As a homeowner, your property is one of your biggest investments. However, a termite invasion can quickly and quietly destroy your home’s value. Preventing termite damage begins with understanding termites, what they eat and key signs of an infestation. Here are some things you could be doing that are attracting termites.

What attracts termites?

A termite is an insect pest that consumes wood and lives in a nest or colony similar to an ant. Termites are often confused with ants, but they can be identified by their straight antennae, thick waists and four equal-length wings (if they are even the type that have wings). These insects create colonies by burrowing into the ground or into wooden structures to feed on cellulose. Homes and the surrounding property can become prime environments for termite colonies if wood is not treated or maintained. These situations encourage termites to move from their natural habitats into developed areas.They create tunnels in wood and mud tubes in the ground in order to travel throughout the colony and avoid exposure to air. There are four main termite species in the United States: subterranean termites, drywood termites, dampwood termites, and Formosan termites.

Termites are attracted to any food source that contains cellulose, primarily wood. However, some termites prefer damp, soft wood, or live in the ground near your home’s foundation. Therefore, it’s a good idea to make sure your home doesn’t have any lasting moisture or standing water issues in its basement, crawl spaces, or other low-to-the-ground places that aren’t easily accessible or oft-frequented.

Outdoor wood piles:

Many people who collect and burn firewood in their homes like to keep their firewood stacks near their home and under cover. While this is often convenient and keeps firewood safe from the elements, termites love infesting wood stacks, so this can be a potential factor that leads to termites entering your home. It’s best to keep stacks of wood away from the main walls of your home and elevated so termites can’t reach them.

 

Tree stumps:

Tree stumps are a prime location for termites to begin an infestation on your property. They are dead wood that can easily become soft and moist as they rot, which is like a “welcome home” sign for termites. If termites are allowed to infest tree stumps and other forms of dead wood on your property, it may be only a matter of time until they find a way into your home.

 

Mulch:

Mulch is a great resource for gardening, but since it’s a thick layer of small pieces of dry, dead wood, it can become a smorgasbord for termites. Not only that, many people allow mulch to directly touch the foundations of their homes instead of putting some sort of barrier between them. If termites get into your mulch while it’s touching the foundation of your home, they can easily find cracks and crevices to dig through in your foundation and walls and start infesting your home.

 

Roof problems:

Roofs offer many opportunities for termites to enter your home. If you have low-hanging branches that touch your roof, they could act like a bridge for termites. If you have clogged gutters that have difficulty draining, termites may also find this area appealing. From these locations, termites can make short work of getting through a roof and infesting the rest of a home.

 

Basement problems:

Many houses that are set on top of crawl spaces or that have unfinished basements or cellars may be targeted by termites. These kinds of places are notorious for holding onto moisture and leaving wooden structural supports open and vulnerable to infestation. If a termite colony manages to get under your house in this way, it could potentially do a great deal of damage.

Signs of Termites and Termite Damage

Several key clues signal that termites may have created a colony in your home. Even if you don’t spot an actual termite, they could quickly and quietly damage your property. Although they may seem small, homeowners should immediately consult a professional upon finding any of the following signs of termites.

Termite swarmers

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.

Insect Larvae and a mature termite

Wings

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.

 

Graph showing the difference between termites and ants

Mud tubes

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.

Graph showing types of mud tubes made by termites

 

Frass

Termites leave small, brown droppings, known as “frass”. These droppings often look like wood particles or sawdust due to how much wood termites eat. If you find these pellet-shaped droppings, your home may have a termite infestation.

 
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.

Common Misconceptions

Debunking common termite misconceptions can empower homeowners to protect their property. Termite limitations and preferences reveal the key areas where they enter and damage homes. While termites are destructive, you can discourage them from building a colony in your home by understanding the ways they behave.

DO TERMITES REALLY EAT WOOD?

Termites eat wood and anything containing cellulose, such as wallpaper, books, boxes, carpet backing, drywall and furniture. In their natural environment, termites support the ecosystem. They digest rotting wood, turning it into humus, an organic material that improves soil. When land development displaces termites, they can occupy and destroy buildings.

CAN TERMITES EAT THROUGH PLASTIC?

Termites cannot eat through plastic. However, they may try to break through plastic to access a food source.

DO TERMITES EAT CONCRETE?

Termites cannot eat concrete. Because termites can fit through cracks and crevices in concrete, homeowners may think termites chewed through this tough barrier.

WILL BORIC ACID KILL TERMITES?

Boric acid is not an effective DIY method to get rid of a termite infestation. While a termite will die if it ingests boric acid, this treatment will not destroy a termite colony, and at best, you’d likely only kill a few worker or soldier termites that a termite queen can easily replace. A termite colony can only be destroyed through the advanced treatment methods of a pest control professional.

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