Types of Termites: How to identify and Get rid of them
The presence of a termite colony in a home or structure can be a stressful and expensive occurrence. Before panicking, it is important to identify whether there are definitely termites present or if the warning signs or damage stem from other causes. However, if it is ultimately determined termites have established a colony, there are treatment options that should be considered in order to get rid of the pest.
There are multiple warning signs that can alert a homeowner to the presence of termites on their property.
Frass, the dried out fecal pellets of drywood termites, is often found on windowsills or doorjambs of a home suffering from a termite infestation. Frass is not always an indication of current activity, though, as these pellets can remain long after the termite colony has vacated the structure. If these droppings are spotted, a termite control professional should be contacted in order to conduct an investigation.
Abandoned wings are also an indication that termites have been present. Reproductive swarmers will shed their wings once a mating site is found, so wings can either be a sign of current activity or potential activity. Once again, if wings are found on windowsills or other surfaces, a professional evaluation should be conducted.
The presence of mud tubes leading from the ground to a wall or another structure is a sure sign of either past or present termite activity. Termites use these tubes as protective tunnels between their nests and a feeding site. Exposing the interior of the tunnel and checking for live termites can be a further indication of current termite infestation.
Visible damage, such as flaking
Visible damage to wooden structures, such as flaking or disintegration, is also a sign of termite presence. Damage to wood is sometimes not visible, but it can be detected by tapping the surface with a hammer or other hard object. If the wood gives off a deep, hollow sound, then there might be termite damage within. This damage could have been done during a previous infestation, so conducting a professional evaluation will help determine the current state of termite activity.
If wings are found, there is a chance that they belonged to a winged ant and not a termite. Although many people often confuse ants with termites, especially when dealing with winged ants, there are key distinctions that can help someone distinguish between the two. The shape of their bodies, for instance, can be a primary indication of which type of insect is present.
Ants have a pronounced separation between their thorax and abdomen, which gives them the appearance of having a small waist. Termites, on the other hand, have somewhat uniform body shapes, maintaining the same overall width from one end to the other. The antennae on the ants also have more changes in dimension, as they are often elbowed or joined as opposed to the straight antennae of a termite.
While both insects have four wings, ants possess a set of front wings that are larger in size than their rear wings. A termite’s wings, however, are consistently the same size, no matter what location they occupy on the body. Body color is also an indicator, as ants tend to be much darker than termites. Finally, with the exception of swarmers, termites do not have eyes, whereas ants do have eyes.
Different Types of Termites
Once a clear distinction has been made between a winged ant and a termite, the type of termite present should be identified in order to help select the best course of action.
Dampwood termites do not maintain a centralized colony but instead live in separate groups. As suggested in their name, they often choose to attack wood, or any other material containing cellulose, that is moist or damp, especially when the material is in direct contact with ground soil.
Although they prefer to inhabit spaces in close proximity to the earth, they do not nest under the ground like subterranean termites. Instead, they choose to establish their nests directly within the material they are invading. Decaying wood around homes, such as rotten fascia or baseboards, are prime targets for dampwood termites.
Colonies are introduced when two swarmers, or winged reproductive termites, encounter a suitable piece of material where they can mate. Once this material is found, the swarmers hollow out a chamber and crawl inside to begin the mating process.
The swarmers will only produce a limited number of eggs in the first year, but as time progresses the number of eggs will increase. Because of this practice, dampwood termite colonies tend to be relatively small initially but can become quite large over time.
Because dampwood termites do not nest within the earth’s soil, they do not have the need for many transportation tunnels, such as those utilized by the subterranean termite. Therefore, if termite damage is present but a tunneling system is not evident, it might suggest the presence of dampwood termites.
Interestingly, material that has been damaged by dampwood termites usually appears to be quite clean and smooth inside. In the case of wood, dampwood termites tend to eat across the grain, unlike other types of termites.
In order to protect themselves from outside hazards, dampwood termites utilize their fecal pellets to seal any exposed areas of their living galleries. With enough moisture, these pellets stick to the walls of the galleries, but the pellets will fall to the bottom if the material dries out.
Combating or resisting the presence of dampwood termites can be as simple as keeping a vigilant eye on moisture levels. However, once termite damage has been done it is irreversible, and simply ridding the damaged area of the insects will not guarantee the structure has not already been compromised.
If a nest of dampwood termites is spotted, it is advisable to contact a professional termite control agency in order to assess the damage and define the scope of the colony.
Drywood termites, unlike dampwood and subterranean termites, are not dependent upon the presence of moisture or a pathway to soil. Because they are free from these location restraints, drywood termite colonies are often found in elevated areas, such as attic frames or fascia boards. Drywood termites can, however, be present in any dry material containing cellulose.
