Termites are some of the most destructive pests in the world. In the United States, they account for upwards of a billion dollars worth of damage every year. As with any pest, prevention and early intervention is key to limiting the damages and costs associated with them. If you have questions about termites and how to get rid of them, we have the answers you need.
What do termites look like?
Termites are insects with six legs and a three-segmented body. They vary in color based on the species and the caste that they are part of. Like other social insects, the termite colony is divided into a caste system to split up labor and responsibilities within the colony. The three castes are workers, soldiers, and reproductives.
The worker termites do the majority of the work within the colony like finding food and water, building and repairing tunnels, feeding other termites, and caring for the young. Worker termites are usually smaller, wingless, soft-bodied, and cream in color. The workers are the termites that actually eat wood.
The responsibility of the soldier termite is defense of the colony. They are similar in appearance to the workers, but they have large heads and powerful mandibles (jaws) for crushing ants or other insects that might try to attack the colony. Soldiers do not feed themselves, and instead rely on regurgitated food from the workers. The soldier termites make up a small percentage of the overall population of a colony.
Formosan subterranean termite workers and soldiers
The reproductives are responsible for the future of the colony and for forming new ones. They are often the largest members of the colony and are usually brown or black in color. When reproductive male and females are sexually mature (called alates), they have wings that they use to complete a nuptial flight. During this swarm that happens once or twice a year in the spring and/or fall, the alates will choose a mate, and then find a new place to start a colony. Since the wings are no longer needed, they will twist them off and leave them where they land. Swarms of flying termites and piles of termite wings indicate a presence of termites nearby and should not be overlooked.
The queen termite is responsible for egg-laying within the colony. Some species have one queen and some have multiple. The queen becomes so large and full of eggs, that she can no longer move and must also be fed regurgitated food by the worker termites. In order to destroy a colony, it is important to eliminate the queen. This behavior of feeding the colony on regurgitated food is one of the keys to controlling termites.
Formosan subterranean termite queen
How can I tell the difference between termites and ants?
Termites and ants are often confused because they look similar. There are a few key differences, however, that should help. Termites have a straight, thick waist and straight antennae. Ants have slim, pinched waists and elbowed antennae. Winged reproductive termites have 2 pairs of wings that are nearly equal in size, while the wings on ants are different sizes, with the two front wings being larger than the hind ones.
What are the most common types of termites?
There are over 2,300 species of termites that have been described, most of which live in tropical and subtropical regions. The United States is home to approximately 50 species, which fit into three main subgroups. Each category of termite looks fairly similar, but they prefer different environments and behave in some unique ways.
Subterranean termites are the most common termites that cause problems in the United States. As the name suggests, these termites build nests underground to take advantage of the moisture in the soil. When they move into homes to feed on wood, they must make sure that the humidity levels are right. To regulate the humidity and temperature, they build mud tubes from the soil to the point of entry, which can be a crack or gap in the foundation. These mud tubes are made out of soil, saliva, and cellulose and are about the width of a pencil. Subterranean termites eat only the softwood, and they feed with the grain of the wood. This often gives the wood damage a honeycomb or layered look. Subterranean termites are found throughout the continental United States.
Drywood termites do not need as much moisture as other termite species. They are able to get what they need from the air and wood. This means that they do not construct their nests in the soil, but instead will often live above ground in pieces of wood. An entire colony can live in a single piece of wood, so drywood colonies tend to be smaller in number than subterranean. Drywood termites that become household pests can be found in attics, wood beams, and even pieces of furniture. One sign of a drywood termite infestation is piles of frass (excrement) found in corners, on decks, or on window sills. Drywood termites will create holes in the wood where they are feeding and kick out the frass, which then forms a pile. The excrement is hexagonal in shape (6 sides) with rounded ends and usually about 1 mm long. To the untrained eye, it may appear to be sawdust.
Termite Frass By Sanjay Acharya [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
Dampwood termites do not usually enter homes, but if the conditions are right, they can become a nuisance. These termites are much larger than other species, with the alates growing up to 25 mm long. Dampwood termites only live in wood that has very high moisture content, either because it has suffered water-damage, or it is decaying. The most likely place to find dampwood termites is in fallen logs, old stumps, or tree branches. If homes have a moisture problem because of roof leaks, cracked pipes, or other issues, dampwood termites may move into the area. They can then cause structural damage to the home by hollowing out important beams or boards. Damage from dampwood termites looks very clean and smooth and is across the grain of the wood. Dampwood termites do not create mud tubes, and do not usually maintain contact with the soil. Dampwood termites are common in the Southwest, the Pacific Coast, and Florida.
What are the signs of a termite infestation?
- Swarms of termite alates (usually spring or fall)
- Mud tubes on foundations or exterior walls
- Piles of frass (termite feces)
- Piles of discarded wings
- Hollow sounding wood
- Damaged wood
- Sagging or creaky floors
- Cracks in walls or ceilings
- Damp spots on walls
- Moisture damaged wallpaper
- Swollen windows or doors that are hard to close
- Peeling paint because of excess moisture
How do you get rid of termites?
Termites are some of the trickiest pests to get rid of because they live in hard to reach places and can cause structural damage. They often go unnoticed for years until the infestation has gotten quite large. Termite control often requires professional help, but there are some things that can be done to try to prevent and/or alleviate the problem.
Termite baits are an excellent way of monitoring and containing termite activity. Baits typically consist of things that attract termites like paper, cardboard, or other cellulose based material. Bait stations can be placed in the ground, above ground, or within structures where there are active infestations. This may require trenching or drilling through concrete and can be quite labor intensive. If you have an active infestation, once the termites find the bait, a slow-acting toxicant is added. The delayed action is crucial for termites because it allows the worker termites to take the food back to the main nest where they will regurgitate it and feed the other colony members, including the queen. This allows the poison to be spread throughout the colony.
Barrier Termiticide Treatments
The other main form of termite control is the use of a termiticide. This is a liquid pesticide that is applied all around the property in the soil. It creates a barrier around the home or structure and helps protect it from termites. Again, trenching or drilling is necessary to ensure that a barrier is formed around the entire area. This may be expensive and difficult. PF Harris offers Termite Killer that is effective against termites, beetles, carpenter ants, wood rot, and mold.
Termites can have devastating consequences if left untreated, so it is important to stay vigilant. Keep your home safe and protected by monitoring termite activity, knowing the signs of an infestation, using a preventative barrier treatment, and getting professional help when needed. Pf Harris is your source for information and products relating to pest control. With nearly 100 years in the pest industry, you can trust Harris to help you get rid of whatever is bugging you.