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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkVallarta Living | Archives

Flight of the Termite
Terry Faulkner & Alex Barragan

The year was 1987. I had just returned home on this beautiful April night when my attention was drawn to the innumerable, transparent wings, which, disturbed by my passing, blew about the floor. Hundreds, maybe thousands more floated on the surface of the pool. I wondered, what sort of creature could have devoured the tiny bodies, which must have been attached to them.

Termites populated the shores of Banderas Bay long before humans arrived. Their adaptability has proven formidable. These tenacious little creatures, whose social life is similar to the ant, actually evolved from the cockroach family nearly 150 million years ago. This probably explains their amazing ability to survive in situations that would seem imposible for any other species.

The typical termite colony consists of four groups; workers, soldiers, immature and reproductives. The workers are sterile, blind, wingless and their main duties are to tend to the eggs, maintain the nest and feed the soldiers as well as the young. Ingested wood is converted to sugar in the termites stomach for nourishment. Soldiers have the sole responsibility of defending the colony against intruders. They develop defenses which include claws on their front legs and toxic chemicals which can be injected or sprayed on their attackers. Immature individuals are those who are awaiting job assignments.

A chemical circulated by the queen is needed to make the immatures into workers, soldiers or as we often see, winged colonizers. These colonizers only retain their wings for a short time to escape the colony and reestablish elsewhere. Maybe your house. The final catagory is the reproductives. There will be only one pair, a king and queen plus an inactive backup pair in each colony.

Controlling termites is a difficult matter. Prevention is the best but not always possible. Certain woods are immune to them. These are normally dark or red woods. Light colored woods, pine, oak, etc... are particularly enjoyed by termites and if untreated, will surely fall prey. Poisens are best left to professionals, which can produce excellent results. When contracting for carpentry work, specify termite resistant or pretreated woods to avoid problems afterwords. The wooden beams, vigas, that support the typical Vallarta roof are often painted with a coating of tar or oil to ward off attacks.

These beams are also available in concrete which are excellent if you are building or replacing a roof. Most dark woods are too soft to support a roof. Another means of prevention is the common gecko which thrives in nearly every home in Vallarta. These friendly creatures should be encouraged to reside in your home. Although ants will devour a termite colony it is very difficult for them to gain an entry. Keep all wood, paper and cardboard out of the termites reach. Disquise woods with several coats of paint or varnish.

Turn off all lights during termite migration. If a light must remain on, a pail of water directly beneath it can catch many of the intruders. Be vigilent. Keep an eye out for the first signs of infestation and act immediately.

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