Termite Extermination: All about Termites and How to Get Rid of Them
"There are two kinds homes: those with termites and those that will eventually have them." According to research, one in three homes will have termites at some point in the structure's life. Ubiquitous, termites can be found in every state but Alaska. If termites are present on your property, it's estimated there are up to four colonies per square acre. Considering this, a house can also have four colonies.
Unbelievably, termites have been known to destroy a home within three months. Even if you have a brick or cement foundation, you are still not protected against termites. Termites can pass through a crack 2 millimeters. Furthermore, the Subterranean termite is responsible for causing more damage to home and commercial property than fires, storms, floods, and earthquakes combined.
In light of this information, if you have visible signs of termites, get a termite extermination as quickly as possible.
Termite Range Map
Types of Termites
There are three types of termites in the United States. These types are Dry Wood Termites, Subterranean Termites, and Formosan Termites. The types differ by their habitats and feeding behaviors.
Drywood Termites live above ground whereas Subterranean Termites and Formosan Termites, called ground termites, live underground. Subterranean termites enter houses through underground tunnels. Between the three types, Formosan termites are the most destructive followed by Subterranean termites and Drywood Termites.
Since the Subterranean and Formosan live underground, they are not noticed as quickly as the Drywood Termites, and by the time they are noticed, the damage can be extensive. They have been known to eat up to 15 pounds of wood per week. Unlike Drywood Termites and Subterranean Termites, Formosan Termites are not native to the United States. They infested the United States through timber shipped from Asia during World War II.
Life Cycle of a Termite
The Life of a Termite
Termites have existed for 250 million years. Belonging to the order Isoptera, the name Isoptera means equal wings. Accordingly, termites have two pairs of wings which are equal in length.
They prefer damp, dark, warm enviornments. Whereas Drywood Termites can get their source of water from the wood they eat, Subterranean and Formosan Termites cannot. The latter two types of termites are called ground termites. They make tunnels from their source of water to their source of food.
Like ants, termites are a highly social insect. Termites begin life as eggs, hatch into a nymph, and eventually develop into a mature termite. When termites are still in the larvae stage, the queen decides which caste they will belong to by marking them with a scent. In fact, termites communicate mainly through the scents they emit.
These scents or phermones are picked up by scent-receptive cells on their antennae. Different scents specify different events. For instance, not only does each caste have their own scent but each colony has a unique scent too. This enables them to recognize each other and intruders. To warn other termites of invaders, workers will smear a chemical on the food. The queen, in turn, will emit a chemical to the soldiers that the nest needs to be defended.
In addition to communicating by scent, termites also communicate through sounds they pick up through sensers in their legs. By striking their heads against the tunnel walls, worker and soldier termites can summon other termites.
Each colony is divided into casts according to the work funcitions by the queen. These castes include queens, a king, reproductives, workers, and soldiers. The colony is started by the queen and king. They are the only ones that reproduce, and they mate for life. If the primary queen dies, a secondary queen will take her place.
The queen may live for up to 25 years.. As she increases in age, her reproductive abilities increase too. At her peak, she can lay a new egg every three seconds or 2,000 eggs per day. While the queen lays eggs, the king and workers tend to the young.
Reproductives are also called swarmers or alates. When a colony reaches a certain size, reproductives are produced. Reproductives are termites that swarm in search for new colony sites and mates. After they find a new site, they shed their wings and emit a phermone to attact a mate.
Soldiers defend the nest from intruders. In most termite species, their head has a special structure to enable them to defend the nest.
As the name implies, worrkers do most of the work, and consequently, the most damage. They are responsible for food-gathering, constructing tunnels, repairing the nest, grooming each other, caring for the young, and feeding the rest of the colony. Only the workers can digest wood products, and they are not born with this ability. Organisms in the gut help them digest their food. The organisms are transferred to each other through their fecal matter. Without these organisms, termites would be unable to digest their food, and the whole colony would die.
Termite versus Ant Identification
What Does a Termite Look Like?
When homeowners encounter a termite swarm, they wonder if they are termites or ants. Drywood termites have a light cream body and a dark head. On the other hand, Subterranean Termites can vary in color dependent upon their function within the caste. Although both termites and ants can fly, termites usually swarm at different times of the years. Furthermore, there are obvious physilogical differences between the termite and ant. Termites have thick waists and straight antennaes while ants have narrow waists and elbowed antennaes. While both have four wings, termite wings are equal in length while ants have two larger wings and two smaller wings.
Signs of Termites
Many homeowners with termite infestations do not even realize they have termites until the damage starts becoming evident. Fortunately, there are signs. By inspecting your house on an annual basis, you can try to head off the problem before the damage become extensive. Look for:
- Mud-looking material on wooden surfaces - If termites eat a hole through an exterior wall, they will try to patch it with their feces and dirt. This will have the appearance of mud.
