes ferox

Heterotermes ferox is a white ant species commonly found throughout NSW, the ACT, Victoria, and parts of South Australia and Western Australia, particularly in areas with a high prevalence of eucalyptus trees. These white ants are known to cause damage to damp timbers and are often found attacking fences, poles, and other timber structures that are exposed to wood decay due to weathering or being in contact with soil. It is important to correctly identify this species, as it is often mistaken for the more aggressive and destructive Coptotermes acinaciformis. Heterotermes ferox white ants build their nests in stumps, logs, or other timbers that are in direct contact with soil and show signs of wood decay or rotting.

Dampwood white ants form small, independent nests that usually attack sick or dead trees, decaying stumps, or mouldy timber in the ground. They are rarely found in dry timbers in buildings. Drywood white ants, which are mostly found in tropical areas with high atmospheric humidity, are not a common problem in NSW, although the introduced and highly destructive West Indian drywood white ant, Cryptotermes brevis, was found in Sydney in the 1980s. Eradication of this species typically involves wrapping the entire building in plastic and using methyl bromide fumigation.

How to conduct a termite inspection

If you are concerned about Melbourne white ants, you can conduct your own termite inspection.

You need to methodically search each area of your house for the signs that we listed above.

The best way to do so is to move furniture out of the way so you can check the perimeter of every room.

When you knock on timber, listen for the sound of falling or moving things on the other side.

Be on the lookout for any suspicious signs of damage like broken plaster, paint or water leakage.

Outdoors, repeat the above process. On top of that, look out for any suspicious piles of dirt. Use your own weight to test the integrity of the earth around your property.

Check the branches of trees, which some species of termites nest within.

If you have timber lying around in your yard, also make sure that that isn’t harbouring an infestation.

What do you do if you find termites at your property?

It’s important not to disturb white-ants or termites if you find them on or around your property. These insects have strong survival instincts and may abandon an area if they are disturbed or shaken up. Instead, it’s best to arrange for a professional inspection as soon as possible to identify the species and determine the appropriate course of action. The Australian Standard 3660 provides guidelines for inspecting and treating infestations of white-ants or termites. At VIP Pest Control we have all the necessary certifications and latest tools to ensure a safe and environmentally friendly outcome. Call us today on  Call us today on 1800 198 041.

Do not disturb any white ants you find

It is not wise/advisable to attack white ants on sight.

To take on a white ant colony, you need a proper management plan.

White ants respond to direct attack by sectioning off and hiding their nest if they come under attack, making it harder for you and your exterminator to remove the source of the problem – the nest, their queen.

A smart way to exterminate termites is to have a VIP Pest Control expert leave chemical barriers around the areas of your property that will stop the ants from progressing through your home.

Your Melbourne white ants’ exterminator will identify the points of your property that require a chemical barrier. Once that barrier is layered down, the ants will slowly be poisoned, taking the poison back to their own colony, helping you wipe it out completely.

What to do if you disturb white ants

If you have opened a piece of timber and found a catacomb of white ants wriggling inside  it, you need to cover that back up ASAP.

When you’re working under such short notice, thick duct tape can be used to close it up.

If the area that ants are feasting within returns to a state of darkness, they might continue as they were. This is what you’re hoping for, the alternative is that these worker white ants will march go back to their colony to seal it up, protect it and hide it.

Contact VIP Pest Control on 1800 198 041 to learn more about pest inspections for your property and pest control management plans.


View All Comments

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *