Feb 13, 2012, 18:32 PM
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Termite FAQs | Clark Blog | Jackson Griffith
There are two kinds of houses, an old saying goes: Those with termites, and those that someday will get termites. This pest strikes fear into homeowners for good reason: each year, termites cause billions of dollars worth of damage, and most of that damage is hidden from sight – often until it’s quite extensive, and it requires structural repairs.
- What are termites? Termites are wood-destroying insects of the order Isoptera. They have been around for at least 100 million years, and it’s believed they evolved from wood-eating cockroaches. Termites are eusocial insects, which means that – like ants and bees – they live in colonies organized into castes, with a queen (and king), soldiers and either workers (subterranean termites) or nymphs (immature dampwood and drywood termites).
- What purpose do termites serve in nature? Termites break wood and other cellulose-containing plant material down into components small enough to be reabsorbed by the soil. Ground-dwelling termites also help aerate soil by tunneling through it. Without termites, we might be up to our necks in dead grass and trees.
- That sounds pretty good. Why, then, are termites a problem? The trouble starts when termites can’t tell the difference between a dead tree and the lumber from a dead tree used to build your house. Both contain cellulose – or as termites might put it, dinner.
- How do termites eat? Termites will chow down on anything containing cellulose – wood, plant material, such products made from plant materials as paper, cardboard, cotton fabrics and more. Workers (or nymphs) chew off pieces with their mandibles and ingest them, which are then broken down by bacteria and protozoa in their digestive tracts and transferred to other termites by trophyllaxis: mouth-to-mouth (or anus-to-mouth) sharing. Some termite castes, such as queens, kings and soldiers, can’t feed themselves; they depend upon liquid meals from workers or nymphs.
- Can you tell me more about dampwood termites? Dampwood termites (Zootermopsis angusticollis; Z. nevadensis) generally only live where the weather is damp, e.g., along the coast and in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountains, and need downed wood with high moisture content to survive. If you live in a forested area, they can infest if you have a long-term leak in your home.
- What about drywood termites? Drywood termites (Incisitermes minor), more common in coastal areas, infest homes when winged reproductive termites (alates, or “swarmers”) enter attics and upper parts of homes, where they mate and start colonies.
- And subterranean termites? Subterranean termites (Reticulitermes hesperus), common in California’s central valley, live in colonies deep underground and tunnel to the surface to feed. Subterranean termites are the most destructive kind commonly found in the Western U.S.
- Really? The most destructive kind? No, that notoriety belongs to Formosan subterranean termites (Coptotermes formosanus), which have taken hold in other areas in the U.S., like the Southeast, but fortunately have been contained before they have been able to establish colonies on the west coast.
- Are termites visible?Yes, they often are quite visible during their mating phase, typically in early spring, after a good rain. It’s common to see thousands of alates, or winged reproductives, swarming en masse and looking for mates. Some species swarm in the fall, but the timing is always related to optimal local climate conditions that trigger swarming from multiple colonies in the area, maximizing the opportunity for successful mating.
- Termites? I thought those flying things were ants? Like termites, there are flying reproductive ants. The three ways to tell them apart are, 1) termites don’t have narrow waists that separate their thoraces from their abdomens, where ants do; 2) termite antennae are straight and beaded, where ant antennae are elbowed; and 3) the two sets of wings on alate termites are the same length, where the upper pair are longer than the lower pair on ants.
- Are there other signs of termite activity? Yes, but it usually takes a well-trained eye to find those signs. Subterranean termites, for example, will build tubes from the ground where they nest to the sources of wood where they are feeding. Drywood termites often will eject tiny fecal pellets from holes in wood where they are active.
- How can I tell if my house has termites? The easiest way is to schedule an inspection with a licensed termite inspector. The inspector will examine your home’s exterior and interior, along with your attic or any voids under your roof, and then any crawl spaces below your house. The inspector will look for leaks and damp areas, as well as dry rot and other wood-destroying fungus activity – all of which provide conditions conducive for termite activity.
- What steps can I take to make my home less prone to termite invasion? Termites need moisture to survive. You can divert water away from accumulating around your home’s foundation by installing downspouts, gutters and splash blocks so they drain away from the structure. Add proper ventilation to crawl spaces and attics to reduce humidity. Make sure shrubs and vegetation don’t grow to cover vents. Remove old tree stumps and random wood left under your house when it was built. And get rid of any direct contact between wood and soil. An 18-inch gap between wood and soil is ideal.
- Can I buy any kind of termite alarm system? Clark Pest Control offers a program called Term-Alert®, which involves placing monitors in and around your home and property, which are routinely inspected by a service technician for termite activity.
Termites may be a reality, but they don’t have to be a source of free-floating anxiety for you. The termite experts at Clark Pest Control are here to answer your questions and bring you peace of mind. So call today!