Termites and Other Wood Destroying Organisms
Termites are considered beneficial pests as they break down dead and dying plant material. But obviously, they are not considered beneficial when that dead plant material is the timber in a home or building!
Termites in the Austin, Texas Area
- Subterranean termites—the most common encountered in the United States
- Drywood termites
- Rottenwood termites
- Agricultural termites (also known as grass or desert termites).
These are not considered structural pests as they eat dead grass and hay.
What Do Termites Look Like?
Subterranean termites live in the soil, as their name suggests. To get to wood that is not in contact with the soil they build mud tubes or tunnels to access the wood.
Termites live in large highly organized colonies, including workers, soldiers, and reproductive. The workers do all the work of building the nest and gathering food. They are creamy white, have no eyes, and no wings.
The soldiers have enlarged dark reddish-brown heads with huge mandibles.
The reproductive include amongst others the winged termites that are seen swarming after rains. They have dark-colored flattened bodies and large eyes and two pairs of narrow, equal-sized wings. A single queen can lay up to 60,000 eggs in her lifetime.
Swarming typically occurs within ten days of rain. A single colony may have several swarms in a year, and not all colonies will swarm every year. It usually takes a new colony two to three years to start doing serious damage to structural wood.
How to Tell a Termite from an Ant?
The most obvious differences are a thick waist for a termite versus a narrow waist for an ant and a straight unsegmented antenna for termites while ants have a segmented antenna.
How to Tell a Winged Termite from a Flying Ant?
The same first two points plus the termites have two pairs of equal-sized wings whereas flying ants have two forewings that are larger than the two hind wings.
Depending on the species, flying termites can range in size between ¼ of an inch and 3/8 of an inch. They are also known as reproductive stage termites or alates.
They are the kings and queens of potential new colonies. Flying termites are generally darker in color than their white or pale burrowing counterparts. Their darker brown color allows them to leave the colony without losing moisture.
If you notice a swarm of them near your property or home, it is an indication that a new colony is about to start. Discarded wings around doors and windows also indicate they have mated, and a new colony is about to be created.
Signs of Termites
Subterranean termites are mostly not seen, as they are mainly inside the wood unless they are swarming. Seeing a swarm near a building does not necessarily imply there is a pest control problem, but it is a good idea to investigate further.
Tapping wood can indicate hollow zones in wood. Flattened earthen shelter tubes built over concrete or other hard surfaces to get to wood is a telltale sign.
Fecal pellets (termite droppings) found outside kick-out holes (small openings in the surface of the wood). Depressions or sagging on a roof or shingles, that could indicate a weak or collapsed area.
Structures should be inspected at least once a year to look for signs.
Conditions that frequently lead to termite problems:
- Cracks in foundations
- Wooden posts or supports set in concrete that may be in contact with soil below
- Leaks in the crawl space below the structure that keep the soil moist
- Low foundation walls and footings that provide easier soil to wood access
- Soil filled planters built up against the structure allow direct access to foundation cracks
- Wooden steps in contact with soil
- Wooden fences, trellises etc built up against the structure
It’s a frightening fact that a termite colony of 60,000 can chew through and eat an area of 2”x 4” in just five months. Most termites can eat two to three times their body weight each day. The damage looks similar to water damage. This includes buckling wood or swollen floors or ceilings. Termite damage also exudes an odor like mold or mildew.
Damage from these insects can compromise the structural integrity of your home. When they eat through support walls, your property then becomes in danger of collapse. Termites are also capable of eating through the plaster. This will cause cracks in your drywall, and if the damage is too severe, it may result in the drywall collapsing.
There are a few treatments to prevent termite infestations and to eradicate them altogether. One method is to introduce a termiticide to the soil around the home. This treatment must be carried out by a licensed professional to avoid contaminating drinking water sources etc. Termiticides can also be applied to building materials to help prevent infestations.
Baiting can also prove effective as the worker termites feed the colony, including the king and queen. With sufficient dosage, the bait is passed along to all members of the colony, killing them.
✓ A Formosan termite queen can lay up to 1,000 eggs per day! No wonder they can produce colonies of up to 1,000,000 termites!
✓ Carpenter ants, unlike termites, do not eat wood but rather excavate it in order to build their nests.
✓ There are 42 species of carpenter ants, with 18 of these found in Texas!
Get the Facts
Know thy enemy. You can never have enough information. The Texas Insect site has detailed information regarding termite species, behaviors, signs of infestations, and more.
Other Wood Destroying Organisms
While most people know of termites, what most people don’t realize is that there are a number of other insects and organisms that can also do significant damage to wooden structures.
The most common include the following:
- Powderpost Beetles, including Lyctid Beetles—True Powderpost Beetles
- Anobiid Beetles—Furniture and Deathwatch Beetles
- Bostrichid Beetle—False Powderpost Beetle and Horned Powderpost Beetle
- Non-Powderpost Beetles—Longhorned Beetles
- Metallic Wood Boring Beetles
- Carpenter Ants
Request a Free Inspection
Many of these wood-destroying organisms only really take hold if conditions are favorable, the most common problem being excess moisture levels. It is, therefore, a good idea to monitor wood for high moisture levels and if this is found to be the case, then remedial actions should be taken to address this.
If you have any signs of wood destroying organisms in your structure or if you have noticed signs of moisture in the wood or around the wood in a structure, then give YardDoc a call and one of our pest technicians can assist in identifying and resolving the problem.
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