Learning Center

* Beware Of Termites * Selecting a Termite Treatment Firm
* How Termites Live * Preventive Measures You Can Take
* Desert Subterranean Termites * Carpenter Ants
* Swarming Can Spread Termites Quickly * Carpenter Ant Treatments
* How To Tell Termites From Winged Ants * Carpenter Bees
* How Termites Get Into Your House * Carpenter Bee Biology
* Termite Signs * Signs of Carpenter Bee Infestations
* Detecting & Controlling Termites * Powder Post Beetles

.Beware of Termites

Beware-of-Termites

More than 365,000 homes in the U.S. are involved in a fire each year. More than 600,000 U.S. homes suffer termite damage totaling over $1.5 billion annually. This is more than the damage caused by all fires, storms, and earthquakes combined. More than 2 million homes require termite treatment each year. Homeowners insurance can help recover losses from fires, floods and earthquakes, but it is almost impossible to get insurance against termites. Finding out your home has termite scares most homeowners. You typically can't see them, you can't her them and frequently only a trained inspector can find signs of infestation.Treatment by the homeowner for the control of termites is virtually impossible. Specialized equipment is used and the experts have the knowledge necessary for effective control.

A trained termite control specialist can provide protection from termite infestation. Termites are found in almost every state as well as Mexico and parts of Canada. They eat wood and may also destroy paper products such as books, cardboard boxes, furniture and various other items. Even buildings with steel framing and masonry walls are targets because of the wooden doors and window frames, wooden support beams, cabinets, or shelving.

To learn more about how to develop a termite management plan best suited to your situation, call a trained professional today.

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How Termites Live

There are more than 2,000 species of termites. Only about 70 species invade wooden structures enough to be considered pests. The most damaging are roughly 20 species we call "subterranean" termites because of their living and foraging habits. Two of these, the Eastern Subterranean Termites and the Western Subterranean Termites, are by far the most common, widest distributed and most damaging in the U.S. The following description of biology refers to these two closely related species.

Termites feed on cellulose, a complex chemical in plant cell walls, and they are very important in the natural decomposition of fallen trees, leaves and other plant products. Subterranean termites build their colonies in the soil or in trees or poles, and they rely mainly on the soil for moisture.

A subterranean termite colony is large (60,000 to 1.5 million termites), and made up of several "castes", each with distinct functions and behaviors. These include reproductive (the queen, king, and winged swarmers), soldiers, and workers. Worker termites are small (0.1-0.25 in. long), creamy-white insects. Soldiers are larger (0.2-0.4 in. long), about 1/20th as numerous as workers, and have a large, dark head, with long, strong, sharp pointed jaws, which they use to attack intruders. Property owners seldom see the worker or soldier termites, but in the spring or fall they may see swarming "winged reproductives." This form of termite can easily be confused with a winged ant unless you look closely.

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Desert Subterranean Termites

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Desert Subterranean Termites, Heterotermes aureus (Snyder), are found mainly in the Colorado and Gila deserts of southern Arizona and California. They live in desert plants, but can also invade and damage poles, fence posts and buildings. They mainly forage in shaded soil or areas made wet by irrigation. They are very similar in size to both the Eastern and Western Subterranean Termites. Swarmers are about 3/8-inch long including their wings. They have pale yellowish to yellowish-brown bodies, and their antennae have fewer than 18 segments. Soldiers have rectangular heads, not narrowed toward the front and about twice as long as wide. Soldier's mandibles are very slender; longer than their head is wide, curve slightly inward at their pointed tips, and lack teeth.

These termites eat mainly the spring growth, causing a layered effect in damaged wood. They sometimes bring soil into the galleries. They depend less on moisture and decay than other termites and will attack dry, sound wood. A typical sign of these species are light-colored, almost circular tubes, which come down (or "drop") from rafters or ceilings. Mature colonies have about 150,000 workers, many secondary queens, and new colonies are often formed whenever any part of their population including reproductives gets cut off from the main population (or original colony). This species has been reported to forage farther than 223 ft. (68 m) in 11 days, and often builds shelter (mud) tubes more than 24 inches vertically from the soil up to wooden structures above.

