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Termites feed on wood and other cellulose materials found in paper, books, and insulation, causing billions of dollars in damage each year. In nature, termites expedite the decomposition process of compromised or decaying plants, returning valuable nutrients to the environment. But when the infiltrate structural, the results can be devastating.
Some species of termites are mistaken for ants, particularly during their winged reproductive stage when they emerge from their colonies as a means of spreading into new areas. The subterranean termite is by far the most common termite species in the United States, with populations in all states other than Alaska. Formosan termites, drywood termites, and dampwood termites plague property owners in other areas. In large part, your geographic location will determine which termite species your structure may be susceptible to.
In the United States, there are 4 main types of termites that property owners should be aware of. Subterranean termites, formosan termites, drywood termites, and dampwood termites. Because each type of termite requires very specific treatment measures to resolve, proper termite identification is critical any treatment strategy.
Each termite colony is typically comprised of a king (or kings) and queen (or queens), nymphs, workers, soldiers, and reproductives. Initially, a colony will begin with just a king and queen, and the colony will expand into the thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions depending upon the species. Drywood termite colonies are typically the smallest, containing an average of 2,500 members. Subterranean termite colonies routinely range in the 300,000 member area (although may reach up to 2 million), while formosan termite colonies commonly exceed several million members.
Termite Workers: Workers typically make up about 90% of a termite colony, and their purpose is to provide food for the colony along with other basic essentials. Worker termites are blind, with no wings, and do not reproduce. Their typical lifespan is about 2 years under ideal conditions.
Termite Soldiers: Soldier termites generally make up less than 5% of a termite colony, with some variation between termite species. Like workers, soldiers are also blind and wingless, with soft bodies. Unlike workers, however, soldiers have a modified head exhibiting powerful mandibles that are used to defend the colony against predators. Soldier termites are unable to feed themselves, relying instead on workers to feed them. As such, soldier termites do not actually do any damage to structural wood members.Termite Reproductives: as a termite colony matures, several kings will typically mate with the queen so that she can maintain a steady supply of eggs. Some termite species queens can produce upwards of 10,000 eggs every day. Eventually, the queen will produce winged reproductives, or alates, whose purpose is to emerge from the colony, find a suitable mate, and begin formation of their own new colony.
Although most people can readily identify what might appear to be some type of ant, many are unaware that many species of termites closely resemble ants to the untrained eye. Like most species of ants, termites "swarm" at different times of the year, during which time winged reproductives, called alates, emerge from their colonies in search of a mate in hopes of starting new colonies. Termites in particular are most readily visible during this swarming activity.
Being able to distinguish between a termite and an ant will be the first step in properly eliminating your pest problem. Fortunately, there are some very distinct differences that can simplify this identification process. Here are the most noticeable differences between ants and termites:Waistline: Ants have a narrow, noticeably pinched waistline. Termites have a broad, thick waistline.
Wings: Although both ants (most species) and termite alates (swarmers) have 2 sets of wings, the front wings of ants are notably longer than the rear wings. All 4 wings of termites are essentially the same size.
Antennae: Ant have elbowed (bent), often clubbed antennae. Termite antennae are straight and unbent.
Appearance & Characteristics: Subterranean workers and soldiers are typically a milky-white to brownish in color about 1/8" long. Termite soldiers have noticeable pinchers used for defending the colony from predators. Reproductive termites, or swarmers, are typically brown-black in color and develop wings during their brief swarm period.
Distribution: Subterranean termites are found throughout the United States, with the exception of Alaska.
Nest Sites: Subterranean termites live primarily in underground colonies with access to moisture and cellulose-containing sources of food. In some instances they may also establish above ground satellite colonies under ideal conditions.
Preferred Food Sources: Subterranean termites primarily feed on wood with a higher than normal moisture content, along with other materials such as paper, books, or insulation that contain cellulose.
