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It is estimated that termites cost Americans between two to five billion dollars each year through their damage and expense for their control.
In our servicing area, there are two main types of termites that damage structures: Drywood and subterranean.
In other parts of the world, there are species of termites that build mounds above ground. Some of these mounds can be as large as a 3 story building!
Termites have been known to damage paper currency. As a matter of fact, a bank in India reportedly lost 10 million rupees (over $220,000 in U.S. currency) to termite damage.
Termites produce chemical signals called pheromones that help them communicate. Ingredients in certain ballpoint pens are similar to these pheromones. If a line is drawn with one of these pens, termites will follow the line!
Termites feed on materials containing cellulose (a component of plants). Examples of items that contain cellulose include paper products, books, lumber, wooden furniture, cardboard and cotton.
Termites are social insects and live in a colony. There are members of the colony called soldiers whose sole purpose is to defend them from invaders. Some species of soldiers will bang their heads against colony walls to alert others when an intruder is present.
The most numerous members of a termite colony are the workers. These termites forage for food, maintain the nest, as well as feed and groom other members of the colony. Due to their pale appearance, they are sometimes called “white ants” or “wood lice”.
One way termites start new colonies is via dispersal flights called swarming. Winged male and female termites (called swarmers) take flight, pair up and find a suitable place to start a new colony.
During the dispersal process the swarmers lose their wings. They can often be seen on window sills when these flights originate inside a structure.
Ants also perform dispersal flights; therefore ant swarmers can be easily confused with termite swarmers. Visual differences between the two can be seen in their body shape and wings. Ant swarmers look wasp-like with a narrow “waist” and front wings that are not the same size as the back wings. Termite swarmers have a cigar-shaped body and all four of their wings are the same size.
Because their behavior differs, there are contrasting treatments for drywood and subterranean termites, as well as certain conditions that might increase the odds a structure might be damaged by each of these pests.
Subterranean termites have colonies that live in the soil and usually must maintain soil contact. Conditions that favor subterranean termite infestation often involve wood members attached to the structure touching the ground, such as wooden siding being below the soil grade, wooden deck posts buried in the ground, form boards that were not removed during the construction process, etc.
Subterranean termites are also attracted to moisture sources. Examples of moisture sources that may lead to a subterranean termite infestation are plumbing leaks, roof leaks, water standing against the foundation of the structure, shrubbery planted too close to the structure preventing proper airflow, inadequate ventilation of enclosed crawl foundations, etc.
In the case of drywood termites, they can nest inside of sound wood with no contact to the ground. Drywood swarmers may enter a structure through bare wood and the smallest of gaps and cracks. They can even be introduced via infested furniture.
Termite activity in a structure can be difficult to detect. Early indications of a drywood infestation are the appearance of their pellets. Also, damaged wood will sound hollow when tapped.
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