Nobody likes sharing their home or workplace with unwanted pests, particularly termites. Termite infestation is a serious problem that can cost property owners thousands of dollars in repairs. These tiny insects feed on wood and other cellulose materials like fabric and paper. They live in large colonies and, in worst case scenarios, can ruin a building’s structural integrity over time.
Termites often hide within the walls or other inaccessible areas of a building. By the time they’re discovered, they may have already turned an otherwise pleasant living or working environment into a nightmare.
Identifying the signs of a termite infestation is the first step to managing the situation. In this article, we cover the dangers of termites, the signs of an infestation and how to treat termites effectively.
What Do Termites Look Like?
More than 2,000 known termite species exist worldwide, with at least 50 species occurring solely within the United States. Termites are classified into drywood, dampwood and subterranean groups depending on the location of their colonies. Knowing the differences between these groups is integral to developing effective termite control strategies.
- Subterranean Termites: Build their nests underground where it is moist and damp.
- Drywood Termites: Generally nest in sound dry wood located above the ground.
- Dampwood Termites: Prefer wet wood and commonly reside in heavily forested areas
Termites are highly social insects with colonies of as many as 2 million members. They have a unique caste system consisting of workers, soldiers and swarmers, each displaying distinct physical characteristics.
- Workers: Worker termites forage for food for the entire colony and build nests and mud tubes. Workers are wingless termites with pale- or cream-colored soft bodies. They make up the largest population in the colony and do the actual wood eating. They consume cellulose, the main component of grass and wood.
- Soldiers: They resemble worker termites but are larger and have rectangular, yellowish-brown heads. Soldier termites have prominent jaws used to protect their colonies.
- Swarmers: Also known as reproductive termites, they have four wings of equal size, which lie flat over the abdomen at rest. Swarmers are solid black with clear, veined wings.
What Causes Termite Infestations?
Termites are drawn to moist, undisturbed areas such as attics or crawl spaces. Even during warmer months, your property may still have excessive moisture due to inadequate drainage, leaking pipes or poor ventilation.
To prevent moisture buildup, maintain adequate ventilation in your property. Install exhaust fans or open windows to allow fresh air to circulate and push out the humid air. Keep an eye out for leaks in roofs and pipes and fix them right away.
Excess moisture due to improper drainage provides an ideal environment for termites to survive and thrive. Divert excess water from your property by keeping your gutters and downspouts clean and in good condition. Fix leaking pipes or faucets promptly to keep the soil near your property’s foundation as dry as possible.
Gaps in the Foundation
Cracks or breaches in the foundation of a building can provide an entry point for termites. They can exploit these openings in their search for food and moisture. Similarly, termites can make their way through loose or defective seals where plumbing lines or electrical conduit enter your property.
Regularly inspect your building’s entry points for any gaps. Fill cracks and reapply missing caulk as needed. Minor fixes can help you better protect your property against termite activity.
Any wood that comes into contact with your building’s exterior presents an opportunity for termite infiltration. The simplest way to keep termites out of your property is to remove vines, untreated mulch, stumps, branches, dead shrubs or stacked firewood in the vicinity.
Signs of an Infestation
Certain temperatures and humidity levels are necessary for subterranean termites to survive. That’s why termites build mud tubes as they travel between their colony and food source. These tunnels provide moisture and inhibit the entry of cool, dry air.
Look for mud tubes near the building’s foundation or other possible food sources, such as trees or sheds. They resemble narrow veins that start from the ground and lead toward exposed wood.
To verify an active termite infestation, break off a section of the mud tube and check for live termites. Keep revisiting the location to see whether the tube has been repaired
Swarmers and Discarded Termite Wings
Flying termites around your property clearly indicate an active termite infestation. Swarmers are drawn to light and tend to gather near doors and windows.
Likewise, the presence of discarded termite wings indicates an infestation. Termites leave their nest to find a mate and suitable locations to start a new colony. Once they’ve found their new home, they deliberately shed their wings because they won’t need them again.
