What Are Termites?
What do termites look like?
Termites are small, white or cream colored bugs that are anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 long, queens can even be over an inch long. You may see some termites even have two pairs of wings that are brown or black in color, these are swarmers, we will touch on this later.
Do I have termites or ants?
Termite swarmer’s are often mistaken for ants. You can tell ants from termites by their antenna, as termites have straight beadlike antenna and ants have bent antenna. Also ants have three very distinct body segments, while termites only have two.
If they are termite swarmer’s you should call a professional termite control company right away.
What types of termites are there?
There are three main types or species of termites. Subterranean termites, drywood termites, and damp wood termites.
These termites live in soil. They build a series of tunnels underground that allow them to access above-ground food sources. You can recognize these types of termites by the mud tunnels or tubes along the outside of the foundation of the house.
Subterranean termites are the most common type of termites in Tucson, and though they prefer soft wood, they have been known to feed on the outside of pressure treated or harder woods with minimal damage to the wood.
They are also the smallest of the termites in our area. A Subterranean termite worker will be about a 1/4 inch long while a Drywood termite worker will be about a 1/2 inch long.
These termites live inside the wood they eat for this reason they are harder to treat. Drywood termites get their name for their ability to live in dryer areas of the house. Unlike other types of termites, they extract moisture from the wood they eat. Its this reason they can stay in a house, they don’t need to go find moisture from the ground.
Damp wood Termites
Theses termites stay close to the ground, and they tend to eat damp or decaying wood. As you can guess we do not see much Damp wood termite activity in Tucson.
Termite colonies consist of three main castes. Each immature termite will grow into one of these castes, either a worker, reproductive, or soldier.
Worker termites are the backbone of the colony. They are tasked with finding and creating the food supply for the colony, tending to the needs of the young larvae, and building and maintaining the nest itself. The worker caste comes first and it can be years before the other castes are created.
While the worker caste makes up the majority of the colony, they are also the smallest members of the colony.
As you can guess it is the soldier termite’s responsibility to protect the colony from predators and natural enemies, like ants. They do this with large mandibles designed for grabbing and tearing apart other insects. Termite soldiers are also distinct as their heads are typically larger and amber in color.
Reproductive termites are the only caste that has fully matured sexual organs as well as wings. They are also the biggest members of the colony aside from the queen. They use their wings to fly up and away from the colony to establish new colonies.
Termites are not very good flyers, actually more clumsy than anything. Wind usually dictates where the reproductive termites end up. Once they land they shed their wings, you may find the aftermath of such an event by seeing thousands of wings on sidewalks or patios.
What Do Termites Eat?
Most termites eat dead plants and trees. The termites we deal with in Tucson mainly target dead trees so we will focus on that.
They eat wood because as it contains a fiber called cellulose. This organic fiber is broken down in the gut of the termite workers into a liquid secretion that is then eaten by the rest of the colony.
Difference in termite diets…
Drywood termites stick exclusively to the lumber used in house framing or trim. Subterranean termites vary slightly, but basically anything that used to be a tree is a source of food. The framing and trim of course, but also any cardboard or paper such as the cardboard paper found in drywall and on batt insulation will be eaten as it contains a high amount of cellulose.
Even old books and paper, we’ve seen old encyclopedias and geological records from the early 1900’s totally destroyed.
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How Do You Get Termites in Your House?
As stated before Subterranean termites live in the soil. They may get into your house by up the outside of your foundation in mud tubes. The termites can also come up from underneath the concrete slab. Pipes, air ducts, electrical conduit, cracks and expansion joints can all be entry points for subterranean termites.
Interior damage may not become apparent until infestations are full-blown. Termite damage sometimes appears similar to water damage. Outward signs of termite damage include buckling wood, swollen floors and ceiling areas that appear to be suffering from slight water damage and visible mazes within walls or furniture. Termite infestations also can exude a scent similar to mildew or mold. Subterranean termites also access above-ground food sources through mud tunnels they create from saliva, mud and feces. These tunnels are located near the foundation of infested homes.
We can prevent incursion in these areas with a preventative termite control program.
Drywood termites get into your house after swarming. Once they land, shed their wings and pair up these termites will explore cracks and crevices looking for a pathway to raw wood. Gaps in walls, where pipes enter the wall, gaps along eaves, cracks around windows or doors, even unfinished exposed wood can all be ways to get into your house.
Drywood termites build their colonies within wooden structures on which they feed. They can be found inside of walls or furniture. Drywood termite infestations may only become apparent after a colony has burrowed so deeply into an infested item that the veneer cracks and the maze-like tunnels beneath become visible. Such damage is common in antique furniture pieces. Should this occur on new furniture or the floors or walls of your home, contact a professional to discuss the severity of your infestation, as well as prevention and treatment options.
Get rid of dead trees and stumps around your yard.
Decaying wood is top food source for termites and can attract a colony of hungry termites. If you keep a lot of firewood or spare construction materials on hand, keep them as far away from your house as possible. If you bring this wood into your house, make sure to look for signs of termite presence like holes in the wood or hollowed feeling or sound.
Inspect common termite entry points.
The most common way they get into your house is through wood to ground contact, such as a doorframe, deck posts, or wood support beams. Address these spots by examining them for signs of termites regularly, get rid of any standing water in the area, and treat the wood with termite prevention like soil treatments that repel termites.