- A swarm of winged insects or discarded wings - When termites are looking for another source of food, they send out swarmers. Swarmers have wings. They prefer to swarm on sunny days right after a rain. Formosan termites are the exception to this. They prefer to swarm during the early evening. Once they find a new spot for the colony, they shed their wings. The discarded wings may be on window sills, bathtubs, sinks, heating vents, and doors.
- Mud tubes in the basement or around the house's exterior - Unlike Deadwood Termites which obtain their water from wood, Subterranean Termites need a source of water in addition to the wood. They locate their colony near a water source and build mud tubes to the food source. The tubes are the size of a the diameter of a pencil and either free-standing or against a surface. To see if you have an active infestation, you can break the tube open and check for worker termites. However, even if no termites are present, it doesn't necessarily mean there isn't an infestation. The termites could be foraging for food in other areas.
- Check moist, dark places in the home.
- Powder that looks like sawdust
- Holes in wood's surface
- Paint bubbles
- Hollow-sounding wood - Termites eat wood from the inside out. Break off some of the outer wood. If termites are present, a honeycomb pattern and dirt may be evident.
- Visible termites - If you're remodeling, you may run across visible termites. They will quickly run away in the light.
Termite Extermination Methods
There are generally five methods of termite extermination. These methods are fumigation, chemical barriers, bait traps, thermal pest control, the microwave method, the cold method, and the electro-gun method.
Fumigation is also called Termite Tenting. This termite extermination method is usually used for Deadwood Termites when the whole house is infested. However, if there are Subterranean Termites too, it does not kill them.
In preparation for this method, food items need to be enclosed in plastic bags, and the owners need to leave the premises for two to three days. However, fortunately, the gas does not adhere to surfaces so nothing needs to be wiped down afterwards.
With tenting, the house is enclosed in a tent and a wood-penetrating gas is released. Fans are used to circulate the gas. On the following day, the tarps are removed, and the house is aired out. On the third day, the exterminators measure how much is gas is left in the house and make sure it is okay for the owners to come back.
Although termite tenting kills live termites, it does not kill the eggs. However, since the worker termites feed the larvae, they will die from starvation.
Termite chemical barrier treatments are another option. Using a termiticide, a barrier is formed around the house. Treches are dug around the foundation of the house, and the chemical is injected into the ground. In addition to digging trenches around the foundation, holes are drilled every 12 inches into basement floors, steps, and hollow blocks since termites can enter the house through cracks in masonary structures.
There are two types of termiticides: non-repellant and repellant. The non-repellant method actually kills the termites whereas the repellant method acts as a deterrant. Studies have shown non-repellant treatments are usually more effective. Unfortunately, changes in the soil can break down either type barrier. The termiticides are usually effective for five years. According to the EPA, as long as termiticides are applied according to the directions, they pose no significant hazard to humans, pets, or the environment.
Termit baits are another termite extermination method. Termite baits are effective with ground termites. The bait trap is usually cylinder-shaped and contains a cellulose bait that termites will feed on. The cylinders have numerous holes or slits in which the termites can enter and exit. The underground traps are placed every 6 to 20 feet around the perimeter of the house. Although termites are not attracted to the bait, they find the bait traps while foraging for food. The poison reduces the termite colony by several different modes. Termites ingest the poison themselves. Termites share the tainted food with others. Furthermore, termites share not only share liquid to communicate, but they share liquid that contains organisms to digest their food. In addition to these modes of transmission, termites eat other dead termites.
Bait traps are periodically inspected for termite activity. If termite activity is found, a poison is applied to the bait, and termites share the bait with other termites. In addition to underground baits, above ground baits can be used in other areas of suspected termite activity.
Two types of poison are used: stomach poisons and insect growth regulators. Insect growth regulators act like a hormone that controls growth. It prevents termites from forming a normal cuticle during molting.
The last method for whole house treatment of termites is called thermal pest control. In this method, after temperature sensitive items are removed from the house, the house is heated to 160 degrees F for approximately six hours.
Other methods of termite extermination are the microwave method,the cold method, and the shock or electro-gun method. Unlike the other methods, these termite extermination methods are used usually used for spot treatments rather than the whole house.
Since termites are cyptic creatures, you can have a termite infestation without knowing it. If you do notice signs of termites, call a professional immediately. Termites can do a significant amount of damage in a short amount of time. Even though termite extermination can be expensive, it is better to call a professional than trying to treat it yourself for a couple of reasons. First, since a homeowner is not a licensed professional, they do not have access to the same chemicals as licensed professionals do. Secondly, to treat termites effectively, one needs a knowledge of both construction methods and the behaviors of termites.