If you look at a single termite, you won’t find it dangerous or threatening by the looks of it. However, an entire colony of them can cause some serious damage to the structural components of a building in a relatively short period of time. Termites are called “silent destroyers” due to their ability to chew through wood, wallpaper, and even flooring and remain undetected throughout. Termite infestations can inflict some serious damage and can prove devastating to your property.
The reason why termites are often called “silent destroyers” is because they may be hiding and thriving secretly in your house or backyard without any sudden signs of damage. All the types of termites ingest cellulose-based plant materials. Unfortunately though, all properties and homes, despite their construction type, can be a source of cellulose-based food for termites. Annually, these pests cause a staggering $5 billion in property damage.
Taxonomical Classification of Termites
Termites belong to the order of the roaches called Blattodea. It has been known for many years now that termites are somewhat related to cockroaches, particularly the wood-eating roach species. Until recently, termites were placed under the order Isoptera; which now happens to be the suborder. This taxonomical reclassification is backed up by data and research to support the novel comparison that termites are in fact social cockroaches. This suborder of Isoptera has approximately 2,600 known species worldwide, with 50 species inhabiting the North American region. The tropic and subtropic regions are the most heavily populated ones on the globe.
The name Isoptera in Greek means two pairs of straight wings. The termite has been known as white ant over many years and has been commonly confused with the actual ant. It wasn’t until recent times and due to the use of various microscopy techniques that scientists were able to differentiate the distinguishing features between these two orders. These particular features were the straight termite antennae, four wings of equal sizes, broad waist of the thorax, and a broad abdomen.
The most primitive termite fossil known up till now dates back to about 130 million years ago.
How do Termites Hunt for a Suitable Habitat?
As various species of ground warms become dominant across the country, from the Southern regions up to the Northern, termite populations are now in search of a new structure to ingest and invade. They send their explorers, also known as swarmers, in search of suitable habitats such as houses that may have suffered from permanent damage during the winter season either due to the wind or snow. Because swarmers look very much like the winged or flying ant, homeowners may not pay much attention to them upon finding them inside their house; this tends to be the first big mistake. If swarmers select your property as potential habitat, it’s very much likely that the rest of their settlement will follow.
Where do termites come from?
The order of termites branches from a primitive insect, resembling in its morphology and feeding habits with a wood-eating species of cockroach. The recent advances in molecular data give us proper evidence to confirm the origin of these pests. Termites are typically known to inhabit the subtropical and tropical regions across the globe. A small proportion of the termite species branch out into the northern regions as well.
With their characteristics resembling those of social insects, termites are found mimicking various other social insects such as bees, wasps, and ants. Termites, however, are different because of the simple reason that anyone of their types can be male or female. In all the other social insects however, all workers and soldiers are female.
Throughout history, termites, also known as white ants or wood bugs, have inflicted serious damage on structures and invaded properties over many centuries. Even today, they continue causing billions of dollars in property damage every year all across the globe. Termites feed on the food source similar to the most ancient of termite species. The next somewhat adapted termite species live in the forage and soil for wood. African termites are known to be the most advanced of all termites that feed on fungi and grasses. These termites inhabit the soil for their entire life and build very large mounds, ranks amongst the largest on the planet.
The attempts to understand these pests has led to a number of discoveries and ideas. Leading scientists and engineers are copying the structural aspects and venting mechanisms of the African termite mounds. Experimental trials are also being conducted in which termites are being used to generate biofuels. Termites are indeed novel insects, ranked amongst some of the most successful insect pests.
What do Termites look like?
Taxonomically, all termite species belong to the phylum Arthropoda, class Insecta, and order Isoptera. There are about 2,000 different species of termites with over 40 of them inhabiting the United States alone. Although each of them has a distinct set of characteristics, most of them look similar.
Typically, they measure between a quarter to half an inch long, having soft bodies with straight antennae. The queens and kings are larger in size, reaching over an inch long. Colors range from white to light brown, with the worker termites appearing lighter while swarming termites appear darker. Flying termites, also known as reproductives, possess two pairs of distinct wings.
-Termites have six legs
-They have straight pointing antennas with beads
-Termites have large heads with no prominent body segmentation.
-They have a ribbed structure.
-Termites range in colors from pale white to a pale yellow
-A swarm of termites can be darker in color, similar to most ant species.
The difference lies in the fact that the two pairs of wings on the reproductive adult termite are of the same size, while those of a flying ant is not.