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Swarming Can Spread Termites Quickly

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After a termite colony reaches a certain population level, usually more than 10,000 for northern temperate subterranean termites, winged (alate) reproductive "swarmers" are produced and leave the colony in a "swarm." A swarm is a mixed group of roughly 50% male and 50% female reproductives, which leave the nest at the same time, in a short period of 5-45 minutes. This is usually triggered by a rain, in the spring (warming temperatures and lengthening days), and occurs usually around dusk or dawn, when conditions are right.

Swarmers fly upward at first and may be attracted to light. After landing a female breaks off her own wings, raises her abdomen and emits a pheromone, which attracts males of her species. If a suitable male finds her, they touch each other, and he breaks off his own wings. The pair then "run in tandem" for a short time before searching out a suitable piece of wood in which to begin a nest. Their first brood soon takes over the colony maintenance and food gathering, and the queen reverts to only producing eggs. The pair is mated for life. The queen can produce roughly 1,000 eggs per day by her fourth year of life. If either the king or queen dies, other members of the colony can change into reproductives and replace the lost member of the pair.

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How To Tell Termites From Winged Ants

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All termites have a "thick waist" where their abdomen is joined to their middle body region (thorax); but all ants have a "pinched-in-waist" at that point. All termites have ante and lennae that look like a "string of beads;" but all ants have "elbowed" antennae.

Termite swarmers have two pairs of long narrow, wings with very few clearly visible veins, and both the front and back pair is nearly equal in size and length. Winged ants have two pairs of wings with several distinct cross veins, shaped like long triangles, and the back pair is much shorter than the front pair.

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How Termites Get Into Your House

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Subterranean termites live manly in the ground. They search ("forage") for wood (food) farther and farther from the center of their colony area as their numbers grow. Foragers may make underground tunnels or above-ground "shelter tubes" of mud, feces and debris used to search for new food sources and to connect their feeding sites to the soil. They can enter a building without direct wood contact with the soil through such tubes. Termites can enter buildings through cracks, expansion joints, foam insulation below ground, hollow bricks or concrete blocks, or through spaces around plumbing through openings as narrow as 1/32nd of an inch. Termites, whether constructed with a slab, basement or crawl space foundation, can infest any building.

In certain areas of the country you may encounter different types of termites, such as Formosan, damp-wood, or dry wood termites. If your home is infested with one of these termites, it may require different or more extensive treatment procedures including wood treatment or fumigation.

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Termite Signs

Possible signs of a termite infestation may include:

  • Pencil-sized diameter, or larger, mud tubes running across bare concrete or masonry between the soil and any wooden part of your building.
  • Thin, small, papery wings, all the same size and shape, 3/8-1/2 in. long, on your window sill, counter top or floor (especially if it is late Spring and there has been a recent rain).
  • Thin, "bubbled" or distorted areas of paint on wooden surfaces which feel cool to the touch.
  • Any wooden building parts (especially if they are supported structures) begin to "sag unexpectedly.

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Detecting and Controlling Termites is a Job For a Professional

A thorough inspection by a termite control specialist is the first and most important step in protecting your property. "Experienced" eyes can locate the specific areas in your structure where a termite attack is likely to occur. Special tools such as moisture meters, sound amplifiers or specially trained dogs may be used by some inspectors. If a termite infestation is found, the specialist can design a treatment plan for your property that will control any current infestation and establish a chemical barrier, or baiting system, around the structure to take care of future termite infestations.

Physical barriers, such as a fine stainless steel mesh, a chemically impregnated plastic film, or specific-sized basaltic sand layer have been shown to be effective at preventing subterranean termite infestations.

New baiting techniques offer treatment technicians, and property owners more options. At least three chemical and one biological baits are available. Although several baits are labeled, some aspects of these new systems still await more extensive field experience.

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Selecting a Termite Treatment Firm

Do not panic! In most cases, significant termite damage will not occur in a short period of time. But do not delay your decision indefinitely; damage has already started and termites will continue to cause damage.

Verify that the firm you select is a member of your state pest management association and the National Pest Management Association.

