Termites have been around for about 150 million years. Although commonly called 'white ants' in Australia they are not related to ants at all but are more closely related to cockroaches. The term 'white ant' has probably been coined due to their social nature and the fact that they are found in large colonies.
Australia has approximately 300 species of termites but only about 15 species are regarded as economically damaging. The remainder play an important role, breaking down plant matter in the natural environment. The incidence of termites, and thus the probability of attack and severity of damage caused, generally increases the further north you travel in Australia.
As referred to above, termites are social insects and a single colony can contain millions of individuals. Within this structure will be a number of different castes (eg. workers, soldiers and reproductives) and each perform different functions to help maintain the health of the colony. Each of these castes are morphologically adapted to meet the requirements of the task it performs.
Most activities are performed within a closed system of underground galleries where there is protection from temperature and humidity extremes. They emerge from these underground galleries to feed on cellulose based material (whether it is fallen logs or the frame of a building). The winged reproductives (alates) also emerge when the conditions are right (usually in late spring or early summer) in order to mate and establish another colony.
The subterranean termite group cause by far the greatest level of damage to buildings and structures. As their name suggests they are generally ground dwelling and thus, when infesting a building, usually require some level of contact with soil or some external moisture source in order to survive.
Many of these termites are able to build protective mud-tubes, from the soil, up a non-edible building element (eg. brickwork) or around physical barriers in order to reach a food source (such as bearers and joists). Even if an effective termite barrier has been installed termites can still therefore enter a building by bridging the barrier. Annual termite inspections by a qualified professional are therefore essential in order to detect such bridging of barriers.
These are the termites which, if you let them, will literally eat you out of house and home.
So wherever (and whenever) you're planning to build a new dwelling, be sure to have your site carefully checked for their presence; and be sure to have a Kordon Termite Barrier installed which gives you the best level of protection.