Termite season is upon us and soon homeowners and businesses throughout the country will see something that raises that fear we all have in the spring – do I have termites and do I need termite control? Termites, as it happens, are one of Mother Nature’s early hints that warm weather is close at hand. Sadly this also means that termites, which feed on wood and cellulose in and around our homes, are looking for a food source to continue the propagation of their colony. According to the National Pest Management Association, termite damage in the U.S. has steadily risen to the tune of $5 billion dollars annually and seems to show no signs of slowing down. This force of nature is constant, only slowed by winter’s arrival and undeterred by man’s efforts to eradicate them.
Very soon, in southeastern states like Florida and Georgia, termites will be making their presence known. People are finding signs of termites, or what they suspect are termites. In northeastern states like, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Maryland, it may be a matter of days or weeks before the swarms start and the battle cry of pest control operators everywhere are heard. The reality is that while you can try to forecast termite season and review historical data, mother nature sets her own clock. Sometimes what starts out as a call from an anxious customer calling for a free termite inspection, ends up being an ant call for pavement ants or citronella ants – also early swarmers and commonly mistaken for termites. So how do you tell the difference between a nuisance pests like ants and the destructive wood-consuming termite, and how do you know if you need to make a call to learn how to get rid of termites?
The answer is to look for what a termite looks for. I’m not suggesting you get on the ground and pretend you’re a termite mind you, rather, I’m suggesting you familiarize yourself with what we call conditions conducive. Below are some simple guidelines on what to look for.
- Northeastern and Southeastern states – Typically one of the first things people see are either swarmers (winged insects) or mud tubes. Eastern and Southeastern subterranean termite swarmers are released when a colony reaches maturity, usually after several years and always dependent on favorable conditions. Swarming termites drop their wings – finding clear to lightly tinted wings that have fallen off is another indication you have termites – and burrow back into the soil where they mate. Mud tubes are tunnel-like structures termites create to travel in from the termite colony (deep in the ground) to the food source (a wood pile or structure) at or above the surface of the ground. Mud tubes provide a shelter that enable termites to retain moisture, although in severely moist conditions, termites can survive without ground contact. Mud tubes can be visible, but not always. If you find damaged wood and you see mud or dirt in chewed out galleries, you have termites. Termite swarmers are dark-bodied 1/4″ to 3/8″ in length. The easiest way to determine if it’s an ant or a termite is to use basic termite identification, which can be as simple as picking one termite up. Look at the waist. If the middle of the body of the insect is pinched you have ants. If the middle is not pinched, or straight, you have termites. Termite antennae are straight, while ant antennae are bent. As always call a professional for a thorough termite inspection and get information on termite treatment options.
- Midwestern and Western states – Southeastern and Western Drywood Termites and Formosan Termites – Like eastern subterranean termites, drywood termites release swarmers once a colony has reached maturity and typically occurs in the spring to mid-August. Unlike their eastern counterparts, drywood termites do not need soil contact, therefore, they don’t create mud tubes. Drywood termites are found in attics and up high in joists in states like Florida and several of the Gulf Coast states. They eat wood across the grain, and when infesting close to the surface of the wood, blistering or bubbling is clearly visible. Drywood termite swarms occur in the evening usually peaking between 8 – 10 p.m. Other signs of termites include fecal pellets (wood), shed wings, swarmers and workers. Drywood termites measure 7/16 – 1/2″ long including wings. Formosan termite swarmers measure 5/16″ with a pale yellow to light brown coloration. Formosan termites are subterranean and therefore build mud tubes. They are known as a very aggressive species with mature Formosan queens capable of laying up to 1,000 eggs per day. Swarming typically occurs in the evening hours following a warm rainy day.
- Moisture – Subterranean termites favor moist conditions. If your rain gutters are filled with leaves or drainage around your home is poor, you likely have a wet or very damp basement, crawl space or ground floor. Ventilation is key for keeping these areas dry and unattractive to termites. Moisture is one condition that termites find extremely attractive. Leaf litter around the foundation, dense ground cover, soil in contact with structural components of the home (where foundation walls meet sill plates and headers for example) are all areas prone to termite invasion. In the case of drywood termite species (non-subterranean), infestation occurs when swarming termites fly to a structure and infest external components like windows, overhangs, eaves and siding. They commonly re-infest the same structure.
- Prevention – The best termite prevention is protection. Pre-treating when building a home, termite baiting and monitoring programs, conventional termite treatments and regular inspections go a long way to help reduce the risk of getting termites. Regular inspections by an experienced termite control company can regularly evaluate your home, your property and recommend customized termite solutions for your situation.
Termites are an expensive force of nature no one can predict. What you can do is call for a free termite inspection and find out what conditions exist in and around your home. Peace of mind isn’t always cheap or free, but last time I checked knowing you don’t have termites destroying your biggest investment or termites damaging your business, makes finding out where you stand worthwhile.