The presence of termites in the house can be detected by their wood colored fecal pellet remains.
Members of the Termite Colonies
-Workers comprise of about 90-95% of the termite colony.
– They are the sole providers and foragers of the colony. In their absence, the colony would starve to death.
-The workers are sterile, blind and wingless
-They can be either female or male; their sex is irrelevant because they are immature and can not reproduce.
-Their exoskeleton or cuticle is soft and uncolored instead of a pale shade of white.
-The worker’s duty is to look after the colony members like the termite eggs, termite nymphs or larvae, secondary reproductives, soldiers, the king and the queen.
-Workers are the only providers and home keepers of the colony performing a wide variety of tasks essential for survival.
-They are known to clean the colony, feed it, and maintain the temperature of the termite eggs and nymphs.
-The workers constitute the largest populated castle in the colony.
-The worker will live up to an average of two years in any typical termite colony.
-Soldier termites comprise about 1-3% of the colony population.
-The soldiers are very much like the workers due to the fact that they are blind, wingless and lack body pigment.
-Soldier termites have a soft body, much like the workers, but have a distinctly modified head region having powerful mandibles.
-These properties allow the soldiers to defend the colony.
-They either use the mandibles or release a toxin from their head region to ward off potential threats and invaders.
-Soldiers are typically how you can identify the termite species more easily from their mouthparts, which are different from the other species.
-The number of soldiers is much less than that of the workers.
-Soldiers lack the ability to feed themselves and are thus fed by worker termites.
-The soldiers termites live for an average of one to two years, much like the workers.
Mature reproductive adults:
-The number of reproductive adults present in a termite colony is relatively less.
-There are usually 5-10 kings that are known to mate with the queen throughout her life.
-These adults are the swarmer termites as they swarm to find a suitable mate.
-There is typically only one queen in a colony, though larger colonies might have two or more queens.
-The king and queen are the only members of the colony that reproduce actively.
-The king is present to keep the queen fertilized so that she is able to lay eggs.
-The queen starts the colony, but once a sufficient amount of workers are there to take care of her, she increases her rate of egg production and starts laying an average of 100 or more than 1,000 eggs per day in various termite species.
-Some queens even produce 30 or lesser eggs a day but their larvae grow up to become larger individuals.
-Some queens are even capable of laying over 10,000 eggs per day.
-They have a dark brown body pigment and fully developed sets of wings.
King and queen termites are known to swarm in the summers in massive groups of hundreds or even thousand, in search of a potential mate. Two of the mates would have a mild courtship dance, after which they begin to start a colony of their own. The king or the male share the labor with the queen as she is fertilized and ready to lay eggs and raise baby termites. During the first year of laying eggs, the queen can lay eggs ranging from anywhere in between a hundred to thousands of eggs per day.
Both the king and the queen termite would look after the first few generations of progeny until there is a sufficient number of workers to help them both. Once the larvae hatch, the young termites can either become soldiers or workers depending upon the pheromones and temperature ranges that the eggs are exposed to. Pheromones are special chemicals released by the queen termite’s body.
The workers are the only providers in the colony, and it is dependent on them to look after all their larvae, maintain the order of the developing babies and the young, as well as foraging. The workers and soldiers can be either male or female; their sex isn’t important because both of them are sterile.
The population of the colony will keep rising exponentially for about the first five years. The queen then has her first reproductive alates, or juvenile kings and queens. Once they mature, they begin preparing to swarm and leave in order to start a new colony of their own in the coming summer season. The cycle continues in a similar fashion.
The Termite Life Cycle
The developmental process of a termite is known as incomplete metamorphosis. Scientifically, it is known as the hemimetabolous life cycle.
The life cycle of a termite can give rise to three different types of pest or caste types. The three types comprise of reproductive adults, workers, and soldier termites.
The different stages in the life cycle are namely egg, young termite larvae or termite nymph, older nymph, worker, soldier, pseudergate, drone, and queen. This is a typical social insect system, making room for proper labor division. Once a termite egg, amongst thousands of other eggs, hatches, it is then known as termite larva or larvae. The larva can mature into either one of the three castes: worker, soldier, or a secondary or supplementary reproductive alate termite. This depends upon environmental, social and termite pheromone signals. Then the larva molts until it becomes fully mature, which typically takes three molts.
The larva can become either a worker or a soldier and its life cycle would be over the day it dies. The larva could also mature into a reproductive alate or a secondary reproductive, where it goes on to reproduce and become a queen or a king termite for a new colony of their own.
