Where are Termites Most Commonly Found

Where are Termites Most Commonly Found?

Posted on Mar 27, 2015 10:07:07 AM by Fran Oneto

There are many things that strike fear in the hearts of homeowners, but perhaps none more costly than termites. These winged insects chomp into your foundation and framing and fly into attics to reduce the once-thick wood into paper-thin slices. You should be on the constant lookout for them, but it’s not always easy for property owners to know where or what to look for.

What a lot of people don’t know is that there are two types of termites – drywood termites and subterranean termites. Drywood termites prefer warmer climates, so if that’s where you live, be on the lookout for them. Subterranean termites can be found pretty much anywhere in the U.S. Both are capable causing the same amount of damage, but tend to colonize in different places. This is how you’ll know where to find them.

Subterranean termites build colonies in the soil surrounding your house. Drywood termites live entirely in wood. That means you can find them in your foundation, framing, furniture and hardwood flooring. Termites can colonize and cause damage pretty much any time of the year, but they are especially dangerous in the springtime. This is when swarms of them occur most commonly.

When you’re searching for termites, do not be fooled by any smooth surface that may appear on the outside of a stretch of wood. Termites prefer dark and humid environments, so they don’t really like to eat on the outside of wood. Knock on it. If it sounds hollow, that is a sign that termites are inside feasting away.

Also keep in mind that termites need a way to enter the surface of the wood to do their thing. They do this by making tiny slits and cracks that can be as thin as a dime. Therefore slits or cracks in the side of wood framing or in a hardwood floor is a common sign that drywood termites have entered and need to be dealt with.

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Facts, Identification & Control

Latin Name

Appearance

Termites all belong to the phylum Arthropoda, the class Insecta, and the order Isoptera. There are over 2,000 different species of termites with over 40 species in the United States alone. Although they have distinct characteristics, most look similar. They typically measure between 1/4 and 1/2 of an inch long and have soft bodies with straight antennae. The queens and kings are larger, capable of reaching over one inch long. Colors range from white to light brown where worker termites often appear lighter, while swarming termites darker. Flying termites, also called reproductives, have two pairs of prominent wings.

TYPES OF Termites

Dampwood Termite

Zootermopsis spp. and Neotermes spp.

Drywood Termite

Cryptotermes spp. and Incisitermes spp.

Formosan Termite

Subterranean Termite

Reticulitermes spp., Coptotermes spp. and Heterotermes spp.

HOW DO I GET RID OF TERMITES?

What Orkin Does
Based on the layout of your home and the degree of termite infestation, Orkin will create a customized treatment plan tailored for your home. This can include a variety of treatments such as Termidor Liquid, Dry Foam and OrkinFoam, and Sentricon Bait and Monitoring dependent on the areas of usage, situations, and species of termite. Learn more about our termite treatments here.

How Serious Are Termites?

Termite Warning Signs

Types of Termites

HOW DID I GET TERMITES?

HOW DO I PREVENT A TERMITE INFESTATION?

What Can I do About Termites?

BEHAVIOR, DIET & HABITS

LIFE CYCLE & REPRODUCTION

How Serious Are Termites?

A termite infestation and damage can be devastating to your home or property. Termites are often called the “silent destroyer” because they may be secretly hiding and thriving in your home or yard without any immediate signs of damage. All termites consume cellulose-based plant materials. Unfortunately, all homes, regardless of their construction type, can provide cellulose food for termite infestation.

Termite Warning Signs

Some indications you may have a termite infestation:

  • A temporary swarm of winged insects in your home or from the soil around your home.
  • Any cracked or bubbling paint or frass (termite droppings).
  • Wood that sounds hollow when tapped.
  • Mud tubes on exterior walls, wooden beams or in crawl spaces.
  • Discarded wings from swarmers.

    Types of Termites

    There are three major types of termites found in the United States:

    HOW DID I GET TERMITES?

