13 Secrets Termites Don’t Want You to Know
For such small little guys, we termites can cause some really big damage. Here's what you need to know to keep us critters at bay.
We can break in just about anywhere
Termites can sneak into your house through a crack or crevice as thin as the edge of a credit card—which can make it difficult to prevent them from getting in and getting at your wood beams.
There are more than one species
Termites show up throughout the lower 48 states and Hawaii, while Alaska’s frigid winters keep them at bay. “Termites can be classified into three distinct groups: subterranean, drywood, and dampwood,” says Sydney Crawley, PhD, a public health entomologist with Scotts Miracle-Gro. “Subterranean is the most common group in the U.S., and they live in the soil under and around homes. Drywood termites build their nests in dry, above-ground wood. Drywood termites weaken structures by chewing tunnels inside the wood. Dampwood termites infest decaying wood where moisture is prevalent, such as wooden structures that are water-damaged or that rest directly on the ground. They will also infest stumps, lumber, and fallen trees.”
There are several different ways to fight us
“Subterranean termites are normally controlled with either a bait treatment, a liquid soil treatment, or both, depending on the situation,” says W. Douglas Webb, M.S., manager of Technical Services with Terminix International. “Some areas, mostly including Florida and California, also have drywood termites, which do not live in the soil like subterranean termites do, so they are not exposed to bait or liquid soil treatments. With most cases of active drywood termites in a home, a tent fumigation is required to stop them.”
We will leave you a few clues
Most of the signs of a termite infestation are visual, like the mud tubes that termites create to help them get their two main needs—wood and water. “Since the two are often not found together, the termites create a ‘termite highway’ from the water source to the food source,” Crawley says. Other signs are swarms of flying termites—or the wings they leave behind. “If you see wings on the ground, it’s a sign that the termites have burrowed close by after having mated,” Crawley continues. Another dead giveaway is a pile of sawdust next to wooden objects. Learn the warning signs that you’ve got a termite infestation.
We can’t take the heat
Just like bedbugs, heat can do a number on termites. Heating infested wood to over 120 degrees for at least 35 minutes should kill off the bugs. However, the heat won’t protect against further damage—leaving you open to another colony down the line.
Termite protection doesn’t keep us out forever
“Termite treatments won’t last for decades,” Crawley says. “Some termite treatments have warranties and extension opportunities. Keep in mind, though, that environmental factors, the active ingredient used, and the applicator and application methods influence the length of time the treatment is effective. Do not assume one professional treatment will cover your home for life.”
We eat 24/7
Termites are nonstop eating machines—and we’ll take a bite out of your woodwork while you sleep. In fact, a single colony of termites can eat more than 100 pounds of wood each year. (That’ll really do some damage to your home’s foundation or hardwood flooring over time.) These exterminator nightmares will make you cringe.
We’re blind—but that doesn’t keep us from finding you
“Termites are highly adapted to find food sources by randomly searching through the soil and communicating this to other members of their colony,” Orkin entomologist Glen Ramsey says. “They do all this while staying hidden behind walls and underground. That’s pretty impressive since all the workers are blind!”
We’re very good at hiding
It can be very hard to spot us. “Termites stay hidden inside the wood they are feeding on or in tunnels that protect them from discovery by predators, so they are often undetected until there is serious damage to the structure of the home,” Webb says. “They live underground in a nest that may be over 20 feet deep within the soil, in a location that is almost impossible to locate. A typical termite colony has tens of thousands of termites in it, and a large colony can have over one million members.” Termites are just one of the hidden home dangers you can’t ignore.
We can cause problems in any house
While a brick or steel-framed home may be more immune than a cedar-shingled house, termites can still do plenty of damage. “They could attack other parts of your home such as floorboards, window frames, cabinets, etc.,” Crawley says. “Termites will still make their way up into wood parts of the home through cracks and crevices.”
You can make your home less welcoming
While you can’t entirely prevent an infestation, avoiding keeping piles of wood or mulch around your home could help reduce the risk. “Termites need moisture, so any moisture reduction methods around the home can help,” Ramsey says. “Limiting excess mulch, trimming bushes, and adding splash blocks to the bottom of downspouts will help to keep moisture away from the foundation.”
We’re not the bad guys we’re constantly made out to be
For all their faults, termites actually serve a pretty important service in the environment. “Termites are one of the earth’s first recyclers, and regularly consume all types of wood that fall to the ground,” Ramsey says. “If they weren’t around, we would have dead trees all around too.” Don’t miss the secrets your exterminator won’t tell you.