Colony Size: An average subterranean termite colony typically contains approximately 300,000 members, but colonies may expand well in excess of a million termites under ideal conditions.Distinguishing Features: As a general rule, subterranean termites require direct contact with the soil in order to sustain themselves. When traveling above ground, they build characteristic tunnels comprised of soil, feces, and other materials that may be readily visible on the foundations of structures.
Swarm Season: Most species of subterranean termites swarm in the spring or early summer months on a warm sunny day following a period of heavy rainfall. Swarms usually occur during the daytime, unlike swarms of drywood termites.
Signs of Infestation: Subterranean termites travel above ground in mud tubes comprised of soil, feces, and mucus. These tunnels are often the first signs of an infestation. The presence of termite swarmers (winged reproductives) is another common sign, along with visible damage to baseboards, wood members, or drywall.
Appearance & Characteristics: Formosan termites are a large, aggressive, invasive termite species with a milky-white to brown coloration up to 1/2" long.
Distribution: Formosan termites are found in Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, and Virginia.
Nest Sites: Formosan termites are a form of subterranean termite that primarily makes its colony in the ground. Unlike native subterranean termites, however, formosan termites have the ability to build above ground carton nests connected to, or in some instances isolated from, their underground colony. This ability to colonize above ground creates additional treatment challenges.
Preferred Food Sources: Formosan termites feed on wood and other material containing cellulose.Distinguishing Features: Formosan termites function similarly to native subterranean termites, just typically on a larger or grander scale. They have larger bodies, larger colonies, larger mud tubes, larger swarmers, and create a broader degree of structural damage.
Signs of Infestation: Signs of a formosan termite infestation are similar to the signs of a native subterranean termite infestation, on a larger scale. Swarms often contain significantly more members, with wings being deposited in much larger numbers.
Appearance & Characteristics: Drywood Termite swarmers are typically a lighter brown-reddish in color, while subterranean termite swarms are usually a darker brown to black. Drywood termites are usually 3/8"-1" long.
Distribution: Drywood termites are primarily found in coastal areas from South Carolina westward to Texas and up through the coastal regions of California
Nest Sites: Unlike subterranean and formosan termites, drywood termites nest inside the wood they are infesting without any contact with the soil. As a result, treatment for drywood termites takes place at the point of infestation, as opposed to soil treatment.Colony Size: Drywood termite colonies are generally isolated within wood members, and as such have a colony size significantly smaller. An average drywood termite colony contains 1500-2500 termites.
Preferred Food Sources: Drywood termites feed on wood an other cellulose debris.Swarm Season: Drywood termites most commonly swarm from late spring through the summer, often during evening or night time hours. Swarmers commonly fly towards light sources of lights, tvs, computers, and other electronics.
Signs of Infestation: In addition to swarms, drywood termites leave characteristic piles of frass beneath points of infestation. These fecal pellets fall from tiny pin holes or kickout holes as the termites are feeding.
After you've determined with certainty that the problem is indeed termite-related, the next step is to properly identify the specific type of termite you're dealing with. Almost all structures in the United States are susceptible to native subterranean termites. For some of us is in northern states, this may be the only termite to worry about. Those of us further south may also have to contend with formosan termites, drywood termites, and dampwood termites, each of which have their own specific treatment requirements.
In addition to species identification, your termite inspection should seek to determine how widespread the infestation is, how termites are gaining access to the structure, and what factors might be contributing to the infestation. Our step-by-step termite inspection guide will help make sure your termite inspection process sets you on a path for termite elimination and ongoing termite prevention.
To the untrained eye, evidence of termites can be difficult to recognize. But there are several tell-tale signs of an infestation that your inspection should be on high alert for. Before beginning your termite inspection, however, make sure you've got a bright flashlight, a pair of gloves, and a bump hat, as you will need to inspect attic and crawlspace areas that may have low or limited clearance. You'll also want a some sort of tool such as an extended screwdriver to be able to probe certain wood members to check for damage and termite activity. And an extension pole for the outside will be valuable if you are in areas prone to drywood termites, and a shovel will be helpful for subterranean termite inspections.