    Termites invade homes by crossing from their colonies in yards to foundations. Cracks or gaps around pipes and wires give the pests access inside. Homeowners can also get termites from:

    • Wooden structures, like porches and decks, in direct contact with the ground
    • Stacks of firewood that lean against the house
    • Damp soil near foundations from leaking faucets, gutters, or downspouts
    • Trees and shrubs planted close to the building.

    Above ground locations in the house that remain damp enough to support termites without them needing to return to the moist conditions found in the soil.

    HOW DO I PREVENT A TERMITE INFESTATION?

    Since termites are a constant threat to your home, here are some things you can do during the year to help maintain the effectiveness of Orkin’s termite treatment plan. Small steps make a big difference in termite prevention and sustaining an effective termite treatment plan. Start by eliminating moisture conditions and termite food around your home. These simple steps make your home a less attractive target, helping deter termites.

    Eliminate Moisture Problems

    • Repair leaking faucets, water pipes, and A/C units
    • Divert water from foundation
    • Keep gutters and downspouts clean
    • Remove excessive plant cover and wood mulch
    • Get rid of standing water on roof
    • Keep all vents clear and open
    • Seal entry points around water and utility lines or pipes

    Remove Termite Food Sources

    • Keep firewood, lumber or paper away from foundation or crawl space
    • Get rid of stumps and debris near house
    • Place screens on outside vents
    • Check decks and wooden fences for damage
    • Wood on your home shouldn’t contact the soil

    What Can I do About Termites?

    BEHAVIOR, DIET & HABITS

    Where do they live?
    Commonly, termites live in wooden structures, decayed trees, fallen timber, and soil. Habitats vary among species as some termites require different amounts of moisture. The pests are found in greater numbers in tropical regions where living conditions for termites is optimal.

    Subterranean termites are the most abundant variety and can be found throughout the United States. Both dampwood and drywood species are generally more localized in the Southern states.

    Subterranean termite homes are usually formed in soil. Within these mounds, termites build elaborate tunnel systems and mud tunnels through which they access above-ground food sources.

    Mud Tubes on Walls

    Drywood termites live within the wood they consume and oftentimes infest walls and furniture.

    When a colony has matured, winged, swarming termites can be seen around windows and doors. Winged termites are highly attracted to sources of light and are most active in springtime. After mating, these termites locate a new breeding site and create another colony, spreading infestations throughout multiple locations in the case of drywood termites.

    What Do They Eat?
    Termites are detritivores, or detritus feeders. They feed on dead plants and trees. Termites get nutrients from cellulose, an organic fiber found in wood and plant matter. Wood makes up the majority of the pests’ diet, although termites also eat other materials such as paper, plastic, and drywall. Most species prefer dead wood, but some termites feed on living trees.

    Each type of termite has its own dietary preferences.

    • Subterranean termites prefer softwoods, but may invade most species of wood.
    • Dampwood termites generally stay close to the ground, but will choose moist, decaying wood anywhere it is found.
    • Drywood termites are often found in attics and require little moisture in the wood they eat.

    A termite’s mouth is capable of tearing pieces of woody material. This ability is what causes concern in human dwellings: while termite workers only measure approximately 1 cm to a few millimeters in length, their feeding habits are capable of causing costly damage to property. House foundations, furniture, shelves and even books are all possible feeding sites for termites.

    LIFE CYCLE & REPRODUCTION

    Workers and soldiers live approximately one to two years. Queen termites may survive for over a decae under optimal climate conditions.

    Workers are responsible for gathering and feeding the colony members, maintaining the nest, and caring for young. Soldiers protect the termite colony using their large mandibles to fend off predators. Reproductives are the only sexually mature members of the colony, aside from queens and kings. Read more about termite colonies.

    Mating Flight

    The life cycle of the termite begins with a mating flight, wherein swarming winged reproductive males and females leave established colonies and procreate. After fertilization, winged termites land and shed their wings, going on to form new colonies. These insects then become the king or queen termites of their newly established colonies. The queen and king termites are at the center of the termite life cycle and are responsible for reproduction.

