by Sean Hunter, Line of Business Manager, Wood Destroying Organism Division
A secretive and persistent force of nature, termites are the source of stress and worry for many homeowners throughout the United States. Commonly referred to as “the silent destroyers,” termites will stealthily feed on the wood within homes 24 hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week.
If left untreated, termites are capable of causing costly damage to the structural wood of your most valuable possession – your home. The National Pest Management Association estimates that termites are responsible for $5 billion in property damage every year in the U.S.
It’s easy for customers dealing with termite-issues to become overwhelmed. We at Ehrlich Pest Control regularly receive calls from panicked customers worried their homes are being taken over by termites. To help educate the public about these wood-destroying pests, we’ve created “The Essential Guide To Termites” to answer the most commonly asked termite-related questions. Find the information you’re looking for by clicking on any of the questions below.
General Termite Questions
Termite Control Questions
Termite Prevention Questions
General Termite Questions
What are termites?
Termites are insects belonging to the Isoptera order that feed on cellulose material. In the absence of houses, termites will feed on dead wood in forests. Since many of our residential homes are constructed of conventional lumber, they can become primary feeding sources for termites. Termites are very secretive and persistent on how they attack cellulose.
Termite infestations in homes will often go undetected by homeowners for years as it is difficult to distinguish evidence of activity. Termites will hide in walls or in crawl spaces or in other inaccessible areas within a home. They are sneaky. They don’t want to be found or be out in the sunlight.
Where do termites originate from?
Most termite species are native to North America. Formosan termites are the only species that was transported to U.S. after World War II and are found primarily in California, Florida and along the Gulf Coast.
What do termites look like?
Termites have three body segments (head, thorax, and abdomen) that are joined broadly, unlike those of ants. Species aside, termites are divided into the following broad categories:
- Termite Workers
- Creamy white in color
- No eyes or wings
- Termite Soldiers
- Creamy white with dark, enlarged head
- No compound eyes or wings
- Mandibles present (appendages near mouth)
- Termite Swarmers
- Pale yellow to reddish brown, to black (depending on species)
- Two pairs of wings that lie flat when termite is not in flight
- Wings are clear to smoky black and have darker veins running throughout
What do termite larvae look like?
Termite larvae are very small and white in color. The “immatures” are cared for by the other termites in the next until they grow into a reproductive or worker. Whether they become a reproductive or worker depends on the needs of the colony and will be determined during molting.
How does one identify termites?
Termites are identified in a few different ways. The primary thing that people need to keep in mind is that many times to find evidence of activity you really need to conduct a thorough termite inspection.
Termite Droppings (Frass)
A pile of feces pellets can be indicative of a termite infestation. The termite droppings often resemble sawdust, as the feces is comprised of the wood the termites consume.
Termite swarms result in the formulation of new termite colonies.
Termite swarms are the #1 way that most homeowners recognize that they have a termite infestation.
People will see these winged insects pop out and fly around in swarms near a property. Swarmers are looking to mate and get back to the soil. If they happen to swarm inside, they will typically swarm near light sources like windows.
How to Identify Subterranean Termites
Subterranean termites build mud tubes to protect themselves from sunlight and predators.
Mud Tubes – For subterranean termites, you can identify activity by identifying mud tubes (also called foraging tubes) that termites use for transportation from soil to cellulose material (AKA your house). They will build mud tubes whenever they will be exposed to light and predators. This way they have a protected travel way to get from Point A to Point B.
You can often find termites moving over
One way to identify subterranean termites is to look for galleries in wood.
foundation walls where there is an expansion seam where they can get at the structural lumber that is resting on the top of the foundation (basement walls or crawl space walls).
Sometimes you will find termites in the corner of the joists and the header boards in the substructure of a home. Termites will build a mud tube to bridge the gap between the exposed light and the wood.
Termite Galleries and Damaged Wood – Another way you can identify termite activity is to examine damaged wood for termite galleries. For people who are not trained, it can be challenging to do. Generally, subterranean termite galleries go with the grain of the wood. These galleries will often contain mud. Termites want to keep an optimal humidity/moisture level wherever they’re traveling because they desiccate relatively easily. As termites enter into dry wood, they will bring mud with them to keep proper moisture levels while they’re gallering away and feeding on the cellulose material.
Termite galleries are typically found on the substructure of a property such as the basement or a crawlspace. If you examine the structure’s header board and floor joists that rest upon the foundation wall, you may be able to identify the gallery.
