Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What You Need to Know about Harvester Termites

We’ve all seen clouds of flying-ants fluttering from the ground during the rainy summer season, whirling around lights before dropping to the ground and shedding their wings – often, to our irritation, in our homes.

But what are these creatures, where do they come from, and what damage can they really do?

What are they?

The flying-ants most often seen in our gardens and homes are members of the Harvester Termite family, which comprises the Southern Harvester Termite (Microhodotermes viator) and the Northern Harvester Termite (Hodotermes mossambicus).

These comparatively large, sighted, social insects form colonies consisting of very large ‘primary reproductives’ (queens and kings), ‘secondary reproductives’ (the flying-ants leaving to start a new colony) and sterile males and females (soldiers, workers or nymphs).

While Southern Harvester Termites prefer the open veld and build sharp conical soil mounds called heuweltjies, Northern Harvester Termites build subterranean nests up to 1m in diameter and 8m deep. In heavily infested areas, many nests become inter-connected, effectively forming one enormous colony, surrounded by a network of tunnels. The queens and kings remain in a central spherical hive, surrounded by numerous white nymphs (hence the Afrikaans name Rysmier or ‘rice-ant’) which care for the eggs. Nests can be identified by holes in the ground, surrounded by patchy areas of lawn and small soil mounds.

Why they infest an estate

As their name suggests, Harvester Termites ‘harvest’ dead and living plant matter and cause damage to grasses, leaves, herbaceous twigs and seedlings. Unlike Dry-wood Termites, however, they do not infest and destroy wood and furniture.

Harvester Termites are attracted to lawns and gardens and will readily invade an estate if sufficient forage is available. Although they do aerate soil and break down and release organic matter, the degree of harm they can do to lawns and flower beds far outweighs any positives – especially when you consider that a single queen can lay up to 25 000 eggs per day.

The damage they’re capable of doing

Harvester Termites are voracious foragers, with large colonies capable of removing 1-3 metric tons of forage per hectare.

If left untreated, they can do significant damage to lawns and gardens, even to the extent of complete destruction.

How to get rid of them

Many creatures prey on Harvester Termites, including spiders, crickets, frogs and birds. In the wild, an Aardwolf can consume up to 200 000 termites in a single night.

But if you haven’t got an Aardwolf handy, your best bet to get rid of Harvester Termites is any one of a range of commercially available pesticides. These include Efekto Zero Harvester Termite Bait, Efekto Kamikaze, Skatterkill for Insects (which is not harmful to birds or animals), Bayer Baythion Liquid, Bayer Baythroid Liquid, Bayer K-O Gard and Kombat Termites – all of which are available at leading nurseries and garden centres.

Where to get advice

If you need more information or advice about Harvester Termites, talk to your garden estate maintenance people or contact brandon@4seasons-gardens.co.za.

(c) 2010