Subterranean Termites

image of a termite Termites are social insects. This means that there is a division of labor between different types of individuals (castes). Workers and nymph termites perform all of the work of the colony and are the forms, which do all the damage to structures. Soldiers serve only to defend the colony against enemies. They cannot eat wood. The workers feed them, together with the reproductives. Both workers and soldiers are blind.

image of termite swarmer Winged adults are referred to as the primary reproductives (often called swarmers). They emerge from the colonies on colonizing flights during certain seasons of the year. After these flights, a male (king) and a female (queen) will pair up, lose their wings, and construct a small cell in the soil. There they will mate, lay eggs, and rear the first group of workers. In colonies where these primary forms are no longer present, supplemental or secondary reproductives without pigmentation or functional wings occur, often in large numbers.

termite members Each termite colony is self-supporting and essentially independent of other colonies. Termites develop via gradual metamorphosis from eggs, which are laid by the primary or secondary reproductives. Nymphs hatch from the eggs and undergo several molts through which different individuals develop into one of the various castes. Four different castes can develop from nymphs: workers, soldiers, winged (primary) reproductives, and supplementary reproductives. Workers are the most numerous in a termite colony. They perform all of the work of the colony, feeding the other castes, grooming the queen, excavating the nest and making the tunnels. In the process of making nest and tunnels and ingesting food, they chew and eat wood, thus causing the destruction to structures.

Workers are usually light-colored and do not have wings or image of a termite soldier any specialized structures. Soldier termites serve specifically to protect the colonies from its enemies. Their heads are large, quite hard and have much larger jaws than are found in the other forms. When openings are made into termite workings, the soldiers gather with their large heads and strong mandibles facing outward and protect the colony from invaders. Supplementary reproductives of both sexes are wingless or have very short, non-functional wings. These reproductives are developed as needed and quickly replace a primary queen who is injured or dies. They usually develop in addition to the primary queen and become the most important source of eggs in the colony. Supplementary reproductives, with a group of males and workers, may become isolated from the main colony and can establish a new colony, thus spreading the original infestation without being visible above ground at any time.

Primary reproductives (swarmer termites) are the caste most often seen by image of termite swarmer homeowners. The winged adults are usually much darker than the other members of the colony. All four wings are the same length and extend more than the length of the body beyond the tip of the abdomen. Both male and female reproductives leave the colony in great numbers (swarms), usually in the spring or fall. These swarms are often the first visible indication that termites are present. Environmental conditions must be just right before termites will swarm. As a general rule, swarmers emerge on warm, sunny days, when the humidity is high, often on days following rain showers. Swarmer termites are often confused with flying or swarmer ants. Since ants are often seen swarming in and around buildings, it is important to distinguish between the two so that the appropriate control recommendations can be made. There are three ways to separate termites from ants:

First, ants have a very thin waist between the thorax and abdomen, while termites are broad waisted.

Second, termite wings are all the same size and shape, whereas the forewings of the ant are larger, longer, and of a different shape than the hind wings.

And third, termite antennae are straight, whereas, ant antennae are elbowed.


Formosan Termites

image of Formosan termitesOriginally from China, Formosan termites are the most voracious, aggressive of over 2,000 termite species known to date. Formosan termites are a subterranean species of termite. Swarmer Formosan termite is about 1/2 inch in overall length, including their wings.

Formosans are organized into huge underground colonies, and build intricate mud nests inside the walls of a structure or trees. Formosan termites are the most aggressive subterranean termite species. Formosans are organized into huge underground colonies, and build intricate mud nests inside the walls of a structure. Because of their aggressive nature, Formosan termites are difficult to control once they infest a structure. Prevention is key.


Drywood Termites

drywood termiteThese social insects infest dry wood and do not require contact with the soil. They form colonies of up to 2,500 members. Unlike subterranean termite species, drywood termite colonies do not have a worker caste. The work is done by immature termites before they reach adulthood. Drywood termites infest dry wood, like that found in attic framings or even old furniture Drywood termites can infest structures and cause significant damage.