At that point in time, it’s highly recommended to call in a professional. Termites are not the only pest that can damage wood and it is crucial to correctly identify the pest so the best treatment plan can be prescribed to fix the problem.
How to Identify Drywood Termites
Drywood termites are a little bit different. They don’t originate from the soil. They actually gallery out and live in the wood they’re infesting and feeding on. In areas where drywoods are prevalent, you will often find them infesting attics, ceiling joists, roof rafters, on the wooden exteriors of homes, wood posts, wood fascia boards, exposed rafter tails and other wooden structures in and around a home.
You will not find mud in drywood termite galleries but you will find fecal pellets. You can find piles of fecal pellets near any drywood termite kick-out holes as they try to push the waste out of the colony. The pellets almost look like heavy grain sand. The color of drywood termite pellets can vary depending on the type of wood they are infesting on.
What is the most common species of termites in the U.S.?
Subterranean termites are the most common species of termites in most places in the U.S. In states like California and Florida, drywood termites are just as prevalent as subterranean termites.
How big are termites?
Termites are not large insects. For example, drywood termite swarmers are about half-inch in size. Eastern subterranean termite swarmers are slightly larger.
What do termites eat?
Termites consume cellulose material. They will feed on anything that contains cellulose. Most homes are constructed of conventional lumber that contain cellulose. Termites have also been known to feed on cardboard, paper, cotton shirts or anything that contains cellulose as a food source.
When do termites swarm/come out in U.S.?
Eastern Subterranean termites swarm in the spring and drywood termites swarm in the fall. Worker termites of all species can stay active year round if conditions are favorable.
Why do termites swarm?
Termite swarms are crucial to the reproductive cycle of termite colonies. Swarmers are the future kings and queens of new colonies yet to be established. Mature colonies swarm annually. The time of year of the swarms is dependent on the species of the termite and the weather.
Where do termites live?
Drywood termites live in the wood they are infesting and do not require soil contact.
Subterranean termites (Eastern subterranean, Western subterranean, Formosan termites, Desert subterranean, etc.) originate from the soil. If colonies get big enough they will create satellite colonies. Formosan termites, in particular, will create carton nests in wall voids – meaning they will actually construct a nest out of mud and dirt and fecal matter inside a wall. Formosan termite nests can also occasionally be also found inside hollowed out trees.
If the conditions allow for a termite colony to continually construct satellite colonies, termites can be found higher up in structures. For example, Ehrlich technicians in the field have found termites as high as the fifth floor of a building.
Do termites fly? Do termites have wings?
Seeing flying termites? Those are termite swarmers. Termite swarmers have wings that they use to fly and mate with kings or queens so that can form new colonies. They are not very strong flyers at that. They fly well enough to get up in the air, mate and find new wood sources where they can build new colonies. Termites typically don’t fly off by themselves as they are looking to find mates. The success rate of termite swarmers forming new colonies is not very high but the swarms contain enough insects that the species continues to flourish.
If you find termites flying inside your residence, you’re likely to find them around single light source.
How big can termite colonies get?
Termite colonies can grow to the size of a football field. Eastern subterranean colonies can contain more than a million termites if food sources and moisture levels are optimal. The termite colonies contain chambers are connected by a network of foraging and travel tubes. It almost looks like a spider-web of foraging tunnels. The “termite workers” help to grow the colonies by continually foraging around until they run into something that contains cellulose material which they can feed on.
Do termites bite?
No, termites do not bite people. Soldier termites do have pincers and if one got close enough it’s possible that a person could be bitten. Termite soldiers primarily use their pincers to ward off other insects like carpenter ants.
Do termites make noise? Can you hear termites?
Any noise that termites make is relatively imperceptible. You have to remember termites are not trying to be found and are very secretive.
How do you know if you have termites?
The best way to know if you have termites is to have a professional pest control company inspect your home. You should have your home inspected for termites on a regular basis especially if you live in areas with heavy termite pressures (California, Eastern Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, etc.).
It’s not uncommon for termites to infest homes for years before they are detected. The earlier you detect termites, the less potential damage to your home’s structural lumber they can inflict.
Does homeowner insurance cover termite damage?
Homeowner insurance policies do not typically cover damage sustained by termites. Insurance policies often view termite damage as preventable and therefore will not cover any expenses a homeowner has in relation to termite damage. Therefore, any termite damage your home incurs you will likely be financially responsible for.
What do termites smell like?
