Termites have been around for more than 50 million years and are experts at what they do: chewing through and eating wood. Like ants and bees, they are social insects, and each member of the colony has a specific task. A termite colony can eat up to 15 pounds of wood in a single week, according to Termites Gone Wild. The little critters can live up to a year, but the queen can endure for more than 10 years doing what she does best: laying eggs.
Head-Banging by Soldier Termites
Subterranean soldier termites do make sounds. The soldier termites create vibrations by rapidly moving their heads and bodies backward and forward. They do not move their legs. This movement results in a chittering type of sound which is known as as head-banging. This head-banging sound is the loudest sound that a termite can make. According to the Fink et al. of the National Center for Physical Acoustics and the USDA, "Head-banging is so distinctive and often loud that "listening" to termites in noisy urban environments is not usually a problem. In Jackson Square, New Orleans head-banging in two Aristocratic Pear trees could easily be heard above intense urban noise including the sounds of street performers and their cheering crowds."
Head-Banging by Worker Termites
Worker termites can also make head-banging sounds. The sound is similar to the one made by soldier termites, but the way the termites create the sound is different. Worker termites hit the floor of the nest with their mandibles or jaws, and when they persist in this behavior, they create a type of crunching sound. The reason for this termite behavior is unknown.
Termites can enter houses that are raised (traditional in New Orleans, where termite infestations are rampant) by building mud tubes to crawl through to climb above the brick columns supporting the house. (Concrete slab foundations present the same issue, and termites use the same method to climb past the concrete to the delicious wood above.) Once they reach wood, of course, they move through by chewing tunnels. They can be detected not only through these mud tubes, and the sawdust-like refuse they leave behind after chewing through wood, but also by a clicking sound that they sometimes produce. This sound is easiest to detect at night.
Scratching and Swarming Sounds
Termites can make a scratching sound, which is actually the sound of their mandibles chewing at the wood. This sound can be subtle enough to go unnoticed by people, but not necessarily by animals. One homeowner, concerned that his dog was barking at the walls, took the dog to the vet for a check-up. When the vet failed to find anything wrong with the dog, the owner pulled back the carpeting to find a large termite infestation. Termites also make sounds when they swarm, which happens every spring. The sound is a light buzzing made by the wings as the insects fly.
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