WHAT ARE TERMITES?
Termites are insects that feed on cellulose, an organic compound mainly found in vegetative matter such as dead trees, wood, and plants. Preferring to live in dark or subterranean spaces, the foundations and walls of houses often make perfect sites for infestations and, if left unchecked, can expand to grow into thriving colonies.
On those occasions, the colonies can reach population numbers in the hundreds of thousands, depending on the type of termite and the conditions available.
WHAT DO TERMITES LOOK LIKE?
When identifying termites, look for wings of equal length and straight, rather than bent, antennae. As for coloration and size, there are three distinct variants of termite.
Worker termites, which collect food, are white colored and can range from 1/4 to 1/2 inch in length. Soldier termites, which protect the colony from outside threats, have white bodies and dark-colored heads and can range from 2/3 to 3/4 inch in length. Reproductive termites, which are responsible for procreating, are either black or light-brown and range from 1/4 to 1/2 inch in length. Due to the presence of wings and antennae, reproductive termites are often confused with flying ants.
These divisions in labor are a result of the caste system that governs termite’s behaviors and roles. The coloration and size of these insects will also depend on their species.
Additionally, there are four common types of termites that cause most of the damage to homes: drywood, dampwood, subterranean, and Formosan.
Drywood termites are about 3/8 of an inch in size and are pale brown. These types of termites do not require soil or moisture to thrive, generally feeding on drywood, as their name implies, as well as wallpaper and plastics. They can build nests and extensive tunnels systems that can undermine a home’s structural integrity. Drywood termites are usually found in hotter climates and are not present in areas that suffer severe winter conditions.
Dampwood termites, on the other hand, flourish near water or in places with high humidity. Because of this, they feed on dying wood or on the wood of homes with plumbing or roof leaks. They’re generally larger than drywood termites, between half an inch to 5/8 of an inch, and are more of a dark brown.
Considered the most destructive type of termites, this subterranean species can establish huge colonies with hundred of thousands of members. They eat all types of materials, not just wood, and can cause severe damage to a home’s foundations, floors, beams, plumbing, and insulation, among other things. Subterranean termites are 1/8 to 1 inch long and range from light to dark colored brown. They’re found in most of the US and can live either underground or in humid areas above ground.
Finally, Formosans are a type of subterranean termite and are the most voracious eaters among these insects. Once a colony is established, it is difficult to eradicate because of its population size and territorial extension. They are about half an inch long and have yellowish brown markings. They tend to be prevalent in tropical climates; in the US, they’re strictly found in the southern states and places with mild winters.
DO TERMITES HAVE WINGS?
Only reproductive termites have wings, which grow once the insect has reached the point of sexual maturity.
This allows new reproductive termites to fly away from their birthplace and start colonies of their own. Oftentimes, these wings are shed once they’ve found a suitable locale. Piles of discarded wings are a sign that a termite infestation might be in process.
WHAT DO TERMITES EAT?
Termites eat dead plants and trees. They gain nourishment from cellulose, which is commonly found therein.
Cellulose is also found in wood, which makes up the majority of a termite’s diet. A colony’s location is dictated by the termites’ preference. However, termites are also known to eat plastics, plumbing, wallpaper, and other synthetic materials, thereby increasing their destructive capabilities.
In subterranean colonies, damp, moist, or decaying wood is preferred. Colonies that infest homes, however, are content without moisture and feast on dry softwood.
WHERE DO TERMITES COME FROM?
Termite colonies thrive in areas corresponding to their dietary needs. These can vary between dry, damp, and subterranean environments.
Drywood termites may enter your home by way of nearby trees, new furniture, or firewood. Dampwood termites often enter your home at ground-level. These can include dog doors or water drainage chutes. Subterranean termites need soil to operate. While their colonies may be based in the yard, under a branch or tree stump, they may build underground tunnels to their next food source, like your home’s foundation.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF A TERMITE INFESTATION?
There are several symptoms of a termite infestation. If your home shows any of the following signs, contact a pest control inspector for further inspection. Remember that different types of termites can can cause different types of damage.
Signs of infestation may include:
- Small holes in drywall
- Hollow wood
- Earthen packing
- Mounds of droppings near entry points
- Piles of shed wings
- Mud tubes along the foundation or walls
- Maze patterns in the walls and floors
HOW CAN ONE PREVENT FUTURE TERMITES?
There are simple methods to protect a home against termite infestations. Methods to consider include the following:
- Sealing all cracks in the home’s foundation
- Covering a majority of wood-to-soil contact areas in plastic sheeting
- Repairing broken roof tiles
- Keeping moisture leakage from air conditioners
- Ensuring that wooden furniture is minimally away from the wall
- Repairing leaky pipes
- Removing all tree stumps from the yard
- Storing firewood off the ground
- Using fenceposts of materials other than wood
HOW CAN ONE RESOLVE AN INFESTATION?
If a home has termites, it is advisable call an exterminator immediately. Depending on the severity of the infestation, the exterminator will suggest one of several options:
- Physical barrier
- Chemical barrier
Termite baiting involves the dissemination of lethal poison to worker termites, which slowly radiates towards the rest of the colony. Physical barrier options might include the coverage of all soil spaces in an impermeable layer, such as plastic.
Chemical termite barriers are sprays that can act as either an exterminator or deterrent. When all else fails, fumigation is the last option. Otherwise known as termite tenting, this form of chemical termite treatment will immediately resolve the infestation. The process, which involves covering the home in a large tent, blasts every nook and cranny with termite-killing gas.
While the process and subsequent aeration take approximately 30 hours, homeowners are mandated to stay out of their home’s premises for at least three days. By that time, however, the termite infestation will have disappeared.