Termites do not give off a distinctive odor like other insects like stink bugs. It’s common for termites to infest wood that is moist so the smell of wet and rotting wood is often associated with termites. If wood is soaked for a period of time, it will start to grow fungus and mold which gives off an odor.
What are the differences between termites and flying ants?
Left: Flying Ant
Right: Termite Swarmer
There are three main differences one can look for to tell the difference between winged termite swarmers and flying ants.
- Flying ants have elbowed antennae. Termite antennae are straight.
- Flying ants have pinched waists where one can see where the different body segments connect. Termites do not have pinched waists so you cannot clearly determine the body segments.
- The size of flying ant wings can vary. Termite swarmer wing size is always the same.
Do termites hibernate? Where do termites go in the winter? When do termites die?
They are always there. They don’t go away.
No, termites do not hibernate. Termites will stay active as long as the weather is conducive. Termites become less active during the fall and winter months in areas that experience cold winter weather and the ground freezes. If termites are in areas where the temperature stays around 65 °F or above, they can stay very active year round.
Termites will be able to stay very active in winter weather if they have infested a warm area inside a structure that is heated.
If the termites are in the soil, they will dig downwards until they reach a temperature to their liking. At no point in the winter do termites completely die out. They may become less active and hide out until the weather warms up but never do they disappear entirely.
Why do termites eat wood?
Termites eat wood because they feed on cellulose material. Wood contains cellulose.
Where are termites located in the U.S.?
It is thought that termites are located throughout the entirety of the United States and up through Canada. That being said, there are certain parts of the country where termites are not very active and not as big of a threat to homeowners compared to high pressure areas. Big termite pressure U.S. states include California, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and Eastern Texas.
Older cities in high termite pressure states are more susceptible to termites such as New Orleans. Even Boston, which is located in a moderate termite pressure area, experiences regular termite-related issues because of the city’s many old wooden buildings.
Why does New Orleans have so many termites?
New Orleans, Louisiana is one of the country’s most termite-stricken cities. The Big Easy is a termite paradise for a few reasons.
New Orleans is:
● In a heavy termite pressure area
● The weather is conducive for termite activity
● There’s a lot of moisture from the Mississippi River
● An old city with many old structures
● Thought to be the origin of how Formosan termites entered the U.S.
Where do termites hatch? Where do termites nest?
Termites hatch within the egg chamber in a termite colony where the termite queen lays eggs. For subterranean termites, the nest would be located in the soil. For drywood termites, the nest would be located within the wood that they’re infesting.
How can termites digest wood?
Worker termites have a microbe or protozoa in their stomach that breaks down any ingested cellulose into its simpler form. Worker termites will then use this simpler form of cellulose to feed the rest of the colony.
Do termites build mounds in the U.S.?
No, large termite mounds are not found in the U.S. Termite-building mounds are primarily found in Australia, Africa and South America.
There have been instances where Ehrlich technicians have encountered large termite mud tubes in crawl spaces in older homes but not near the size of termite mounds found overseas.
Termite Treatment Questions
Why should you hire a professional for termite control services?
With termite control, it is always best practice to contact a professional pest control company. Your home is likely you’re most valuable investment and most expensive possession. Termites, if left untreated or treated improperly, can threaten the structural stability of your home and result in extensive repair costs.
It’s best to hire an experienced professional who 100% can confirm your home is infested with termites and then recommend the best treatment options.
What are the treatment options for termites?
Ehrlich will recommend different types of termite control solutions depending on the species of termite infesting home.
For subterranean termites, Ehrlich offers a conventional service (controlling termites with liquid termiticide) and a baiting service.
Conventional Treatment – a treatment of liquid termiticide will be applied to the soil down to the footer depth around the entire perimeter of the structure. Conventional treatments may also include treatments within a structure.
Termite Baiting – the placement of bait stations in the soil around the foundation of a home. Ehrlich’s termite baiting and monitoring service also includes the use of above-ground baiting stations that are placed near areas in the home where termite activity has been identified. Ehrlich uses the Sentricon® System with Always Active™ technology.
For drywood termites, Ehrlich offers a fumigation service and a spot treatment service.
Is fumigation a termite treatment option?
Fumigation is an effective treatment option for drywood termites. However, fumigation is not effective if your home is infested by subterranean termites because a fumigation service will not penetrate the soil and reach the underground subterranean termite nest.
What kills subterranean termites? How do you get rid of subterranean termites?
There are two primary ways to treat subterranean termite infestations.