    Eggs

    After the fertilized queen lays her eggs, they hatch into pale white larvae.

    Molting

    Eggs hatch into larvae and molt (shed their exoskeletons) to develop into workers, soldiers, primary reproductives and secondary reproductives. A nymph is a young termite that is going through molts to become a reproductive.

    The termite growth process begins with a process called molting. First, a termite develops a soft exoskeleton under its current, hard exoskeleton. Then, once the termite has reached maturity, its outermost skeleton splits open, and the new exoskeleton enlarges and hardens. This molting process continues throughout a termite’s life cycle based on the colony’s needs.

    Larvae

    Over the course of several molts, these larvae grow to assume a role in one of the three termite colony castes: workers, soldiers and reproductive termites, also known as alates.

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    How to Detect and Deter Termites

    From trained dogs to high-tech listening devices, how to sniff out termites

    Dogs trained to sniff out termites in their hiding places are just one way to find out if your house is infested.

    Nationwide, termites inflict more than $2.5 billion worth of damage on homes each year. Crawling up into sill plates or foundation posts from damp soil, flying into attics or crawl spaces, these relentless insects tunnel into and eat wood, leaving nothing but paper-thin layers where strong supports used to be.

    Much of that damage could be avoided with early detection. But termites dine out of sight, cleverly disguising the results of their munching. That’s what makes them so scary — and so costly to control. On the following pages, we’ll tell you the warning signs to look for, the most common types of termites, and the pros and cons of various treatment options.

    You can check for termites yourself, but a licensed pest-control professional knows where to look for infestations and has the equipment and experience to properly identify bugs, the first step toward eradicating them. (Accurate identification is crucial: What works on one type may not affect another.) Ask to see evidence of an active colony; damaged wood by itself may not be sufficient proof that termites are at work. And once you’ve gotten rid of them, sign up for an annual inspection; you don’t want them to get far if they ever come back.

    Subterranean termite as swarmer

    What’s Eating Your House?

    Many homeowners discover they have a termite problem when they see a stream of swarmers emerging by the hundreds from a tiny crevice and flying off to form a new colony. Other signs of trouble are harder to spot. The workers, the bugs that actually eat the wood, are visible only if you break into their tunnels or galleries, as are the soldiers that guard the nest.

    The Bugs
    Of the dozens of termite species in the U.S., the three shown below do the most harm. A fourth type, the dampwood termite, poses less of a threat: Their colonies are small, and they only nest in wet wood. Eliminate the source of the dampness, and the colony dies.

    Subterranean Termite
    Habitat: All states except Alaska.
    Habits: Nests underground; uses mud tubes to reach wood in the house. Colonies range in size from several hundred thousand to a million. Workers will eat through plaster, foam, plastic, or asphalt to get to wood.

    Formosan Termite
    Habitat: Southeast, Southern California, Hawaii.
    Habits: This voracious variety of subterranean termite forms large colonies of several million and can structurally damage a house in months (other termites take years). Nests underground, but also builds satellite nests in trees and houses.

    Drywood Termite
    Habitat: Gulf Coast, Southwest, Hawaii.
    Habits: Small colonies can live anywhere in a house. Needs no contact with ground.

    What to Look For

    Mud Tubes
    Pencil-thick to inch-wide tunnels on foundation and crawl-space walls (above) shelter subterranean termites traveling to and from the nest. If you see cream-colored insects when you break open the tubes, your house is infested. If you don’t, the colony may be dead or using another route inside.

    Flying Swarm
    Streams of winged termites indoors (or piles of shed wings) almost always means your house is infested. Seeing them outdoors is not necessarily cause for alarm.

    Damp Wood
    Most termites prefer moist habitats: next to foundations or masonry, beneath leaking gutters, or near overgrown bushes. Look for bits of mud or dried dirt in the galleries they hollow out.

    Blistered Wood
    Termites chewing into dry wood usually leave a thin veneer, which may appear blistered or dark and breaks through easily when pressed.

