Termite Facts

For millions of years termites have been munching away on wood as one of the insect world's most accomplished decomposers. While African termites build giant mounds, the two most common North American species build their nests either inside their wood feeding material or underground in moist soil. Termite control can be expensive for homeowners, and that's why learning what you can about termites might help you prevent them from turning your home into a banquet.

Termites are ecologically helpful

As nature's efficient decomposers, termites chew through tough plant fibers. This process actually recycles dead and decaying trees into fresh and healthy soil making termites a vital link in keeping forests healthy. Their tunneling process underground also aerates and improves soil. Because humans use wood to build their homes, it's no wonder that termites find them a seductive main course.

Common subterranean termites

Subterranean termites cause most of the damage to homes in the United States. Because this species live in the soil around homes as well as in crawl spaces and around foundations, this species connects their nest by using tunnels and mud tubes that can be visible unless they are hidden behind walls. Formosan termites, part of the subterranean species, build nests that look a lot like cartons; these nests are also inside walls. Except for Formosan termites, all other subterraneans prefer to swarm during daylight, which can make their presence more noticeable.

Drywood termite invaders

Drywood termites travel deeper inside a home into furniture and hardwood floors. Their damage is more difficult to see by an untrained eye. However, they do leave evidence of their presence inside a home as droppings (called frass), very similar in appearance to wood colored salt and pepper. These droppings form small mounds around the infested area. Other signs include discarded wings and visual sightings of swarming termites when they try to squeeze through wall cracks and crevices in an attempt to get outside during late summer or fall.

Termite lifespan

The hardest working termites are workers and soldiers that never leave the nest, are completely blind and generally survive for one or two years. The original queen in the colony is usually the oldest and can live between 25 and 50 years, depending upon environmental conditions and the species. Termite kings stay with their queen to fertilize her eggs and to help feed their young. He has an important role in starting and maintaining a successful colony and can live at least a decade. Primary reproductive termites (called swarming alates) have the shortest lifespan, because when they swarm outside of the colony, they make easy prey for birds and ants.

Prevent termites

According to pest control companies such as Orkin, the following steps should be taken to prevent termites:

  • Keep pipes and air conditioning units in good repair.
  • Seal all pipes.
  • Keep water away from the house foundation.
  • Remove standing water on roofs.
  • Eliminate excess plant cover and wood mulch around the foundation.
  • Keep air vents clear and screened and gutters free of debris.
  • Clear crawl spaces of extra lumber and paper.
  • Remove dead tree stumps or other wood debris from yard and do not store firewood against your house.

When you understand termite facts and how these tiny insects are able to enter your home, you can take action to seal your home from a potential infestation.

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