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Termite 101

Monday, April 30, 2018 | Mid-Cities Pest Control

It’s a warm Spring day, one of the first of the season; the air hangs heavy with anticipation of a storm. You’re taking a break from the yard work and Spring cleaning that inevitably call when temperatures first start to rise. Sitting on the couch with your loved one, you put on a show and settle in for a well-deserved rest. Not more than a few minutes pass before you feel something alight on your head; assuming it’s just an errant hair or a possibly a mosquito that followed you in, you brush it away without a thought. A moment passes before you feel another brush against your skin and you scratch at your neck, beginning to wonder if you should close the windows and doors and just turn the A/C on. But the couch feels too good to move and the company too good to leave, so you focus your attention on the show and vow to ignore any whispers of a touch against your skin.

That’s when it happens. A swarm of black flying bugs descends upon you and your loved one. In a matter of seconds dozens of the critters have landed in your hair, on your shirt, on your legs. You jump to your feet, suddenly finding yourself in a scene worthy of a Hitchcock film. As you both frantically brush the bugs from you and dart away from the center of the cloud, you search for its origin.

The culprit is a wood beam along the ceiling that the bugs are still pouring out from. Keeping your distance from the beam and from the window that they seem keenly drawn to, you take a closer look at one of the pests that has found itself on the edge of the pack. What you find when you search for a bug with long white wings and black body makes your heart sink: termites.

Termites’ reputation precedes them; they are an extremely destructive insect and account for billions of dollars in repair and treatment each year. This is not a pest to be taken lightly. But what do you do if you see a swarm in your home and what do you need to know about the pest you are about to do battle with? Here are the termite 101’s you really need to know:

Termite Types

Although there are around 2,000 termite species in the world and 55 in the United States (according to the Texas Department of Agriculture), the most concerning, and the most commonly seen in Texas, are subterranean termites. As their name suggests, these termites create colonies beneath the soil surface and from there extend their feeding sites above ground.

Within a colony there are three main types of subterranean termites you are likely to encounter: the swarmer, the soldier, and the worker.

  • The swarmers are reproductive termites that are sent out to create a new termite colony. You will generally see them take flight on a warm, humid Spring day. They are approximately 3/8” long (including their clear/white wings, which extend well past their body), are dark brown or black, and have a fairly uniform body width. It is most common to see these termites around your home or in your home, especially near windows and indoor lights.
  • The soldiers defend the colony from attackers, especially ants. They are most recognizable by their large rectangular head and pincers, and generally have a light-colored body with an orange or brown head. They are most likely to be seen if a colony is disturbed (for example, during a home remodel) as they will guard the affected area while workers attempt to repair their colony.
  • The workers are the most prolific and are the ones that actually cause the damage to your home; they gather food, make tunnels, and groom/feed the soldiers, king, queen, and nymphs. They are approximately 1/8” long, are translucent cream-colored, and are soft-bodied. Since they spend their entire life in the colony you are unlikely to see these termites unless you have opened a previously enclosed area (such as a wall) for construction.

Warning Signs

There are three main signs of a termite infestation: swarmers, mud tubes, and damaged wood.

  • Swarmers are the most readily recognizable and are the clearest indication to the average homeowner that there is a termite colony infesting their home (see “Termite Types” above for more on swarmers). The amount of termites in a swarm is proportional to the size of the nest, and a well-established nest can emit thousands of swarmers.
  • Mud tubes are essentially protected pipelines the termites use for travel; they are firm and are constructed primarily of mud. Oftentimes, they are difficult to spot as they can range in color and size and can blend with the soil, concrete and brick they are often built on. Look for mud tubes primarily on walls, piers, foundations, expansion joints, and near plumbing fixtures.
  • Wood damage can also be a sign of a termite colony, especially if the damage is in a honeycomb fashion, with many hollow sections following the wood grain. However, wood damage can be the result of many factors, making this a less reliable warning sign for termite activity.

How Concerned Should you Be?

A termite infestation is something you want to take very seriously; since termites consume the cellulose in wood for food, the larger the colony, the more damage they will need to do to your home to sustain themselves. but there is no need to panic at the first sight of a swarmer or mud tube. The good news is that it takes some time for a colony to do extensive damage to a home, and if you catch the issue in its early stages you are unlikely to be faced with costly home repairs. The bad news is that a termite colony can contain up to 1,000,000 termites, with workers living for around 2 years constantly doing their tasks to expand the colony, and queen termites living for more than 25 years producing more than 2000 eggs a day (at her peak); that’s a lot of damage potential if a colony isn’t caught and treated early on.

What to do if you Think you have Termites

  1. At the first sight of a potential termite colony, call a pest control professional and set an appointment to have the issue assessed.
  2. If you have active swarmers in your home, adjust your A/C to a cold, but still comfortable, temperature; this won’t kill the termites, but it will encourage swarmers to stay in the colony instead of flying around your living room.
  3. Collect a sample of any bugs you are seeing.
  4. Do not attempt to self-treat the termites or destroy any visible colony. Disturbing a termite colony will often cause them to move to a new, more secluded location, within your home, leaving them to do further damage until the colony grows to such a size its warning signs are again visible.
  5. If there is termite activity found, get it treated as soon as you can to prevent further damage to your home.

 

Preventative Measures

Though it’s impossible to fully prevent termites from invading your home, there are a few ways to reduce conducive conditions in and around your house.

  • Make sure the soil line doesn’t touch any wood portions of your home
  • Keep water away from the area around your home’s foundation
  • Ventilate crawl spaces and any other areas prone to high humidity in your home
  • Keep any stored wood away from your home, and ideally not in contact with the soil
  • Eliminate any plumbing leaks as soon as they occur

Additional Resources:

Destructive Termites in Texas” – Fumapest Group
Termite FAQs” – Texas Department of Agriculture
Subterranean Termites” – National Pest Management Association
Native Subterranean Termites Reticulitermes sp” – Urban and Structural Entomology Program at Texas A&M University
[Annual Termite Control Issue] A-maze-ing journey” – Anne Nagro – PCT

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