    Bulging Floors, Ceilings, or Walls
    Formosan termites may be building satellite nests between joists or studs. Ridges on wallpaper could be tunnels for subterranean termites.

    Holes and Droppings
    Pinholes with piles of sand-grain-size pellets indicate drywood termites. Bigger holes may be signs of powder-post beetles or carpenter bees.

    Tools of Detection

    Acoustic Emission Detector
    Picks up the sound of termites ripping apart wood fibers. The detector must be placed within a foot or two of where termites are feeding.

    Gas Detector
    Sniffs for methane and also carbon dioxide. Tests show mixed results for accuracy.

    Moisture Meter
    Pinpoints areas with high moisture levels — 15 percent or above — which are more likely to harbor some types of termites.

    Ice Pick or Screwdriver
    The most common tool. Used to probe for soft or hollow spots.

    Infrared Imaging
    Scans and detects elevated moisture levels inside intact walls. When used in combination with a heater, can also make termite galleries visible.

    Microwaves
    Works like radar to detect termites moving through wood and under drywall or tile.

    Borescope
    With its flexible shaft and fiber-optic light, this instrument allows inspectors to peer through a small hole into hollow walls.

    Trained Dog
    Useful in houses with inaccessible crawl spaces or slab foundations, where termites can sneak up through cracks into interior walls. Most any breed can be trained to sniff out the methane termites emit as they digest wood.

    Mud tubes on foundation and crawl-space walls signal termites.

    Pick Your Poison: Common Treatment Options

    Until recently, the only way to get rid of termites was with nasty toxic pesticides, many of which are now banned or being phased out. Today’s chemicals are safer — some even approved for homeowners to apply — although they don’t last as long.

    Baits
    Targets: Subterranean and Formosan termites
    How It Works: Termites take pesticide from in-ground stations buried around the house and carry it back to the nest. Eventually the entire colony dies. Professionally installed baits are monitored monthly during an infestation and four times a year after that.
    Pros: No poisons or drilling in the house. Uses little pesticide, which remains in a tamper-resistant container. Can protect inaccessible areas.
    Cons: May take months to work. Termites can infest a house before finding bait. DIY versions lack the reliable monitoring and more effective baits of pro systems.
    Cost: About $1,200-$2,800 to install, plus about $250-$350 for annual follow-up inspection

    Borates:
    Targets: Subterranean and Formosan termites (also carpenter ants, many wood-boring beetles, and rot fungi)
    How It Works: Operator sprays exposed bare wood with a boron solution or fills enclosed wall cavities with boron-laced foam. Not toxic to people and most mammals.
    Pros: Provides permanent protection. Doesn’t smell or change the look of wood. Easy for homeowners to apply.
    Cons: Take weeks to work. Hard to reach exposed wood in existing houses. May leach out if wood contacts soil.
    Cost: About $800-$1,500 for pro treatment. About $15 for 1-lb. bag (treats 200 square feet)

    Spot Injection:
    Targets: All termites
    How It Works: Operator drills into wood or cavities where termites are feeding or nesting, then applies a foam or liquid pesticide. Generally used in conjunction with other treatments.
    Pros: Confines pesticide to the places it’s most needed. Works quickly.
    Cons: Can miss areas where termites are active. Holes need patching after treatment.
    Cost: About $250 and up

    Fumigation:
    Targets: Drywood termites (and many wood-boring beetles)
    How It Works: Operator tents the entire house with tarps and injects poison gas. Look for fumigators who use sulfuryl flouride, which, unlike its predecessor methyl bromide, doesn’t deplete the ozone layer and leaves little residue and no odor.
    Pros: Usually 100 percent effective.
    Cons: Family and pets must move out for two nights; food and medicines must be bagged. Offers no residual protection.
    Cost: About $750-$2,000

    Soil Drench:
    Targets: Subterranean and Formosan termites
    How It Works: Operator pumps a continuous chemical barrier into soil around and under the house. Repellent pesticides only keep termites away. More costly nonrepellents can kill the entire colony.
    Pros: Works fast. Protects for at least 5 years.
    Cons: Uses many gallons of pesticide. May affect nearby wells and waterways. Repellents leave a smell temporarily.
    Cost: About $800-$1,500 plus about 10 percent of initial cost for annual renewal and inspection

    Acoustic emission detector

    Poison-Free Alternative

    For those reluctant to use pesticides of any kind in or around the house, a few nontoxic termite treatments have been developed, primarily to treat drywood termites. While free of noxious residues, these methods are not widely available and, unlike pesticides, lack any long-term protection against reinfestation.

