‘Silent destroyers’ that consume houses found in Netherlands

A colony of termites can consume up to 500g of wood a day. Photo: Judy Gallagher via Wikimedia Commons

Termites that feed off dead wood, causing potentially devastating damage to houses, have established themselves in the Netherlands, experts have warned.

The termites, which are native to the eastern United States and Mexico, were first detected in Zuid-Holland province in 2019.

Despite efforts to exterminate the colony, the creatures survived the Dutch winter and have spread to an area of around 1,500 square metres.

Two houses and a greenhouse complex have been damaged by the termites gnawing through the foundations, experts say. They may also have colonised the roof.

Aron Kuiper, biologist with the Wageningen-based research institute KAD, which specialises in infestations, told NOS: “For a biologist it’s great, but it can cause a lot of damage.

“These creatures look harmless, but if your house is made of wood it’ll be gradually chewed away,” he said.

The termites, known to biologists by the Latin name of Reticulitermes flavipes, live mainly in underground colonies that can number in the millions. The colonies consist of a king and queen, soldiers who defend the nest and workers who build it and forage for food.

The creatures are unique in that their diet consists entirely of cellulose, which is found in dead wood and dried-out plants. They can consume up to 500g in a day.

They can be hard to detect because they burrow into wooden structures and consume them from the inside out. The main sign that they have colonised an area is the appearance of soil tunnels that they dig to protect themselves from drying out.

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