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The genus Reticulitermes contains most of the termite species that are pests in North America, including R. flavipes, the eastern subterranean termite. Reticulitermes flavipes holds the honor of the most common and wide-spread termite found in North America, and the most economically important wood-eating insect in the United States. They feed on cellulose (the major component of plant cell walls), and are notorious for destroying man-made wood products, especially wood in buildings but also paper and books. Like other termites, R. flavipes is a eusocial species and lives in a colony with three castes: the reproductives (king, queen and alates – winged reproductive individuals), soldiers and workers. A colony can mature to the massive size of one million individuals, foraging for food up to 150 feet from the nest. New nests are formed annually when flying alates disperse to find a monogamous mate, the two build a nest and the female begins laying eggs to populate it. Billions of dollars are spent in the United States on control, treatment and repair related to this species. Pesticide applications are the traditional control method; preventative underground barriers are now regularly used in construction. Baited traps are also effective in controlling and eliminating populations, as foraging workers bring back food laced with a chitin synthesis inhibitor and distribute it to the colony. Although these termites are a destructive pest, in natural ecosystems they (and other termite species) play a critical role in terms of decomposition of organic material.

(Pence 1999; Su, Scheffrahn and Cabrera 2009; Wikipedia 2011)


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