Some Frequently Asked Questions about Termites

What are termites?
Termites are wood-destroying insects. They play an important role in nature, experts estimate they cause billions of property damage each year.

How do you recognize termites?
Depending on your geographical location, termite swarms should be visible in the early spring. Termite swarms can be confused with flying ants. Telltale signs of termite infestation include soft wood in the home, mud tubes in the interior or exterior of your home (often near the foundation), and darkening or blistering of wood structures.

What is the biology of a termite?
Termites are social insects that live in colonies. Each termite has a specific role in the colony. The queen lays the eggs - possibly several thousand each day in some kinds of termites. Workers termites are the only ones that cause damage to wood – their job is to gather food and enlarge the colony. Soldiers have huge heads and long jaws they use to protect the colony from enemies. The termites that you may see are the winged reproductives that swarm in early spring.

How much damage do termites cause?
The truth is, there are two kinds of homes: those that have had termites and those that will get them. Termites work 24 hours/7 days a week at damaging the wood in and around a structure. And, while they cause $2 billion in damage each year, there is no reason to think that termites cannot be controlled.

When does a homeowner see termites?
Termites swarm in the early spring, depending on their geographical location.

What can a homeowner do to prevent termites?
The most important thing is to remove the conducive conditions termites need to survive. Termites love moisture; avoid moisture accumulation around the foundation of your home. Divert water away with properly functioning downspouts, gutters and splash blocks. Reduce humidity in crawl spaces with proper ventilation. Prevent shrubs, vines and other vegetation from growing over and covering vents. Be sure to remove old form boards, grade stakes, etc., left in place after the building was constructed. Remove old tree stumps and roots around and beneath the building. Most importantly, eliminate any wood contact with the soil. An 18-inch gap between the soil and wood portions of the building is ideal. It doesn’t hurt to routinely inspect the foundation of your home for signs of termite damage.

Does homeowner's insurance cover termite damage?
Homeowner’s insurance does not cover termite damage.

How are termites controlled?
A pest control professional will come in and treat the problem so that you can live comfortably in your home.

What is the most effective type of termite treatment?
The National Pest Management Association and the entire industry are committed to providing highly effective treatment options for all pest issues. The most effective type of treatment depends upon the severity of the infestation, the species of termite, and the location and construction of the home or building. A trained and licensed pest control operator can assess each infestation separately and recommend a rigorous treatment plan that will effectively control the termite population.

How difficult are termites to treat?
Termites are nearly impossible for homeowners to treat on their own. On the other hand, pest control professionals have the training, expertise and technology to eliminate termite infestations.

How much does a termite treatment cost?
They can range anywhere from $800 to $1,800 dollars, depending on where you live, the construction of your home, severity of the infestation, and the type of contract offered by your pest control professional. Your pest control professional will give you a free estimate.

Are these products dangerous to kids and pets?
All professional pest control products have been registered for use by the EPA. When they are applied according to label instructions by technicians who have been trained and licensed to use them, they pose virtually no risk.

What is the most effective type of termite treatment?
A trained and licensed pest control operator is the best person to make a recommendation for each particular property.

Why should someone hire a professional instead of attempting to control their pest problems by themselves?
Just as you wouldn’t prescribe medicine for yourself or drill your own cavities – you shouldn’t attempt to control termites – or other pests -- on your own. The products and the expertise offered by professional pest control far surpasses what a homeowner could do on their own. Leave it up to the experts for peace of mind. Why risk it?

What questions should homeowners ask during a professional termite inspection/treatment?
What type of treatment is recommended? How long will the treatment take? How much will it cost? How long will it take to get rid of the termites? What type of contract or guarantee is offered? Are they a member of the National Pest Management Association?

How long does a termite treatment typically take?
Termite treatments typically will take no more than a day.

How long until the termites are gone?
That depends on the location, extent of damage, and the products used to treat the infestation. After a thorough inspection, your professional pest control company should be able to tell you what they will use to get rid of the termites and how long it will take.

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