Amongst all, the queen termite has the longest life, living on an average of 25 years. The remaining other types of termites have a life span varying from 12 to 24 months.
All termites are paurometabolous, meaning that they have various nymph stages, ranging from 5-13 nymph arthropods till they become fully mature.
The stages of development are from egg to nymph to adult (which can be either a secondary reproductive adult, worker or a soldier termite)
Termites are known to cause several millions of dollars in property damage each year in the United States alone. They feed primarily on wood, but can also damage books, paper, insulation, and even swimming pool liners and water filtration systems. Termites can harm living trees and shrubs, but more commonly invade woody plants that already diseased or dying.
Termites are known to infest buildings at any time; however, they are especially relevant while buying or selling property since a termite inspection or infestation report is typically a condition of sale. Other than the monetary damage they cause, thousands of winged pests emerging inside somebody’s property is an emotionally tiring experience all in all.
Morphology of Termites
Termites, classified under the suborder Isoptera, are more commonly known as the winged pale white ant. This suborder comprises of four North American families and seven total families all across the globe. The four North American families comprise 44 known genera, and a total of seven genera constitute 2,300 species.
Termites are infamous for creating humongous colonies, making them one of the most successful economic pests. Each termite colony comprises of three distinct castes of termites. The colony is constitute of both immature as well as adult reproductive termites. The immature termites make up the bulk of the colony, while the actively reproducing adults in each colony are known as the king and queen. The third type is that of the fully developed winged adults.
The adults are darkest in color and are the most structurally developed in the colony. They bear wings until they find a mate. Once the king finds a mating partner or a queen for itself, they then begin to form a new colony of their own by mating. The two of these mates then shrug off their wings and begin looking after the first batch of larvae. Once fertilized, the queen begins laying eggs around the clock.
The most immature and smallest of all types is the worker termite. It has a pale, transparent white color with eyes that are either too small or entirely absent.
The other type is the soldier termite, quickly distinguished by having large mandibles in its head region and a slightly darker body pigment than the worker. The soldier makes use of its massive chewing mouthparts to defend the colony.
The Effect of Weather on Termites
Termites, like most of the other insect pests in the world, prefer to inhabit moist warm habitats in which they can easily thrive. Termites are found to be the most active during the spring and summer seasons. During these months in specific, locating termites is as easy as finding a fallen tree. The humidity and warmth enable even the smallest of termite populations to thrive.
The key to their exponential population growth is water, food, and warmth. The humidity and warmth play a key role in the incubation of the termite larvae as well. The autumn and winter seasons are when you are most likely to locate their colonies near or inside your property. Termites hide in the cracks and crevices of the walls inside our homes to stay warm, feed and reproduce. These are the reasons why these pests inhabit the insides of our property frequently. The warmth generated by the house itself provides a perfect shelter for termites to live and thrive in the presence of moisture and abundant food supplies. In the winter season however, these pests are not thriving due to unfavorable conditions, therefore locating termites in the wild gets harder since most of the populations typically migrate deep into the ground or die.
Spring season is typically when large populations of winged termites called swarmers, to make their way inside houses. In the wild, termites usually swarm to spread out and start new colonies. Due to overall warmer conditions and rainfall, the winged termite species emerge from their colonies and fly into the air. The swarmers would then drop to the ground, shrug off their wings, pair with a potential queen mate, and begin new colonies of their own in the damp soil.
Termite swarmers invading a property are not capable of damaging wooden items and inhabit the place for a very short period of time. Thus, they can be easily eliminated with the help of a vacuum or a broom.
Types of Termites
Hundreds of years have been spent by researchers on simply trying to understand the various termite types and the way they live. The termite populations have been extensively mapped out to explore over 2,800 species throughout the globe. The major reasons why these social cockroaches are this successful are the efficient division of labor in their colonies and how they manage to go undetected by most predators.
Following types of termites currently pose a serious threat to home and property owners across the United States:
Subterranean termites are found in almost all the states except Alaska. This species of termite inhabits underground colonies or moist, remote areas above the ground that can accommodate up to two million members. They are known to build unique “mud tubes” in order to gain access to food resources and to protect their colonies from open air. Subterranean termite species are by far known to cause the most destruction annually, in terms of property damage.
