by David Moore
Manager of Technical Services and Board Certified Entomologist
with contributions by Eric Smith, PhD, BCE
Hearing the word termites brings fear to many homeowners. The thought of their home being destroyed and the costs associated with resolving the issue bring shivers to wallets across the country. I am going to review the signs of termites so you can hopefully catch the problem early.
With the warm weather breaking, there will be triggers for termite swarmers that may impact your home. The most common termite in our area is the Eastern Subterranean Termite. These termites are actually the most common and widely distributed termite in North America. They are social insects that are usually located in soil or wood and have high moisture requirements, which generally cause them to maintain some type of soil contact unless there are special circumstances. Termites feed on cellulose from wood and wood by-products such as paper and damage more houses each year than do lightning or fires. NPMA estimates that termites cause over 5 billion dollars in property damage each year. Because of the size of the colonies, termites can generally continue to destroy a home 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in our service area with little interference with weather.
Eastern subterranean termite swarmers are 3/8” in length with slightly milky wings with a few visible hairs. The two pairs of wings are nearly equal in length and width, and lie flat over the abdomen when not in use. Wings may be almost clear to smoky black. The wing base has a fracture line where wings are broken off after swarming, leaving a small basal portion called the wing scale.Termite swarmers should not be mistaken for ant swarmers. Ant swarmers have a pinched waist, their front wings are longer than their hind wings, and their antenna are elbowed. Many people make the mistake of thinking termite swarmers are ant swarmers and put their homes at further risk. If you have a doubt, call a pest management professional to identify what type of insect it is. Dodson Pest control, like many pest management companies offers free inspections for this type of issue.
A pile of wings is a sign that swarmers have emerged in the recent past. This is particularly true if an individual has seen “flying ants” recently. Only finding wings is important since termites pull their wings off shortly after landing and finding a mate, while ants keep their wings attached. Common places that piles of wings are usually located are by a porch or in the windows.
Mud tubes are probably the most recognizable sign of termite activity. These are small straw shaped tubes of mud allowing termites to move back and forth between their food source and their colony while maintaining their moisture requirements. The tubes are typically against a structure, but can be suspended in midair on occasion.
Termite castles are another sign that termites have been present at a location. These look very similar to mud tubes, but you will find a cluster of them and they are usually a little thicker than mud tubes. These are built around the time a colony releases swarmers.
Damage to structure and belongings
Finding damaged wood is never a fun experience for a homeowner, but the condition of the wood tells us everything we need to know. Subterranean termites bring the mud into the wood with them to maintain their moisture requirements and feed along the grain. You can crack this mud open and see if any live termites are inside to determine if the area is actively being fed on. If the mud is completely dried out and brittle, that spot may have been abandoned for more hospitable areas. A pest management company can inspect this evidence and let you know if there is still active termites in that area and what options you have. Additional structural repairs may be necessary depending on how extensive the damage is.
Other signs that termites are present are not as obvious. Finding damaged boxes with mud in it, picture frames that have been eaten, bubbles in paint and wood that appears to be fine but feels hollow when pushed are a few other signs that termites have been present.
Knowing what the signs of termites are can aid in identifying an issue before the issue is too extensive and costly. Termite damage only get worse and more extensive, it does not go away. By partnering with a pest management company, you can take appropriate measures to rectify the situation and protect your home for the future. If you have found any of these signs of termites or suspect you may have termites, you should contact a professional to resolve the issue. Trying to resolve the issue on your own usually does not work, and typically becomes more costly for the homeowner.