Living With Cold Temperatures

Eastern Subterranean Termite

Reticulitermes flavipes, Eastern Subterranean Termite

The most widely distributed termite in the United States is the Eastern Subterranean Termite, Reticulitermes flavipes. This termite is found throughout the Eastern United States where ever there are plenty of trees. North of Indiana, these termites become less numerous and are absent from all but southern Canada. The limit to their range moving north is the inability to withstand cold temperatures. At temperatures below 50 degrees F (6- 8 degrees C), termites will enter a “Chill Coma”, a state where muscles are incapacitated. Chill coma is reversible, but the termites are vulnerable in that state.

Termites can live through temperatures of 2 degrees C below freezing for 72 hours. The water in insects contains sugars and other substances that depress the freezing point. In termites, freezing occurs between 4 and 5 degrees C below freezing. Temperatures below -5 C will freeze and kill Reticulitermes flavipes within 1 h. Insects with extreme cold tolerance can survive freezing and thawing. Reticulitermes flavipes has no tolerance to freezing which is 100 percent lethal.

How does Reticulitermes flavipes survive the winter in the Northern US? With little cold tolerance, they must burrow underground below the freeze line. Termite colonies will die if the ground freezes below the depth they have burrowed. Moving north from the US border, the ground freezes to increasingly greater depths in the winter. Reticulitermes flavipes does not burrow deep enough to survive winter freezing north of its current range.

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
This entry was posted in behavior, by jjneal, Environment. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Living With Cold Temperatures

  1. CollageMama says:

    Thanks for this post that had nothing whatsoever to do with teaching preschoolers…except that “chill coma” fits their brain activity many times every day…and it is spreading northward.

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