Perhaps the most recognizable indicator of a subterranean or formosan termite infestation is the presence of mud tubes on the exterior foundation wall. Termites use these tunnels to travel from their underground colonies to their food sources, which may be the wood inside your home. Tunnels may be as narrow as the width of a pencil, or extend to be several inches wide. Thicker tunnels typically represent a more advance termite infestation. Active mud tubes usually have a certain moisture content, and if broken away live termites may be readily apparent inside. Termite will immediately begin repairing the break in their mud tube. As mud tubes become inactive, they will begin to dry out and become very brittle. Breaking away tunnels and not finding termites inside may suggest that this particular pathway is no longer active, but may not necessarily mean that the termite infestation is no longer there. They may be simply traveling along other routes.
In some instances, the siding (wood, plaster, brick, stucco...) may extend down to or below the soil level below, making a visual inspection difficult or impossible. Siding below grade is a primary contributing factor to many subterranean termite infestations, as this condition provides a perfectly sheltered access points where termites can travel from the ground below into the structure without being exposed to the elements or predators. If this condition is present, you will want to use a shovel to pull back the soil or other ground cover so that you are able to inspect the foundation wall below wherever the siding ends. If the siding extends too far below grade level, this option may not be possible.
Pest Supply HQ Pro Tip: If you discover an active infestation of subterranean termites and you have some form of siding that extends below grade, this condition can complicate termite treatment measures. Strong consideration should be given to correcting this condition so that there is a clearance of 2-6 inches from where the siding ends and the ground below. Failure to correct this condition may contribute to an ongoing termite infestation.
Particularly if you've got wood siding, inspect the exterior for any evidence of termite damage. Begin with a visual inspection, and use your screwdriver to probe any areas of potential concern. Use the back side of the screwdriver handle to tap wood areas around doors and windows, looking for frass, pellets, or other debris that may fall from the area. Debris may indicate the presence of termites, or insects, or other structural deficiencies. For areas out of reach such as fascias or eaves, use your extension pole to tap along the undersides, similarly looking for compromised or damaged wood or any falling debris. Drywood termites in particular will be accompanied by fecal pellets that will often fall from their areas of infestation.
Particularly when dealing with subterranean or formosan termites, there are often one or more conditions that may be contributing to the infestation. Common contributing factors include excessive moisture conditions (either inside or outside the home), plumbing leaks, settlement or expansion cracks, structural wood members in contact with the ground, wooden attachments to the home such as fences or decks, improper grading, poor drainage conditions, improper ventilation, siding extending below grade, elevate planter boxes, improper seals around utility penetrations, excessive debris near home, excessive ground cover such as mulch, or other similar conditions. Inspect both inside and outside the home for any of these conditions.
If your home has a crawl space, it's time to get down and dirty! Particularly for subterranean and formosan termites, crawlspaces often provide several potential points of entry that may need to be addressed. Look closely at the interior foundation walls, piers, pipes, and any other foundational supports for termite tunnels. Any wood-to-ground contact inside the crawl space should be remedied as quickly as possible. Also pay attention to the moisture levels inside the crawl space, as excessive moisture lends itself to ongoing termite prevalence.
Inside the home, use a bright flashlight to inspect all rooms. Look closely at baseboards for any sort of damage, debris, mud tubes, or exit holes, or kickout holes. Similarly, look over the surface of the drywall for any unusual inconsistencies. When subterranean termites are present, you may notice holes filled with dirt or mud, or maze-like pattern on the wall. Drywood termites often will have tiny holes in the drywall where they are expelling fecal pellets from the wood galleries behind. Look along window ledges and door frames for accumulation of frass or pellets or a deposit of termite swarmer wings. Inspect all plumbing and utility penetrations for any evidence of mud tubes or moisture leaks.
