Termites live in colonies that, at maturity, number from several hundred to several million individuals. Colonies use decentralised, self-organised systems of activity guided by swarm intelligence which exploit food sources and environments unavailable to any single insect acting alone. A typical colony contains nymphs (semimature young), workers, soldiers, and reproductive individuals of both sexes, sometimes containing several egg-laying queens. At maturity, a primary queen has a great capacity to lay eggs. In some species, the mature queen has a greatly distended abdomen and may produce 20000 to 30000 eggs a day.
Termites are generally grouped according to their nesting and feeding habits. Thus, the commonly used general groupings are subterranean, soil-dwelling, drywood, dampwood, and grass-eating. Of these, subterraneans and drywoods are primarily responsible for damage to human-made structures.
When termites have already penetrated a building, the first action is usually to destroy the colony with insecticides before removing the termites’ means of access and fixing the problems that encouraged them in the first place. Baits (feeder stations) with small quantities of disruptive insect hormones or other very slow-acting toxins have become the preferred, least-toxic management tool in most western countries. The termites’ effects are damaging, costing the southwestern United States approximately $1.5 billion each year in wood structure damage.