Originally from China, the Formosan termites are the most ravenous, devious and most aggressive amongst all the 2,000 termite species known to mankind. Formosans organize themselves into large underground colonies, building fine, intricate mud nests inside the walls of a structure. Owing to their aggressive nature, Formosan termites are relatively difficult to control once they successfully invade a property or a structure. These termite species are typically found in Hawaii, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina and California.
As suggested by their name itself, damp wood termites inhabit wood structures which have a high moisture content. These termites are typically larger in size as compared to other termite species. They are not commonly found invading commercial structures because of the low moisture content of wood in those structures. However, special care must be taken in order to avoid attracting populations of damp wood termites to a structure, because once they invade a setting, they are particularly difficult to eliminate. This species of termites are found in Pacific coastal and nearby states, the desert or semi-arid southwest, and southern Florida.
Drywood termites inhabit and infest dry wood structures and don’t need to be in contact with soil, unlike the subterranean and Formosan termite species. This particular termite species often builds nests in roof materials and wooden wall supports and can even inhabit dead wood that may be present around homes. Even though they don’t need as much moisture to thrive as the other species, they can still be found in wood structures that are near some sort of a water source like a leaky pipe or a water heater. These termites are often found in the southern tier states, from North Carolina through the Gulf Coast and into the coastal areas of California.
Native to the Caribbean, conehead termites are particularly invasive species. They were first introduced to the United States in 2001. Originally known as the tree termites, they were renamed to conehead termites in order to eliminate the misconception that this species only inhabits trees.
It was believed that these species were eliminated from the U.S. in 2003, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) however recently confirmed that this pest has reemerged in Broward County, Florida.
Unlike most termite species, the conehead termite is not dependent upon underground tunnelling to travel. They rather forage on the ground like ants, which enables them to disperse quickly. Conehead termites are an extremely voracious termite species known for causing extensive damage to property in a relatively shorter time period.
Signs of Termite Infestation Inside the House
If one tends to find out winged termites indoors, then this indicates that a termite control treatment is required. Since swarmers are attracted to light, they are often seen dwelling around windows and doors. People usually confuse winged termites with ants, both of which tend to swarm at almost the same time of the year. Termites have straight antennae, a thick uniform waist, and two pairs of wings, both of equal size. On the other hand, ants tend to have curved antennae, narrower waists, and forewings that are much longer than the hind wings.
Swarms of termites that arise from tree stumps, woodpiles, etc. out in the yard are not always a cause for concern, neither do they automatically mean that the house is infested. On the contrary, if swarmers are seen arising next to the foundation or from patios or adjacent porches, then there’s a good chance that the property is infested.
Other signs of invasion and infestation include dusty mud tubes extending across foundation walls, support piers, sill plates, floor planks, etc. The mud tubes have the same diameter as that of a pencil, but can sometimes be thicker. Termites build these tubes for shelter as they migrate between underground colonies and structures. In order to determine if the infestation is active or not, the tubes can be broken open and then checked for the presence of small, pale white worker termites. If the tube tends to be empty, then this does not necessarily mean that the infestation is inactive; these pests often leave sections of the tube vacant while looking for food someplace else in the structure.
A wooden item damaged by termites is hollowed out along the grain, along with pieces of dried mud or soil lined along the feeding tunnels. Wooden items damaged by either moisture or other types of pests such as carpenter ants, will not have such an appearance. Sometimes, termites even drill tiny holes through drywall or plaster, with bits of soil around the margin. Sunken or rippled traces behind wallpapers or other coverings may also be indicative of these pests tunneling underneath.
In most cases, there might be no clear signs of invasion or infestation. Termites are mysterious creatures and infestations may go undetected for months or even years, hidden beneath floor coverings, wall supports, insulation, and other restraints. Termite damage may even propagate undetected in exposed wooden items because the outer structure often remains intact.
In order to confirm a termite, infestation one requires the keen eye of a professional. Even then, the most experienced of all professionals may overlook the hidden signs.
Preventing a Termite Infestation
Termite control is a two-step process; preventing these pests from accessing your property and then treating known colonies once a pest invasion is confirmed.
Following are some methods to help prevent termites from damaging your property:
-Allowing a qualified expert to inspect your house for possible infestation every year.
-Collaborating with pest control experts to tackle conditions around your property like excess moisture and wood-to-ground contact which can attract termite populations.
-Determining what type of termite prevention treatments will be the most suitable depending upon your property’s construction along with signs of infestation around your house and adjacent areas. Some prevention treatments include direct wood treatment, bait monitoring systems, etc.