Compare written proposals. Seek value; avoid making decisions based solely on price. For example, a firm which does a careful survey, and can (will) show you the pest, location and extent of damage before they quote a price is more apt to do an effective job than another, even if the second firm's price is 1/3-1/2 lower. You usually get what you pay for. Ask friends and neighbors to recommend a firm they have been satisfied with in the past. Check with the Better Business Bureau for company performance records (complaints).

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Preventive Measures You Can Take

You can do several things as a homeowner to help prevent termite infestations including:

  • Stack all firewood, lumber or other wooden items, several feet away from your building.
  • Keep all wood supports of porches, patios, decks, or separate buildings more than one foot from contact with your home's foundation; and use only pressure treated wood for all construction, which contacts the ground. Even treated wood has a limited protection period.
  • Move all wood-containing mulch (even cedar or redwood) and decorative wood chips at least one foot away from your foundation. Sand and stones can be just as attractive an alternative and they discourage pest (including termite) harborage next to your building.
  • Repair any leaking water lines or fixtures, especially if they wet any wooden part(s) of your house.
  • Repair any eaves, downspouts, gables or shingles, which allow any wooden parts of your house to get wet even occasionally.
  • Monitor moisture levels and take steps to reduce moisture build-up in any crawl spaces.
  • Relocate frequently watered gardens or flowerbeds as far away from your home's perimeter as you can.
  • Change your outdoor light from "white" bulbs to some yellow or pale amber, especially during the Spring, to reduce attraction of any night-swarming termites near your house.

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Carpenter Ants

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Anyone who has trees on their property has probably seen carpenter ants in their home at one time or another. Carpenter ants are typically large ants, although the size of the workers can vary in a single colony. Finding one or two carpenter ants a week in a home is not necessarily a sign of an infestation. Foraging ants roam far and wide looking for food and an occasional ant trapped in a sink or bathtub is quite common. If there are trees close to the home, ants can be blown off the trees onto the roof. They may end up trapped within the home during their journey back to the nest.

The first thing to remember about carpenter ants is that they do not eat wood! They get their name from their habit of hollowing out wood in order to make a suitable nesting site. In addition to wood, carpenter ants will nest in synthetic foam and rigid board insulation (RBI) panels. A good indication of a carpenter ant infestation within a home is the presence of numerous foraging ants, especially in the kitchen or bathroom. Water attracts carpenter ants as much as food and moist wood around leaky pipes and drains provides an ideal environment for nesting ants. Another sign of an infestation is the presence of large winged ants in late spring and early summer.

Most carpenter ant colonies start outdoors in a tree cavity. After a few years, the colony grows and expands its foraging territory. If suitable conditions are found within a nearby home, satellite colonies may become established in voids, moist wood, or foam panels in the home. These satellite colonies will contain workers, older larvae, pupae, and when conditions are right, some winged reproductive. Once a satellite colony has become established within a structure, the potential for finding additional satellite colonies increases dramatically.

Control of a carpenter ant infestation must start with a complete and thorough inspection. Useful inspection tools include a flashlight, a thin bladed screwdriver for probing the wood, a stethoscope, and a moisture meter for locating high moisture areas. Since carpenter ants are most active at night, the best time to perform an inspection is after dusk. However, this can be impractical for residential accounts. Two prime considerations should be kept in mind while performing an inspection; find the voids and follow the water. Although carpenter ants are usually found in wood, any dark, damp cavity can provide a suitable nesting site. Carpenter ants make a noise like crinkling cellophane as they move about. A stethoscope makes them much easier to hear and locate. Tapping the suspect area excites the ants and you should be able to hear their movement.

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When carpenter ants burrow into wood they generate sawdust or frass that can pile up beneath the site of their activity. Carpenter ant frass looks like tiny wood shavings and will often contain parts of dead insects. Look closely at all of the wood directly above any frass piles for signs of an infestation. Probing the wood with a thin bladed screwdriver can reveal hollowed out areas.

In addition to food and a nesting site, carpenter ants require water. That's one of the reasons they prefer to nest in damp wood. A moisture meter is a great tool for discovering actual and potential carpenter ant nesting sites. A moisture reading of over 20% is an indication of some type of water problem that needs to be corrected.