Although these termites have unique capabilities regarding where they are able to nest, the transportation and establishment of a new colony are conducted in the same way as other types of termites. Reproductive swarmers are released from an existing colony in order to find a suitable location for expansion.
Once this location is discovered, the swarmers shed their wings, occupy the material and begin to mate. Warmer temperatures and substantial rains often encourage the swarming process. Drywood termites shed their wings much faster than subterranean termites, so the absence of any swarmers still possessing wings could be an indication that the termites in question are drywood.
Unlike dampwood termites, drywood termites conserve the water present in their fecal pellets by extracting as much moisture from them as possible. This process results in very dry, stiff fecal pellets, which are often no larger than 1 millimeter in diameter.
After the moisture has been extracted from the pellets, they are no longer useful to the colony and are removed from the galleries. These discarded pellets often indicate the presence of drywood termites to homeowners. Sometimes, however, these pellets can be misleading as they can remain in previously occupied areas almost indefinitely.
Formosan termites are a specific type of subterranean termite, so their nests are located underground within the soil. In order to travel from their nest to the desired feeding area, the area must either have direct contact with the ground, such as a sunken fence post or be close enough to be accessible through mud tubes that the termites create and use as tunnels.
In addition to mud tubes, Formosan termites are also capable of constructing a protective carton in their nests. This carton essentially acts as a moisture barrier, limiting the evaporation of the water within. This practice allows Formosan termites to build smaller nests outside the bounds of the soil.
The spread of Formosan termite colonies is achieved through the same means as most other termite colonies. First, reproductive swarmers are produced and then subsequently sent on a search for a suitable mating site.
Once this site is discovered, the swarmers shed their wings and begin the mating process. Although the swarmers act similarly to those of other varieties of termite, the Formosan soldiers have a markedly more aggressive demeanor, often becoming quite violent when even the slightest threat to the nest is detected. Other than noticing these small differences, it is difficult to differentiate between Formosan termites and other varieties.
As indicated by their name, subterranean termites build their main nests underneath the ground. It is not impossible for subterranean termites to build and maintain nests above ground, but adequate moisture levels must be present for this to occur. Additionally, the appearance of nests above the ground is often a sign of a thriving colony, as each nest above ground can be thought of as a satellite extension of the main subterranean nest.
Like the Formosan termite, standard subterranean termites are capable of reaching feeding areas that are either in direct contact with the ground or are within a close proximity to the ground. Materials that are completely or partially buried, such as fence posts or home siding, are easy targets for subterranean termites, as they will burrow their way into the material with ease.
Materials that do not directly come in contact with the soil are still accessible as long as they are within close proximity. For these materials, the subterranean termite will construct mud tubes and travel through them to the feeding site.
The width of the mud tube can serve as an indication as to how long the subterranean termites have been present. Mud tubes can be thought of as termite highways, and as the termite population increases so must the width of the mud tube.
Subterranean termites tend to feed only on soft portions of wood, choosing to eat around the hardwood. Because of this, areas of wood damaged by subterranean termites will often appear to be layered.
This wood will also show an accumulation of mud or soil, which the termites bring inside in order to maintain proper humidity levels. Subterranean termites are present throughout the continental United States but are most prevalent in the warm, southern states.
Conehead termites are a recent addition to the United States’ termite population, having been introduced to Florida in 2001. Originally, they primarily inhabited areas in the Caribbean and Central America. Since their introduction to the United States, it has become clear that the potential for damage from conehead termites is quite large.
Originally deemed tree termites, this species is known for building nests in more conspicuous locations than other termites, such as in trees, exposed wooden structures and above ground directly on top of the soil.
These nests are primarily constructed from the same materials as the common mud tunnel, but they often have a rigid surface of chewed wood encompassing the entirety of the nest. Not only are these nests reinforced against predators, but they can also reach up to 3 feet in diameter.
Similar to subterranean termites, conehead termites use mud tunnels to reach food sources. However, conehead tunnels tend to be much wider and more extensive than those of the standard subterranean termite. These mud tunnels tend not to have the same pulpy exterior as nests, so it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between a newly constructed conehead tunnel and a thriving subterranean tunnel.
Because of this difficulty, individuals attempting to determine the presence of conehead termites should consider a professional termite inspection.
A termite colony is based on a caste system, and the queen termite is at the top of that hierarchy. Queens are integral to the creation, growth and ultimate success of a termite colony.
Queens begin their life as a female swarmer, and their transformation into queen termite is dependent upon the successful creation of a new colony. If a pair of swarmers is able to produce enough eggs to establish a new colony, then they will become the king and queen. At this point, the queen’s sole job is to produce as many eggs as possible. Throughout her life, she may produce over two hundred million eggs. As they emerge from the queen’s ovipositor, the eggs are stacked into neat piles by worker termites.
