Everything Homeowners Need to Know About Termites
Termites are one of the most misunderstood pests in the insect world. These pests are known for their destructive behavior that causes over one billion dollars in damage annually thanks to their wood diet. But there is a reason for all this chewing!
These tiny insects are known as “natural recyclers” and play a vital role within the ecosystem. Working 24/7, they can break down entire forests of dead and decaying wood and turn it into a nutrient-rich soil. The soil then provides essential nutrients for plants to grow, completing the circle of life!
While this is a nice image, forests aren’t the only place termites spend their time. It’s all fun and games until the termites decide the wood they’re going to “recycle” is your attic floor. As much as they’re needed in the wild, they’re incredibly damaging to our homes so it’s important to know how to identify and how to get rid of termites.
What Are Termites?
We know that termites are technically an insect, but they’re actually more closely related to a cockroach than they are an ant. Although they do build intricate caste systems that are similar to ant colonies, they prefer to be in damp and dark areas like a cockroach.
Each colony has its own ranking system that classifies termites based on their specific purpose. Colonies have their own king and queen, workers, soldiers, and two types of reproductive swarmer termites: winged and unwinged. Known as the pest that never sleeps, they work 24 hours a day to build their colonies — talk about a great work ethic!
It’s true, termites do love to eat wood. However they also eat plastic, paper, and materials like drywall. What they’re actually eating is the cellulose in the materials, which comes from the non-digestible fiber of plants. Unlike termites, humans can’t digest cellulose since we lack the enzymes to break it down — who knew?
What Do Termites Look Like?
In general, termites are fairly small and range in color from white, brown or red. Their bodies are made up of three connected segments; the head, thorax, and abdomen.
Interestingly, termites look different from each other depending on their ranking within their colony. Workers are the smallest of the group, are lighter in color and, surprisingly, have no eyes. On the other hand, soldier termites are slightly larger with a dark head and visible pincers which they use to cut through materials.
Swarmers, or the winged and unwinged variety, are typically a pale yellow to dark brown in color. The winged termites have two pairs of delicate wings that are dark in color and lay completely flat when not in use, similar to those of winged ants. Finally, the king and queen are wingless and much larger than every other termite in their colony. This makes it easier for them to be identified by the colony (and you when you’re looking to get rid of termites in your home).
Are There Different Types of Termites?
Although there are over 2,000 known termite species, only four types are found in the Southeastern region of the US.
The most common type is the Subterranean species. They prefer warmer climates so they thrive in places like the Carolinas. Plus, their underground colonies can hold up to two million individual termites. As one of the most destructive species, they can collapse an entire building if left to their own devices.
The Drywood termite is especially popular in the coastal areas of the Carolinas. These termites can form colonies up to 2,500 members. They sometimes create multiple smaller colonies, rather than one large homebase.
Dampwood termites are attracted to decaying wood with a high moisture content. Because these pests require so much moisture, they’re generally found in objects open to the elements like dead trees, fence posts, and utility poles — rather than a wooden structure deep within a home.
The fourth species includes the Formosan termite which is found in several Southeastern states, including North and South Carolina. This species can have colonies with upwards of 350,000 termites. Unfortunately, they’re another aggressive type and have been known to eat up to one square foot of wood per month. Formosan termites especially love wood flooring, wallpaper, trees, shrubs, and even boats!
Where Do Termites Live?
In their natural habitats, termites typically live anywhere there’s a great supply of wood. This usually means a forest or anywhere with several trees in one area. Within these habitats, termites will build their nests either underground or inside dead trees and stumps.
However, termites are no stranger to urban areas, and where there’s wood, they will find it. A common myth surrounding termites is that they become wiped out when wooded areas are cleared. Too often homeowners assume their brand new home can’t possibly have termites because the lot has been previously cleared of any vegetation. This is far from true since termites often build nests underground. Unless the lot (and surrounding area) has been properly exterminated, there’s a good chance the termites will still be there! This is why all homes, old and new, need to be inspected for signs of termites.
What Are The Signs of Termites in Your Home?
Knowing where termites could be hiding in your home is valuable knowledge that can help you stop a pest infestation in its tracks. When inspecting the areas listed below, look for the tell-tale signs of termites in your home such as:
Armed with these telltale signs of termites, examine the following areas of your home for damage.
- Discarded wings from the winged swarmer termites
- Mud tubes on walls that help the termites stay sheltered from the sun and dry air Droppings that look similar to sawdust or wood shavings
- Rotting or damaged wood, plastic, or other cellulose-rich materials
- The termites themselves
Outdoor Living Areas
Check areas of your home that are made of wood and come in direct contact with the ground for signs of termites. Termites traveling through underground tunnels in search of food will be able to easily reach outdoor structures like decks, balconies, porches, verandas, and pergolas.
The attic is also an ideal place for a termite colony. Thanks to the exposed wooden structures and the stored cardboard boxes full of paper mementos and photos, these all provide termites with a great source of food.
Related: 3 Ways to Protect Storage in Your Attic and Basement
Garden and Lawn
Not many people think to check their gardens or yards for termites. But the truth is, termites see the tree stumps and wood fences, stacked wood piles, and mulch beds in your yard as an all-you-can-eat buffet. Proper lawn care maintenance can deter termites and other pests from making themselves at home. Sure, you might not see a termite infestation in your yard as a huge threat to your home, but when your foundation is lined with mulch and wood piles are stacked against your house, it’s only a matter of time before they make their way indoors.
Like the attic, exposed structural wood sills, joists, and posts make the basement highly susceptible to termite infestations. Even worse, if a termite has access to the structural wood features in your basement, they’ve likely explored the entire subflooring of your home, which could be a major issue down the road.
Here in the South, most homes have crawl spaces with a dirt floor, unless they’re encapsulated. The soil actually makes it easier for termites to enter your home and create underground tunnels.
How to Get Rid of Termites
Getting rid of termites usually involves chemicals, so be sure you’re up to the task. Or hire a professional pest control company to take care of the issue for you.
Our method of getting rid of termites includes the use of Sentricon Always Active, a powerful termiticide that works by luring the pests inside a bait station. These stations consist of specially-designed rods that are installed into the ground. Strategically placing these powerful stations around your home can eliminate an entire termite colony.
Another way of eliminating termites in your home if you’re doing it yourself is with a termiticide soil treatment. This termite-specific pesticide is applied to the soil to act as a barrier to keep the pests from going in or out. Surface sprays are also used to treat the infested areas directly. These sprays not only kill the termites, but also break down the individual tunnels of the colony.
Once you get rid of the termites, follow these practices to avoid future infestations:
- Maintain protection from termites through a professional who can provide regular upkeep of the Sentricon stations
- Encapsulate your crawl space so termites can’t get in
- Fix cracks in your foundation where termites might be able to find a way through
- Remove any wood, debris, mulch, or wood chips that are in contact with your home’s exterior
- Repaint, remove, or fix any damaged or decaying wood
- Choose building materials like concrete and stone for outdoor areas
The Killingsworth Way of Dealing with Termites in Your Home
We can help you permanently say goodbye to termites in your home. Download our guide, The Killingsworth Way, to see how we do pest control differently than any other company around. We pride ourselves on eliminating pests efficiently, all while keeping the comfort and safety of your family and pets in mind. Schedule a termite inspection or service today!
This content was originally published in June 2018 and was refreshed in May 2020.