Each year over 2 million buildings are invaded by termites, causing millions of dollars in damage annually. In fact, Termites are the #1 source of damage to the American home causing more monetary loss than all of the fires, floods & earthquakes combined per year. It doesn’t matter where you live, although Florida has one of the highest percentages of termite activity in the country, your home or business can be a target for termites. Even buildings and houses on concrete slabs are threatened by termites finding their way through small cracks. Termites are so clever and efficient that no efforts at termite-proof construction methods have worked out completely successful.
Even cold weather offers no protection as termites are found as far north as Canada and other cold places.
Subterranean termites are the most damaging kind and live in colonies in the soil. Each colony is built around a king and queen, the sole purpose of termites is reproduction. Most of the termites that comprise the colony are worker termites, the ones that cause the damage to your home or business.
Worker termites search for food sources and share it with others in the colony. They are busy at work 24 hours a day, attacking the structure of your home or business from inside the wood. More often than not, you will not see signs of their work until something gives way. Immediate pest control action is needed at that point. It is even possible that there is more than one colony working on your building at the same time, so start seeking advice with a specialized company as soon as you suspect termites.
- Live for 15 years
- Lay 1 egg every 15 seconds
- Have 4 wings
- Burrow tiny mud tunnels to a source of wood
- Leave sawdust near windows
- Enjoy wet wood resulting from leaky plumbing
- Can destroy an entire house in about 2-3 years
- Are found in every U.S. state except Alaska
- Help the food chain by recycling wood for the soil
Large swarms of winged insects inside and/or around the home is the most obvious sign of termite activity. Swarming occurs when reproductive male and female termites exit the colony and attempt to begin building a new colony. Since it takes most termite colonies at least three years to produce termite swarms, this is a likely sign of an ongoing problem.
The exact dates termites swarm vary each year according to geographic regions, species type and weather conditions. Swarming season begins in February in the Charleston area and can last through May or early June. As a general rule, most subterranean termites swarm under these conditions:
- Daytime, usually mid-day.
- Often following a rain.
- Formosan termites are a notable exception in that they typically swarm in the early evening.
- Dead termites or wings around windows, doors, heating vents, or in bath tubs and sinks, are certain signs of termite activity.
- Termite mud tubes on walls located outside or inside the structure. The tubes are either round or flat and usually measure at least 1/4 inch or wider. They look like their name – a tube of mud.
- Damaged wood. Termites eat from the inside of the wood out, so damaged wood is sometimes very difficult to detect. “Hollow” sounding wood should be inspected for termite damage.
- Live termites. Termites are sometimes found while doing home remodeling or repair. Worker termites are small, whitish creatures that will quickly move away when exposed to light.
Myth: In the United States, termites are only found in the south.
Fact: There are 41 species of termites in North America. While most occur in the southeast United States, the only U.S. state where termites have not been found is Alaska.
Myth: Termites serve no useful purpose; they are simply destructive pests.
Fact: Termites provide a valuable service by breaking down dead wood in forests into soil. They were one of the earth’s first recycler’s.
Myth: When forests are leveled and trees are removed to make room for development, termites are destroyed or removed also.
Fact: Most termites nest in the ground beneath the surface. When termite colonies lose their food supply to developers, they seek out new food sources – usually wood from newly built homes on the site.
Myth: A brick house on a concrete slab is safe from termites.
Fact: Virtually all homes have a wood frame. No matter how the wood is separated from the soil, termites can work their way to it from the ground underneath. Similarly, a concrete slab does not eliminate wood-to-ground contact. Termites can construct tunnels through cracks in the concrete.
This simplified model of a termite life cycle indicates the three castes: the reproductive’s, the soldiers and the workers.
Termites are hemimetabolous insects (insects having the three distinct stages of: egg, nymph, and adult).
The poorly understood concept of caste determination does not seem to be definitive or too rigid. Once the caste of an individual is determined, development into other castes is still possible. Soldiers might turn into workers, or even into reproductives, if there is a shortage of individuals in those castes. This process is controlled by pheromones which are chemical signals that trigger a natural response in another member of the same species.
In the case of the queen, there is a specific ‘queen’ pheromone, preventing other individuals from turning into queens. Only if the queen is removed or dies, does the lack of the specific pheromone promote the development of a new queen.
Subterranean termites feed exclusively on wood and wood products containing cellulose. Termites have protozoa (microorganisms) in their intestines that provide enzymes to digest cellulose. Although termites are soft-bodied insects, their hard, saw-toothed jaws work like shears and are able to bite off extremely small fragments of wood, a piece at a time.
Termites often infest buildings and damage lumber, wood panels, flooring, sheetrock, wallpaper, plastics, paper products and fabric made of plant fibers. The most serious damage is the loss of structural strength.
Other costly losses include attacks on flooring, roofs, carpeting, art work, books, clothing, furniture and valuable papers. Subterranean termites do not attack live trees.
It is often difficult to determine the difference between termites and ants, however,
- Ants generally do not swarm at the same time as termites, although it can happen.
- Termites have a thick waist and ants have a narrow waist.
- Termites have straight antennae and ants have elbowed antennae.
- Termites have two pair of wings (front and back) that are of almost equal length.
- Ants also have four wings, but the fore wings are much larger than the hind wings.