After a long and cold winter, coupled with the recent spring rain falls and warming temperatures, termites are starting to become active throughout southern Ontario. They are foraging throughout our neighbourhoods looking for that important food source they require for their survival, better known as cellulose.

Why do termites build shelter tubes?

When foraging termites are looking for food (cellulose/wood) they often come across barriers they need to overcome in order to reach wood on the other side. To bridge this gap, termites create shelter tubes that allow the them to leave the protective soil to reach the wood they require to survive.

Shelter tubes protect termites from predators like ants. It also protects them from air circulation, as termites are soft bodied insects, therefore would dry out quite quickly if exposed to the outside air. These shelter tubes are created by termites using “mud” which is a combination of wood, soil, termite saliva and termite feces.

Are there different types of termite tubes? 

Yes, there are 4 different types of tubes that termites are known to build. Each types serves a different purpose for the termite colony.

1. Exploratory Tubes

The most common type of termite shelter tube is the exploratory tube. It is thin and can branch off in many different directions. This tube can often be abandoned by termites and as a result takes on a dry and brittle appearance and breaks easily when touched. If it is an active tube it will be moist and if you break it, you will likely see white termite workers and soldiers rushing in to repair the break and protect themselves from intruders.

2. Working Tubes

If an exploratory shelter tube reaches an ideal wood food source it will widen and be reinforced, becoming a working tube. These tubes, also known as utility tubes, allow hundreds to thousands of termites to move from the colony to the food source and back. Utility tubes can range from 1 centimetre up to 3 centimetres and can be wider in some circumstances.

3. Swarm Tubes

A swarm tube is created by the worker termites in order to provide some structure to a very chaotic environment when termite swarmer’s leave the colony for their mating flight.

4. Drop Tubes

The final type of tube is a drop tube, it provides the termites with a direct root from wood to the soil below. This tube is usually located in a sheltered environment, like a crawlspace. It is easily identifiable as it resembles stalagmites in caves. This tube is lighter in colour than exploratory or working tubes because it contains more wood fibers than the other tubes.