Liquid termiticide – An application of liquid termiticide will exterminate an infestation of subterranean termites by disrupting the normal function of their central nervous systems.
Termite Baiting – A termite baiting system can also get rid of subterranean termites in your home by creating a barrier of protection around your home. The active ingredient in the bait is a chitin synthesis inhibitor which prevents the workers from completing the molting process. If termite workers cannot molt, they will die off and the colony will decline.
What kills drywood termites? How do you get rid of drywood termites?
Fumigation – A drywood termite infestation will often require a fumigation service. While the fumigation of a home will require a family to leave the home for a few days, it is a highly effective treatment method that will destroy any presence of termite presence on your property.
Spot Termite Treatment is another treatment option for drywood termites which include the application of liquid termiticides directly to the areas in the home where termites have been identified.
How much does termite treatment cost?
In terms of pest-related issues in a home, termite control is one of the more costly services. The price of termite treatment can vary depending on which treatment method is employed, the size of the structure and severity of the infestation.
Ehrlich does offer customers flexible payment options. Ehrlich’s baiting program includes an installation fee and a monthly maintenance fee. For a conventional liquid treatment, Ehrlich gives customers the option to pay for the treatment over an 11-month time period interest-free with a down payment. We realize that termite control is an expensive service which is why we provide flexibility for payment.
How long does termite treatment last?
A liquid treatment typically lasts 10 years. A baiting and monitoring service will typically last 7-8 years if the system is maintained regularly.
Baiting programs are only successful as long as they are maintained in the ground. Liquid materials, however will remain effective for the full time period regardless because they can’t be removed after application.
When 8-10 years have passed since your home’s initial termite treatment, you should strongly consider additional treatments. We encourage our customers to keep their termite warranty to protect them from future infestations.
Ultimately, it’s best to keep termite service active on your property at all times. An average repair bill for termite damage is around $6,000. By keeping a regular termite service, you can avoid those huge costs and inconvenience of repairing the damage.
How to get rid of termites naturally?
Termite baiting is a much greener treatment option than the use of liquid termiticides as it uses fewer chemicals in and around your home. Termite baiting stations can also be removed if needed.
Naturally-occurring materials called borates are sometimes used for preventative purposes as a pre-treatment termite service. A borate application is focused on the surface of a structure as oppose to injecting chemicals into the soil.
How do termites spread?
New termite colonies are spread via the swarming process.
How to get rid of termites in furniture?
Primarily, termites in furniture tend to be drywood termites. If drywood termites have infested your furniture, fumigation is the most effective treatment option.
Termite Prevention Questions
What attracts termites?
Termites like all insects need certain things to survive – a food source and moisture. Termites will forage until they find a space that has the essential they need to survive. While there’s likely little you can do to change the material structure of your residence, you can affect your home’s moisture levels. The less excess moisture in your home, the less susceptible to termite problems the structure will be.
How do you prevent termites?
Without treatment, there’s no way to prevent termites from infesting your home. Ehrlich can provide your home with a “pre-active” precautionary treatment of liquid termiticides or baiting stations to stop problems with termites before they start. For new structures, a pre-treatment can be applied to the soil during the construction process to protect the building from the threat of termites.
There are some tactics you can employ to make your home less conducive to a termite infestation.
Use the tips below to reduce the attractiveness of your home to termites:
- Make sure there is proper drainage around your home and downspouts are connected and functioning properly so rainwater is being pushed away from your house
- Install vapor barriers and dehumidifiers in basements and crawlspaces to decrease moisture levels
- Make sure there is no wood-to-soil contact in your basement
- Clean up scattered wood debris in home and not stack firewood directly on the ground next to your home
- Fix leaky faucets both on the interior and exterior
- Make sure there is no standing water around your home
Do you have any questions about termites? Contact Ehrlich online or call 888-976-4649 to speak with a live pest control expert.
About The Author
Sean Hunter serves in the role of Technical Director of the Wood-Destroying Organism (WDO) Division at Rentokil North America. Sean joined the company as an Operations Manager in Harrisburg, PA. Sean went on to hold the position of District Manager of the Reading, PA office before moving into his current role as Technical Director of the WDO Division in 2011.
The Wood-Destroying Organism Division’s main goal is to ensure the Rentokil family of pest control companies are technically sound from a Technician perspective and service standpoint as it relates to Wood-Destroying Organisms (termites, carpenter ants, etc.). Sean and team make sure that Wood-Destroying Organism services are performed above and beyond the label and provide Rentokil colleagues with training and legislative guidance.