The queen’s growth potential is also astounding, as she is capable of growing to nearly one hundred times the size of any other termite in the colony. In one instance, a queen termite grew to the length of 10 centimeters.
The queen’s size and function both serve to illustrate her importance to the colony. And, upon the queen’s death, the colony will disband. At that point, flocks of swarmers will be sent out to search for new breeding locations.
Protecting Your Home
There are a few strategies homeowners can employ in order to prevent a termite infestation from occurring within their property. Humidity and moisture levels should be kept to a minimum, as termites require moisture for survival. If there are not suitable conditions for survival in a location, then termites will not attempt to establish a colony in the area.
Open structural entry points should also be sealed whenever possible. Cracks in the foundation or structural framing can allow termites a direction into a feeding site. Reducing areas where wood materials come in direct contact with soil will also be a big help as subterranean termites often burrow directly into the wood from the soil.
There are professional services that can help with termite prevention, such as conventional chemical barriers or preemptive underground bait stations. These measures should be installed by a professional service, however, as they have the potential to be ineffective if not installed correctly.
If a termite infestation has already occurred, there are multiple home remedies and professional solutions that can help eliminate the problem.
Natural and Organic Control
Many termite species can be safely and effectively eradicated using organic treatment strategies. Because organic standards for treatment methods are not defined, it is important for anyone in search of a green option to contact termite a treatment professional. Not only will a professional service be capable of supplying truly organic treatment options, but they will also be able to conduct a thorough termite inspection and identify the species and threat level of the termites in question.
In addition to professionally administered termite treatments, there are also botanical home remedies that are often effective. Orange oil, for instance, contains d-limonene, which is an active compound that kills drywood termites upon contact.
This strategy works best with drywood termite colonies with defined boundaries, as the defined boundaries will help ensure complete coverage. Neem oil can also be utilized, but the termite must ingest the oil in order for it to be effective. Neem oil and orange oil are safe alternatives to chemical treatments, and both products are nontoxic to humans and pets.
Sodium borate, also known as borax, can also be employed as a home remedy for termite control. Borax works best on subterranean termites, however determining if the treatment has reached the entire colony is difficult and poses the threat of inadequate treatment. Often, borax treatments are repeated multiple times in order to ensure full infiltration. These treatments are also commonly used in conjunction with other control methods.
Avoiding chemical treatments when dealing with pest control can sometimes be difficult, but there are techniques for eliminating termites based on maintaining severely hot or cold temperatures. The members of a termite colony will begin to die if the colony’s temperature reaches 120 degrees Fahrenheit or higher for longer than 35 minutes.
Before a heat treatment, structures being treated need previous preparation in order to protect the interior furnishings or equipment. In the case of cold treatments, structures are brought to a temperature of 15 degrees Fahrenheit or lower for a minimum of four days. Furnishing and equipment preparation is less necessary with cold treatments, but individual circumstances should be taken into consideration.
Many chemical termite treatments can be very effective for repelling or eliminating colonies. These chemicals, which are referred to as termiticides, usually come in two varieties: Repellants and non-repellents.
Repellent chemicals are distributed in a spray or foam form around potential termite entry points and in the soil around a structure. The function of repellent termite chemicals is to create a boundary line termites will not cross. It is difficult, however, to find and treat all possible termite entry points, which leaves the potential for infestation even after treatment. Also, repellent treatments are not very effective when dealing with termite infestations already in existence.
Non-repellent termite chemicals go unnoticed by the insects, and they act as more of a poison than a repellent. Termites will encounter the chemical when burrowing in treated soil or wood areas and soon die. The chemical can also be transferred from one termite to another through food exchanges or grooming. This tactic is similar to baiting, but it covers a larger area due to the breadth of coverage.
Conventional Barrier Treatments
When considering how to get rid of termites, conventional barrier treatments can be a viable option. Similar to repellent chemical treatments, barrier treatments require a chemical to be sprayed into the ground around a structure. Depending on the size of the area, however, the amount of chemical needed can grow quite large, which increases both price and potential toxicity.
Termite barriers are also mostly effective against subterranean termites, so it is important to have the type of termite being dealt with identified by a professional before committing to a conventional barrier treatment.
Termite bombs function by forcing pesticide out of an aerosol canister and into an enclosed space. The particles of pesticide that are forced into the air eventually succumb to gravity and land on the floor, counter and furniture surfaces. Also, because the chemicals are not forced into the walls, as is the case with fumigation, the chemicals in termite bombs often do not make contact with an area infested with termites.
Are Pesticides Used Against Termites Safe?
If properly used, the chemicals and treatments for termite control should not be harmful to humans or pets. It is important to stress, however, that safety risks should be taken seriously and a termite control professional should be contacted for a consultation. Having a professional assess the situation is the best way to identify the type of termites being dealt with and the scope of the infestation. With this information, an appropriate treatment plan can be decided upon and implemented.