All types of termites may eventually work their way into an attic space, but drywood termites are most prevalent. Subterranean or formosan termites in an attic space often indicate a rather advanced infestation, as they would typically be traveling from the ground to this area, consuming other wood along the way.
In attics, look for evidence of deposited termite wings, damaged wood, mud tubes on the wood surface, or piles of drywood termite pellets.
How To Get Rid of Termites: Treatment & Prevention GuideTermite infestations have real, quantifiable consequences, causing potentially significant damage and decreasing the value of your property. Each termite species requires a different treatment approach or set of treatment approach options. Before beginning a do-it-yourself termite treatment, it is advisable to become familiar with the various termite treatment options available. (Not all treatments may be equally effective against all types of termites or in all situations).
In decades past, subterranean termites were battled using a conventional liquid soil treatment. During this process, the soil around the foundation of a structure is treated so that members of the underground colony are unable to access the structure above. This liquid termiticide barrier in the soil either prevents the termites from crossing (repellent termiticides), or allows termites to unknowingly pass through the treatment zone and pass the lethal toxins off to other members of the termite colony (non-repellent termiticides). A full conventional liquid soil treatment seeks to treat the soil around the entirety of the structure, including areas adjacent to the foundation that may be covered by concrete, as well as soil around utility and other penetrations.
Because drywood termites do not live in the soil, liquid soil treatments are only used for subterranean and/or formosan termite treatments.
Some liquid termiticides allow for localized soil treatments in isolated areas as opposed to treating the entirety of the structure. Please keep in mind that localized spot treatments only treat a certain area, leaving untreated areas potentially susceptible to termite intrusion.
Termite Bait & Monitoring Systems have emerged as an effective way to eliminate and control populations of subterranean termites. These stations are designed to be installed in the ground around the foundation of a structure in an attempt to intercept foraging termites before they gain access to a structure. Termite bait stations are generally easy to use and relatively easy to install, with effectiveness that relies upon ample feeding of the termite bait.
Termite Baiting Systems are best used as a preventative measure against subterranean termites, or as a remedial option in combination with additional treatment measures. Termite baiting systems are not effective against drywood termites.
Termiticide foams have developed into a highly effective treatment option for localized control of many termite infestations. Because drywood termites spend the entirety of their lives inside they wood they are infesting (with the exception of a brief reproductive swarm), foam allows for a targeted application directly at the point of infestation. As pressurized foam is inserted into the cavities of termite-compromised wood, the treatment expands throughout the colony, delivering maximum exposure to the active ingredient. For isolated populations of drywood termites that have not spread to multiple areas throughout the structure, termiticide foam properly applied may be able to completely eliminate a newly introduced infestation. For this to happen, however, foam needs to be injected at virtually EVERY point of infestation.
Foam also has proven effectiveness against subterranean termites as well, but generally should not be used as a stand-alone treatment option for them. Because their primary colony is typically in the ground outside the structure, and their colonies routinely contain hundreds of thousands of members, foam treatments should be viewed as just one part of a comprehensive treatment strategy for subterranean or formosan termite control.
Contact Aerosol Insecticides may be used to quickly knockdown termite swarmers, but are generally considered an unreliable source of undefended termite control or protection. Some termiticide aerosols may effectively eliminate isolated concentrations of drywood termites, if properly applied, but are likely to have limited effectiveness on the overall populations of subterranean or formosan termites.
Structural fumigation, or tenting, is used almost exclusively for elimination of active, widespread drywood termite populations (and in rare cases of advanced infestations of formosan termites where above ground colonies have been established). During a fumigation, all living things (people, pets, plants, produce, etc...) are removed from the structure for 2-3 days while the structure is sealed with tarps, gased, and cleared. As the gas penetrates through all wood members of the structure, drywood termites are effectively eliminated.
Because subterranean and formosan termites make their colonies in the ground, structural fumigation is not used in controlling subterranean termites.