Subterranean termites are the most destructive insect pests of wood in the United States. They cause more than $2 billion in damage each year, more property damage than that caused by fire and windstorm combined.
In nature, subterranean termites are beneficial. They break down many dead trees and other wood materials that would otherwise accumulate. The biomass of this breakdown process is recycled to the soil as humus.
Problems occur when termites attack the wooden elements of human structures -- homes, businesses and warehouses. Their presence is not readily noticed because they hide their activity behind wallboards, siding or wood trim.
Homeowners in all areas of Missouri should watch for subterranean termites and take precautions to prevent infestations. To minimize damage from termites, it is helpful to know the description, life cycle and infestation signs of termites as well as preventive and control measures.
Subterranean termites are social insects that live in nests or colonies in the soil, hence their name “subterranean.”
Reproductive males and females can be winged (primary) or wingless (secondary or tertiary). Each can produce new offspring. The bodies of primary reproductives, also called swarmers or alates, vary by species from coal black to pale yellow-brown. Wings may be pale or smoky gray to brown and have few distinct veins. Swarmer termites are about 1/4 to 3/8 inch long.
Termite workers make up the largest number of individuals within a colony. Workers are wingless, white to creamy white, and 1/4 to 3/8 inch long. They do all of the work of the colony -- feeding the other castes, grooming the queen, excavating the nest and making tunnels. In working, they chew and eat wood, causing the destruction that makes termites economically important.
Signs of infestation
The presence of swarmers, wings or damaged wood signals that termites are infesting a structure.
Swarmers: Generally, the first sign of infestation noticed by homeowners is the presence of swarming reproductives on window sills or near indoor light. Swarmers inside the house nearly always indicate an active infestation in the structure. The presence of swarmers outdoors is a natural phenomenon, but should warn that termites are near and possibly attacking a nearby building.
Wings: Another indication is the presence of wings, discarded by swarmers as a normal part of their behavior, found near emergence sites, on window sills or in cobwebs. Infestations also can be detected by the presence of shelter tubes going up the sides of piers, utility entrances or foundation walls.
Damaged wood: Wood damage often is not found initially, but it definitely indicates termite infestation. Any wood-to-soil contact is a potential site of entry into a home. Wood that yields a dull, thudding sound when struck by a screwdriver or hammer should be examined. Careful probing of suspected areas with a sharp, pointed instrument such as an ice pick will disclose termite galleries or damage.
Control measures include reducing the potential for subterranean termite infestation, preventing termite entry, and applying residual chemicals for remedial treatment.
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Control services offer several choices in baiting systems to treat termites. This technology requires that the applicator know termite biology and behavior to apply the baits correctly. It also demands diligent monitoring. Some baiting systems are advertised to be used alone in termite control; others are used with liquid termiticides. In general, baits require several trips to the job site for installation and monitoring. Control may take from a few weeks to more than a year.
Termite treatment requires specialized equipment such as drills, pressure injectors, pressure-generating pumps and high-gallon tanks. Therefore, in almost every instance, using the services of professional pest control operators is recommended. They are familiar with construction principles and practices, have the necessary equipment, and know termite biology and habits. Members of the pest control industry who offer termite control may be licensed or certified by a state agency for competence in treatment procedures that provide safe and effective control.
Richardson Pest Solutions of St Louis, the St Louis Pest Control Experts, can help!