Termites – An Overview

Termites on Wood
Photo source: Dini Miller, Virginia Cooperative Extension

The Subterranean termites we see in New England are the most destructive kind of termite, costing homeowners millions of dollars annually. Unfortunately, termite damage often goes unnoticed and it’s not covered by homeowners insurance. To help identify and control termites, we’ve gathered some basic information for you to keep in mind.

Termites Live Underground
An average termite colony consists of 60,000 to over a million termites. Unlike ants that travel above the ground, termites are found beneath the surface where it’s dark and moist, building the largest nest of any insect. They need soil to survive and construct mud tubes or tunnels for shelter and safety as they travel between their underground colonies and your home in search of food.

Termite Caste System
Termites are social insects that divide their colonies into castes or groups based on their job function.

  • Termite reproductives mate and produce eggs
  • Termite soldiers defend the colony from invaders and predators
  • Termite workers forage for food and water, feed other colony members, build and maintain the colony and dig tunnels. They are the only caste member that damages wood.

Termites Love Wood
Worker termites search for food constantly and primarily feed on dead or decaying wood, but they also feed on anything that contains cellulose, such as paper, cardboard, drywall, thin lead and copper sheeting, plaster, asphalt, flooring, sub-floor, furniture, trim and window frames, books and insulation.

Termite Swarms
Winged reproductives “swarm” in the early Spring, leaving their colony and flying together in groups (from several to thousands) to mate and set up a new colony. They shed their wings after mating. The time of swarm depends on temperature, moisture, both in and out of the colony, light conditions and barometric pressure. Often termites are triggered by warmer temperatures after a rainfall.

Swarmers are attracted to light and are often seen around windows and doors. If you see a termite swarm, it’s likely that you’ve had an active termite colony for at least 5 years and there is probably more than one colony in your yard. However, termites only swarm for a short period of time (no more than a few hours), so they often go unnoticed by homeowners.

Termite Damage
Termites can cause huge damage in your home, but signs are not always obvious and may not become apparent until the infestation is out of control.  Damage may include buckling wood or sagging floors and doors and windows that don’t open or shut. Termite damage can appear similar to slight water damage and cause visible mazes in walls or furniture. Often, small signs of damage on the surface can represent more extensive damage beneath it.

Signs of Termites
Signs that you may have a termite infestation include:

  • swarmers in early Spring
  • cast off wings from swarmers
  • damaged wood
  • mud tubes
  • dirt accumulation from mud tubes
  • a scent similar to mildew or mold

Locating Termites
Outside your home, termites can be found in the following areas:

  • any wood-to-soil contact areas, including wood piles and tree stumps
  • home foundation
  • basement windows
  • trim and perimeter of garage doors
  • near chimney and air conditioners
  • under porches and decks
  • door jams and bulkheads

Inside your home, termites can be found in the following areas:

  • main sill in basement
  • foundation wall at floor level and around any holes or cracks in it
  • chimney and furnace area
  • any area where wood walls sit on floor
  • where utility lines enter the basement
  • bulkhead area
  • perimeter baseboards and window sills on first floor
  • attic area

To help you distinguish between flying termites and flying ants, please go to our blog article, “Flying Termites vs. Flying Ants”.

If termites are suspected in or around your home, a pest management professional should be contacted for a thorough inspection to determine the extent of the infestation and then a treatment strategy and follow up plan should be discussed. Termite control can be challenging, so it’s important to work with a trained professional.

For more information regarding termites, please visit http://www.modernpest.com/ or contact us at 1-800-323-7378.

For a FREE termite inspection, please contact us at 1-800-323-7378.

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