Avoid spreading mulch too close to your home.
You can have mulch in your home but you’ll want to avoid putting it anywhere that it may touch your siding or foundation. Mulch creates moisture in the soil and prevents woods from growing, both conditions termites seek. This also includes your plants. Woody shrubs that touch the wood foundation or siding of your house can help attract termites and also help hide their presence.
There are several conditions that can raise your chances of a termite infestation, here are some examples:
Excessive Moisture – wet soil caused by bad drainage or water leaks, wet lumber from plumbing or roof leaks
Excessive Cellulose Debris – left over construction scraps buried in the ground or a tree stump close to the house
Faulty Grade – Grading that doesn’t allow water to drain from your house, or if the grading outside is higher than your floor level inside
Wood to Earth Contact – Wood that touches the dirt and is also abutting and attached to your house, like fence posts or a deck’s pier posts
If you have any of these things on your property and suspect you have termites, you should hire a professional termite control company right away.
Are there termites in my house?
Termites can sometimes be hard to spot. People can live in a termite infested house for months or even years without realizing they have a termite problem.
Termites can cause serious damage if not detected early, so if you think you may have termites in your house, you should call a professional as soon as possible.
If you aren’t sure how to find out if you’re sharing your investment with destructive termite tenants, here are a few signs you should look out for.
Dirt on your walls or in other inexplicable areas
As we’ve covered Subterranean termites come from the ground and they are sensitive to the elements. To get into your house and travel throughout your house the termites create mud tubes wherever they go.
Sometimes these mud tubes will show up on foundations, in walls, under carpet, coming out of walls and ceilings, even going up toilets. Some tubes hang 8 feet down from ceilings and are extremely noticeable.
Exit holes may just be speck on the wall about as wide as 1/32nd of an inch. These are little holes capped with dirt, once you pick away the dirt you will notice a hole that goes into the drywall.
Hollow Sounding Wood
The wood may seem fine visibly on the surface of the wood. Termites are fairly fragile insects, thus they can die when exposed to direct sunlight.
For this reason they will leave the outer areas of wood untouched, as to not expose themselves to the elements. So while it looks good that beautiful patio post may be hollow and losing its strength on the inside.
The best way to find out if there are termites eating your wood is to give it a good tap with a screwdriver, if it sounds hollow you should call a termite professional.
You can even run your hands or paper over the wood and listen carefully really hollowed wood will sound different.
If you notice that your paint is warping or even cracking a little, termites may be thriving beneath the paint. The termites will feed on the wood under the paint to the point that the paint has nothing to give it structure, basically left with a paint shell.
The paint will warp and eventually start cracking, a quick tap with a screwdriver will be a good indicator if there is termite damage under the paint.
During the warm, humid monsoons we have in Tucson. You may notice swarms of termites in your house, this is usually a really bad sign. Swarming is the act of expanding, sending reproductives out to create new colonies. Colonies typically wont send out swarmer’s until the colony is years old.
Unknowingly, hundreds of clumsy termites will take off inside your home, they will land and shed their wings. Crawling deep into cracks and crevices to establish a new colony.
This could be a sign that your house has been feeding a termite colony for years.
An exclusive behavior of Drywood termites, fecal pellets are simply termite poop. Drywood will eat the wood digesting and absorb the nutrients and squeeze every bit of moisture from the wood. What’s left is a tiny rugby ball shaped pellet.
Drywood termites are pretty clean in that they store the fecal pellets in few areas and push them out of these areas via kick holes. We see this as a little pile of pellets at the base of a wall, or on window sill. They may not be in a neat pile but scattered over a larger area if being kicked from the ceiling or somewhere quite higher.
What Kind of Damage Do Termites Cause?
Termites can cause serious damage to your home, especially if they were feeding in an area with excessive moisture. Because they eat wood, they can create structural problems or even eat away at posts and beams under your house, if it was built with a crawl space.
They can ruin your furniture, picture frames, books, window trim, wood floors, ceilings, and just about anything else they can eat.
Is my house going to fall down!?
Termites are prevalent here in California, as such, most homeowners know what to look for and discover termite infestations early. Subterranean termites also like cardboard paper as noted earlier, sometimes they will eat only cardboard leaving structural members alone.
A pound of wood a day!
Many companies will employ scare tactics that say “termites eat a pound of wood a day!!” This means the colony as a whole can eat a pound of wood a day, but the conditions have to be perfect. Moisture, the size of the colony, and temperature all play huge roles.
Should you ignore your problem and push it off a couple months or a year? No, that’s a recipe for disaster, however will days or even weeks matter, no they won’t.
The reason we say this is we see so many customers pressured into sub standard treatments, or treatments they don’t need because they were told their house would fall. Don’t fall victim to high pressure sales, educate yourself and shop around.
If you are worried about termites or would like a second opinion on what the best approach might be for your current termite situation, give us a call today.
Don’t Wait to Call Termite Control
That being said if you find termites in your house and wait too long to take care of it, the problem will only get worse.
If you aren’t sure but think you might have termites in your house. Don’t wait to find out. We offer free estimates and inspections, so if you aren’t sure about your options, or would like to learn more about termites give us a call today at (805) 837-6483 and schedule an appointment with our termite inspectors!
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