Preventing Subterranean Termite Infestation
Make sure to seal the gaps around water and gas pipelines from where they enter your house in order to help eliminate entry points.
Wood-to-ground contact is the most common access point for subterranean termites trying to invade your property. Try to reduce wood-to-ground contact wherever possible. In addition to eliminating this entry point into your home, you also can treat wooden items with termiticide, rendering it unattractive to termites.
Reducing Food Sources:
Remove all the extra cellulose materials around your property, especially in crawlspaces. Replace garden fertilizer or manure with cellulose free fertilizers or at least move it back about six inches away from your foundation. Also, ensure that wooden siding is at least six inches elevated from the ground.
Reducing Excess Moisture:
Make sure that water does not pool around the foundations of your property or on your ceiling. Tackle moisture issues in the basement and crawlspace areas.
Fix faulty gutters, leaky pipes and air conditioner vents that might be dripping.
Preventing Dry wood Termite Infestations
Dry wood termites can easily access your property through the small crevices and cracks in the exterior wood structures. Seal all crevices, cracks, and joints in order to prevent these pests from entering and creating havoc.
Two simple ways to restrict access include fixing bug screens over foundation vents and attic or applying a fresh coat of paint, which would seal even the smallest cracks in the wood.
Reducing Food Sources:
Eliminate firewood, dead trees, and any other deadwood items that might attract dry wood termites into your house.
Do You Need To Hire A Professional Exterminator?
Termites are serious business and should not be taken lightly. However, in many cases it is possible to do treatments without hiring an exterminator. But keep in mind, if you miss anything, the termites will eat your home, sometimes all the way to the ground.
Perhaps the most important thing is proper identification. While there are many types of termites, the two most common are drywood termites and subterranean termites. Drywoods live and nest above ground. Subterranean termites nest below ground but will travel as high above ground as needed to find the wood of their liking.
Termidor For Subterranean Termites
Without question, Termidor is the undisputed champion when it comes to preventing and treating subterranean termites. Termidor can be purchased online in most states.
The biggest challenge with Termidor is applying the product. Termidor comes as a concentrate and needs to be mixed with water. With Termidor HC, a shallow trench needs to be dug around the home and 4 gallons of finished solution is poured every 10′. Termidor HE is very similar however, it requires a shallower trench and only 2 gallons of finished solution per 10′.
While Termidor is King, there are similar “generic” products such as Taurus. By all accounts, they are exactly the same but as a professional, I use Termidor on my own home and that is what I recommend to my customers.
However, Termidor may not be accessible to home owners. If you do not have access to Termidor and want to do it yourself, Taurus will be just fine. We use it often and have had 100% success.
Baiting For Subterranean Termites
Baiting or bait stations are also a popular method of prevention. There are many different products available online. Many of the big companies use Sentricon, they are the little green things you may see in people’s yards.
BASF (the makers of Termidor) offers Trelona. According to studies, Trelona offers the best results and can last two years without maintenance.
Treating Drywood Termites
Drywood termite colonies are much smaller than subterranean termites and as a result, they do not do as much damage in the same time period. Though over time, drywood termites can be devastating.
In cases where colonies cannot be located or if there are just too many colonies to treat, tenting is HIGHLY RECOMMEND-this needs to be done by. a professional.
Many times people will find what looks like piles of coffee grounds, these are the droppings (called “frass”) of drywood termites. The frass falls out of “kick out holes” located somewhere above the pile. Common areas are window and door frames.
To treat, take a drill with a small bit. Bit size is not too important, 1/8″ should be fine. Drill the area above the frass looking for hollow areas where the drill “pops” into the wood. These are the hollow galleries created by the termites.
After finding the galleries, treat it with the termiticide. You have many options of products that work but you can’t go wrong Termidor and with this can and hose design, it doesn’t get much easier.
Fill the voids with as much of the product as possible. Assuming you were on target, the entire colony will be dead within 90 days.
This WILL NOT always stop the frass (coffee ground thing) from falling though. Even though the colony is dead there may still be frass in the galleries that may fall out every time there is a vibration, such as a plane flying over.
The biggest indicator of an active colony is a swarm. Swarms happen once or twice a year. During a swarm, the reproductive termites will “swarm out” and since they have wings in this stage, they will fly to the light, typically windows.
If you are having swarms but cannot locate a colony, tenting the home is recommended.