The presence of frass is a key sign of drywood termite activity. These are wood-colored termite droppings that are shaped like pellets and resemble sawdust. Termites push frass out of tiny openings near the entrances to their nest, leaving behind small black marks and dark powdery residue around the area they are infesting.
Stuck Windows or Doors
If doors or windows suddenly become much harder to open or close, it can be an early sign of a termite problem. Termites are naturally drawn to windows and door frames, where wood is exposed and accessible.
They feed on wood and create tunnels to reach food sources, weakening the structure’s integrity. As a result, windows and door frames swell or warp, making it harder to open or close them properly.
Aside from stuck doors and windows, termite infestations can result in other types of structural issues, such as crumbling baseboards or blisters in wooden flooring. Termites can also compromise floor joists and support beams, leading to sagging floors and ceilings.
Termites can damage subfloors, causing the wood to become discolored or develop a wavy appearance.
Termites consume wood from the inside out, making them harder to spot. They hollow out wood studs within walls without leaving any signs of infestation. One way to detect this type of damage is by tapping on the walls and checking whether it produces an empty or hollow sound.
Termites chew through wood to remove the cellulose. This process leaves behind long grooves that develop a honeycomb pattern within your walls. When left unchecked, these grooves may deteriorate the wood.
Damaged Paint or Wallpaper
Termites create tiny pin holes that aren’t noticeable on paint or wallpaper. As a result, the damage usually goes undetected unless the paint or wallpaper is entirely removed.
Other signs of termite damage include:
- Peeling or discoloration
- Bubbling paint
- Dented or sunken areas
- Narrow, sunken winding lines
The Dangers of Termites
As termites mainly consume wood, they can cause severe damage to a building’s internal structure. Wooden boards and beams may weaken and eventually collapse, resulting in safety hazards and costly repairs.
Termites are known for their hard, saw-toothed jaws that can bite off tiny pieces of wood. Even a small colony with 60,000 workers can devour around 5 grams of wood daily. Hence, a “small” subterranean termite colony can finish 2.3 feet of a 2×4 wood board in a year.
At this rate, subterranean termites can damage a building and make it structurally unsound and unsafe for occupation. Termites breed quickly and can form large colonies without detection, resulting in substantial damage that may go unnoticed by property owners until the last minute.
Possible Health Issues
While termites may bite and sting, the resulting wounds are not dangerous. They may cause minor discomfort or red welts on your skin, but the bite marks should disappear within 1 to 3 days. However, if pain worsens or unusual symptoms such as rash or fever appear, it’s best to seek medical attention.
Some people may have asthma attacks or allergic reactions due to termite saliva or droppings. Likewise, heating or ventilation systems can promote the spread of irritating particles and dust from termite nests.
How To Treat Termites
There are several ways to manage a termite infestation:
Termiticide sprays can effectively reach cracks and crevices where termites hide. Apply them onto infested areas, the soil around the building’s foundation or directly to the termite colony. Carefully follow product instructions and avoid using them around pets or children.
Bait stations contain toxic substances that can eliminate termites. Once a termite feeds on the bait, the poison is carried back to its nest and gradually kills the entire colony.
These microscopic, unsegmented roundworms are notorious for preying on pests. They enter a termite’s body and release bacteria, killing the termite within a few days.
The easiest way to apply nematodes is to mix them with water. Pour the mixture into a small bottle and spray it on infected wood. Nematodes are not damaging to wood nor do they pose health risks to humans or pets.
Installing physical barriers, such as mesh screens, crushed stones, gravel aggregate or sand barriers, can help seal possible entry points for termites. Physical barriers are ideal for areas chemical treatments are not recommended, such as near water sources or sensitive soil conditions.
Ultimately, determining how to treat termites depends on the severity of the infestation and the type of termite. It’s best to seek a professional termite exterminator to help you select the best
Get Rid of Termites by Working With a Professional Exterminator
The dangers of termites are far-reaching and should not be underestimated. While DIY termite treatments are available, relying on a professional exterminator is the best option. They have the right tools, skills and knowledge to permanently eliminate termites.
If you require termite control services for your commercial or residential property, contact Pest Control Unlimited to book a free inspection or same-day emergency visit.