    Bake ‘Em
    Eradicates drywood termites, the satellite nests of Formosan termites, and many wood-boring beetles. The house is wrapped in a tent (the same as for fumigation), then hot air is pumped in until the center of the framing lumber reaches 120° for at least half an hour. The treatment is fast — one day from start to finish — and the house can be reoccupied immediately. Plastics that are sensitive to heat, including vinyl windows, have to be protected or removed.
    Cost: $1,200 to $6,000; more if the windows are vinyl.

    Zap ‘Em
    Exterminators send high-voltage discharges through the wood and fry any termites present. (The same tool can also be used to find termite-weakened wood.) Effective as long as all the colonies are discovered. Only able to treat exposed wood. Nearby metal, concrete, or soil may interfere with the process.
    Cost: $500 to $650 for spot treatment; $1,200 to $2,500 for the whole house, including warranty and associated follow-up inspections and treatments.

    Making Termites Feel Unwelcome

    What you can do:
    • Clean overflowing gutters and use splash blocks to divert water away from foundation.
    • Trim shrubbery clear of house.
    • Isolate wood from concrete or masonry with an air space or flashing.
    • Keep wood mulch away from wood siding or trim.
    • Store firewood off the ground at least 15 feet from the house.
    • Don’t bury scrap wood or leave tree stumps in the vicinity of the house.
    • Fix leaks immediately.

    A house is swaddled in fabric before being filled with toxic gas. Fumigation works against drywood termites and the satellite nests of Formosan termites.

    Where To Find It:

    Our thanks to —
    Dr. Michael Potter
    urban entomologist at the University of Kentucky and contributing author
    The Mallis Handbook of Pest Control (GIE Publishing)
    University of Kentucky

    Greg Bauman
    Technical Direct for the National Pest Management Association
    Dunn Loring, VA
    800-678-6722
    Pestworld

    Tools of Detection —
    Acoustic emission detector:
    Termite Tracker
    Dunegan Engineering Company, Inc.
    San Juan Capistrano, CA
    949-661-8105
    DECI

    Trained Dog:
    Loyal Termite & Pest Control Inc.
    Sandston, VA
    804-737-7777
    Loyal Termite & Pest Control.

    Pick Your Poison —
    Baits:
    Sentricon
    Dow AgroSciences LLC
    Indianapolis, IN
    800-352-6776
    Sentricon

    Borates:
    Bora-Care Termite Insecticide
    DIY Pest Control
    800-476-3368
    DIY Pest Control

    Fumigation
    The Terminix International Company LP
    Memphis, TN
    800-837-6464
    Terminix

    Nonrepellent Soil Drench:
    Premise
    Montvale, NJ
    800-331-2867
    No Bugs

    Poison-Free Alternatives —
    Bake ‘Em
    ThermaPure
    W.A. Stone Termite & Pest Control Inc.
    Esconco, CA 800-559-7999
    W.A. Stone

    Zap ‘Em:
    Electro-Gun
    Etex LTD
    Las Vegas, NV
    702-364-5911
    Etex LTD

    Hydrex Pest Control Co.
    San Diego, CA
    858-695-0455
    Hydrex

    Ecola Services, Inc.
    Mission Hills, CA
    800-323-2847
    Ecola Services

    For Further Information:
    To learn about the habits of termites in your area and state pesticide regulations, contact your state university or local cooperative extension service.

    www.thisoldhouse.com

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