Treatments

Correcting water leaks from faulty plumbing and roof leaks is the most important step for long-term carpenter ant control. Even after any leaks have been repaired, enough moisture may remain to sustain a carpenter ant infestation for many months. The application of a contact pesticide directly to the colony is not the best way to control an infestation. Most contact pesticides are highly repellent causing the ants to scatter, thus creating the potential for additional satellite colonies to become established in other areas of the home. In addition, contact pesticides do not impart any long-term residual protection to the wood. After a few months, carpenter ants may return to the site of their original infestation. A better way to control a carpenter ant infestation is to treat the infested area and those areas subject to infestations. This will decrease the carpenter ant population in the area and reduce the pressure on the home.

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Carpenter Bees

Carpenter bees are large, yellow and black (or blue-black) bees that become active in early spring. This bee is commonly 2/3 to 1 inch long, usually with a shiny abdomen and a yellow thorax. Its look-alike cousin (the bumble bee) has a fuzzy abdomen. Although it is rare to be stung by one, their sheer size is scary and people generally stay clear of them.

Carpenter Bee Biology

Carpenter bees get their name from their ability to drill through wood and nest in the hole. Their drilling creates a near-perfect hole, approximately 1/2 inch in diameter. The hole is usually located on the underside of the wood surface; including siding, soffits, decks, overhangs, fence posts and window frames. Although the hole appears to be only an inch or two deep, it rarely ends there.

  • The female carpenter bee will turn 90 degrees and bore a channel from 6 inches to as long as 4 feet. This channel serves as a main corridor from which she will drill small chambers a few inches deep. These chambers become egg holders. She will deposit an egg, bring in a mass of pollen for the newly hatched larvae to feed on, and then seal it all off to ensure it's development before she repeats the process for the next egg.
  • The male spends most of his time flying around the nest playing guard. This is ironic, as nature has left him ill prepared: he has no stinger! Only the female can sting. Simply killing the male will not solve your problem. You must treat the nest.

Signs of Carpenter Bee Infestations

Half-inch, round holes appear, and piles of sawdust are found underneath. Along with the coarse frass (sawdust) found underneath the nest entrance, there are usually dirty-yellow streaks of fecal matter staining the wood below the hole. If you are near a nest, you will likely be buzzed by the male carpenter bee on guard. He is loud and aggressive, but remember that he does not have the ability to sting you. The female can sting but she is normally very docile. A single pair (male and female) occupies each nest. It is not uncommon to find several pair of carpenter bees nesting in one structure. They frequently nest near each other and often in the same area year after year, causing extensive damage. You may find old holes near newer ones. Sometimes the female will renovate an old nest gallery and reuse it.

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Powder Post Beetles

Powder post beetles are so called because in high numbers they are able to turn the inside of a piece of wood into nothing more than a mass of fine powder. These wood-destroying beetles can do significant damage to log homes, furniture, wood floors, and structural timbers in your home, much more damage than that done by carpenter ants or old house borers. Powder post beetles are small (1/8 inch) and the adult beetles are seldom seen. Most of the life cycle is spent in the grub or larvae stage eating wood. Damage is done by the larvae, as they create narrow, meandering tunnels in wood as they feed. This stage can last between 1-10 years, depending upon a number of factors including species of beetle, type of wood infested, age of wood, moisture content of wood and air temperature.

People do not realize that the wood is infested until the adult beetles emerge from within the wood. The exit holes are very small, about the size of a pinhead. Newly emerged adults mate and lay eggs on or below the surface of bare (unfinished) wood. The eggs hatch into tiny larvae which bore into the wood, emerging as adults 1-10 years later. Infestations develop slowly, but wood can be re-invested year after year. Homeowners are more likely to see damage than the beetles themselves, because the adults are short-lived and are active mainly at night. When the wood is tapped with a hammer, dust will fall from these exit holes. Depending on the species, powder post beetles can infest hardwoods such as cherry and oak, or softwoods such as poplar, pine and bamboo. If you find a beetle infestation in a piece of oak furniture, this same species of beetle would not infest your pine floor but might infest other pieces of your oak furniture.

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For additional information on termites and pest control we recommend the following website:

University of Kentucky Entomology

http://www.uky.edu/Agriculture/Entomology/entfacts/struct/ef604.htm