Ten Acres, Two Horses, And A Billion Termites

About three years ago, I first noticed some mud casings covering dead sticks and weeds on the ground on the back part of our ten acres. I couldn’t figure out what kind of creature was making the casings, because I never saw anything inside of them.

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I saw and more of the mud tubes without ever seeing what might be making them. Until it rained two weeks ago.

I was out looking at the terraces on one side of my hill with my neighbor, Gary, because we’d had problems with run-off from my hill for the first time ever.

Gary had commented how bare the hill was, but I never connected that with all the mud tubes I’d been seeing. I poked at the tubes like I always do, and for the first time saw little critters–little, white grub-like insects. My neighbor Gary and I both said “Termites!”

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He knew they were some kind of subterranean termite, because they were living in the soil far away from any building. I had no idea termites could live in the ground and eat woody dead plant matter.

Here are some examples of their handiwork

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Here are mud tubes that the termites have made over the stems of living buckwheat shrubs

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I started scouring the Internet for information and found images of something that looks most like what I have. They live in soil, make mud tubes, and are common in Texas grassland. The species has the common name desert termite.

I haven’t had a definitive ID of the kind of termite these are yet, but I’ve talked to a couple of experts through San Bernardino County Agricultural Extension and to an entomology professor at UC Riverside. They may be Western Subterranean termites, or something else, but what they are is a mixed bag:

On the one hand, these termites aerate and help create soil, like earthworms do. On the other hand, they devour old roots and plant matter, so they take away things that hold soil in place, and therefore are contributing to erosion–at least on my terraced hill.

Here is a close-up of the critters, for you amateur entomologists out there

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The only remedies I’ve heard so far are spraying or simply harrowing the soil to disrupt the nests (one colony can contain millions of termites!). disrupting the tubes allows ants, their natural predator, and the elements to get at them.

Stay tuned, and I’ll keep you updated on the battle with the termites for Tiger Tail Terrace!

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2 responses

  1. My backyard has become very lumpy and bumpy since this past summer. I dug up one of the lumps with my foot and I noticed that there were white spots in the soil and irregular shaped small holes about the size of a pencil and/or smaller. I live in SE Michigan. Was just curious, do you think that I may have these termites that you spoke of?

    • Hi Kathy,

      I’m no expert for sure, so don’t have any idea if these kind of subterranean termites live in your area or not. I never noticed any white spots, except the termites themselves, which are white and visible in some of the photos above. They do seem to make these mud tubes, so if you don’t see any of those, I doubt it’s these termites. Good luck!

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