The Subterranean termite is the most destructive & widely distributed wood destroying species on the North American Continent. Termites live in social groups called colonies. Their nests are in the soil. They are very secretive & often overlooked, yet a termite colony may contain millions of individuals. The great destruction termites can cause is related to their unusual talents of converting cellulose in wood & paper to sugar. There are over 45 species of termites found in the United States alone.
How to Identify Termites
Termites & winged ants look similar. However, they can be difficult to tell apart by the untrained eye. Ants have elbowed antennae and a constricted midsection, while termites have neither of these features. The front wings on ants are longer than the back, whereas, both pairs of termite wings are the same size.
Winged “swarmers”, also called reproductives, are usually dark brown or black, flattened, and about 3/8 of an inch long with big compound eyes. Large numbers of winged individuals emerge on warm sunny days, sometimes after a rain, as early as March or April. This is often the homeowner’s 1st indication of a termite infestation. After taking flight & finding a mate, they lose their wings. They often die in 3-4 days and dead termites & piles of wings can be found in windowsills or along baseboards.
Worker termites are the most numerous and are white or cream colored, soft bodied, ¼ inch long. They have no eyes or wings and are very sensitive to heat, light & dryness. They require moist environments to live within the ground or in mud like tubes that they construct into the wood they are attacking. Termites leave little sign on the outside of the wood they infest. Tapping infested wood with a screwdriver will produce a dull & hollow sound.
Favorable Conditions for termite infestations
Subterranean termites become most numerous in moist, warm soil that contains an abundant food supply in the form of wood or other cellulose material. Such conditions are often found in poorly ventilated crawlspaces beneath buildings, and where scraps of lumber, form boards, stumps or roots are left in the soil. Most termite infestation in buildings occur because wood is in close or actual contact with the ground, as is often the case with porches, trellises, or steps. In addition, cracks or voids in foundations and concrete floors, make it easy for termites to reach wood that is not in contact with the soil. Termites can enter through cracks as small as 1/32 of an inch, roughly the width of a piece of paper.
Metal Termite Shields
Properly designed, constructed, installed, and maintained metal or copper shields will force termites into the open, revealing any tunnels constructed around the edge and over the upper surface of the shields. However, experience has shown that good shield construction & installation is rare. Also, no termite shield has yet been developed that is absolutely effective in preventing the passage of termites. Shields are primarily used to protect portions of buildings above the ground. They are not effective in safeguarding finished areas of basements. They can enter these rooms through expansion joints, foundation wall crevices, or cracks in floors. Termites can construct tubes on the lower surface of the shields. Frequent inspection for these tubes is essential.
Chemical treatment of the soil under and around the foundation is one of the most important ways of protecting a building from termites. It can provide protection from termite infestation for many years.
- Termites cause over $5 billion in damage to U.S. homes each year (source: National Pest management Association)
- One small termite colony of approximately 60,000 termites can eat a linear foot of a common 2″ x 4″ in just 5 months (Source: Haverty, MI- 1976)
- Subterranean termites cause over 90 percent of termite damage in the U.S.
- Termite swarming can begin in January in the South and May to June in the North
- Colonies can contain anywhere from several thousand to more than one million foragers
- Some termites can tunnel through lead, asphalt, plaster or mortar to find wood
- Nearly 4 million homes in the U.S. are infested by termites each year and are found in nearly every state
- Termites have been here for about 250 million years
- Termite queens live 15 to 25 years and can lay an egg every 15 seconds