Subterranean termites are one the most destructive wood destroying insects in the United States. They cause billions of dollars of damage each year, more property damage than is caused by fire and windstorm combined.
In nature, subterranean termites are beneficial. They break down dead trees and other wood materials that would otherwise accumulate. The biomass of this breakdown process is recycled back to mother earth.
Termites are not considered a pest until they attack and infest the wooden elements of our homes or businesses. Their presence is not always readably noticeable because they hide their activity behind wallboards, siding or wood trim.
Several species of termites are found in the United States; they live in every state except Alaska. The two major types of termites that can be found in Texas are the “Formosan Termite and the Subterranean Termite.”
We are going to dedicate this video to the Subterranean Termite.
Subterranean termites are social insects that live in nests or colonies in the soil, hence the name “Subterranean.”
These colonies contain three castes: the Reproductives, the Workers and the Soldiers.
Reproductive males and females can be winged or wingless. They are often referred to as Swarmers. The color of the bodies of a swarmer varies by species from coal black to pale yellow-brown. Wings on the swarmer appear clear and have few distinct veins.
Worker Termites make up the largest number of individuals within any given termite colony. Workers do not have wings, they appear white to creamy white in color. They do all of the work of the colony, from feeding the other castes, grooming the queen, excavating the nest and making tunnels. In working, they chew and eat the wood source, causing the destruction that makes termites economically important as long as the food source is not our homes.
Soldier Termites resemble the worker termite in color and general appearance, except that soldiers have large, well-developed brownish heads with strong mandibles or jaws. Soldiers defend the colony against invaders which are primarily ants.
It is important to be able to distinguish between swarming termites and ants. They often swarm around the same time of year, but the cost to control and the treatment measures for each differ greatly.
If you find signs of winged insects, don’t panic and automatically assume they are termites. Carefully pick one up and look at it under a magnifying glass.
Termites can be distinguished from ants by comparing their physical characteristics.
Winged termites have straight beaded antennae, a long body with a thick waist with only two body segments and four long fragile wings of equal size and shape.
Winged ants have elbowed antennae, with three body segments with a thin neck and a thin waist, and two forewings (front wings) that are larger than the two rare wings (lower wings).
Look for the most common sign – “The Color”. Subterranean termite swarmers are solid black, while ants are usually red and black “or dark brown.”
Understanding the Biology and Habits of termites is important, After a termite colony has matured, which normally occurs after 2 to 4 years, swarmers are produced. Swarming usually occurs from January through April, during the daylight hours, usually after a rain. Environmental factors such as heat, light and moisture trigger the emergence of swarmers.
Both male and female swarmers fly from the colony and travel varying distances. They are extremely weak fliers and wind currents usually carry those that travel any distance. Only a small percentage of swarmers survive to develop colonies; the majority fall prey to birds, toads, insects and other predators. Many also die from dehydration or injury.
Moisture is very important to the subterranean termite, which have very little resistance to dehydration. To survive, they must maintain contact with the soil which is their primary moisture source or other above-ground moisture sources, such as in structures with defective plumbing or guttering.
Subterranean termites derive their nutrition from wood and other material containing cellulose. Wood, paper, cotton, cardboard, burlap or other plant products are often actively attacked and consumed by termites.
Termites foraging for food above ground protect themselves with shelter tubes, which are sometimes called mud tubes.
Worker termites build these tubes from particles of soil and wood that are held together by salivary secretions and fecal matter. The tubes may be thinly constructed or large and thick-walled to accommodate larger numbers of termites to move between the colony and the food source.
This construction material can also be found lining the galleries built in the wood being attacked and aids in identifying termite-damaged wood. Shelter tubes often are used to bridge masonry or other obstacles, allowing termites access to a food source (wood) above ground.
Damage Caused by Termites can be found in dead trees and brush which are the natural food source of termites. When the land is cleared of this material and houses are built, termites then infest the homes and structures that replaced their natural food source.
Termites can enter buildings through wood in direct contact with the soil, by building shelter tubes over or through foundations, or by entering directly through cracks or joints in and under a foundation.
Any material in direct contact with the soil such as trees, vines or plumbing fixtures serve as an avenue of infestation.
Signs of infestation very, the presence of swarmers, wings left behind by swarmers or damaged wood are often the first signals that termites are infesting a structure.
Swarmers are generally the first signs of an infestation noticed by a homeowner which is often the presence of swarming reproductives on window sills or near indoor lighting fixtures and in bathroom are. Swarmers inside the house nearly always indicate an active infestation in the structure. The presence of swarmers outdoors is a natural phenomenon, but should be a warning sign that termites are near.
Wings left behind by Swarmers are another good indicator. Wings discarded by swarmers are a normal part of their behavior, often found near the emergence sites, on window sills or in cobwebs.
In a larger number of cases you may find launching castles which are also referred to as launching shelters. These launching castles are constructed with very thin walls that can be easily broken open so the swarmer termites can leave the colony. The launching castles are typical found in high locations near the wall and ceiling interfaces or can be found in the attic area as well. These higher locations will help add the swarmers to travel greater distances away from the colony they are leaving.
Infestations can also be detected by the presence of shelter tubes going up the sides of foundation piers, utility entrances or foundation walls.
In some cases you will find that the termites have eaten the paper from between the paint on the wall and the gypsum board (gypsum board is also sometimes referred to as drywall or sheetrock).
The average shelter tube sized measures between 1/4″-inch to 1/2″-inch in width but can be much larger. This size of the shelter tube is largely based on the length of time the termite infestation has gone undetected. The larger the tube – the older the infestation.
If the shelter tube is in use, the interior of the tube will be moist and there will be worker and soldier termites present within the tube. If a section of the tube is broken open, the workers will immediately being to repair the breach to avoid losing essential moisture and to help prevent attack from predators.
Wood damage is not always found initially, but is definitely and indictor that an infestation exists or has existed in the past. Any wood-to-soil contact is a potential site of entry into a structure. Wood that has a dull, thudding sound when struck by a screwdriver or hammer should be examined.
Termite damage is almost always confined to the soft, springwood-growth of the wood and the tunnels tend to follow the grain of the wood as well. They either are lined with the same material used to build shelter tubes, or have a pale, spotted appearance resulting from the fecal material plastered the tunneled surfaces.
Thorough inspections can determine whether an infestations and wood damage is present, whether remedial control measures are needed, and what conducive conditions that are present that would encourage a termite infestation.
Inspections should be performed by a licensed termite inspector well trained in construction elements and familiar with termite behavior and environmental requirements for termite survival.
If you feel that you are in need of a quality inspection for wood destroying insects in the Dallas / Fort Worth area, call our office to speak with one of customer care coordinators today.
If you live outside of our coverage area, you should be able to find a licensed termite inspector through the State Regulatory Body that regulates the Pest Control Operators in your area or state.
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