Friday, January 6, 2012

A quick reference for Termites

Termites
Termites have an incredibly long history. They have lived on Earth for more than 250 million years. While termites can be helpful in breaking down rotting wood in the environment, these wood-destroying insects also can cause extensive damage to our modern day structures. Occasionally, referred to as “silent destroyers,” termites may leave few readily observable signs of activity as they consume wood, drywall, sheetrock and various other forms of building materials used in construction of walls, ceilings and floors. Experts estimate that termites damage more than 600,000 homes in the United States annually. In fact, termites cause more damage to U.S. homes (annually) than tornadoes, hurricanes, wind, and hail-storms combined. Each year, U.S. residents spend an estimated $5 billion to control termites and repair termite damage. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), control methods and repairs for damage caused by Formosan termites – the most destructive species of subterranean termite – account for more than $1 billion of this total.
Types of Termites
There are about 45 different kinds of species of termites found in the U.S., each of which falls into one of the three main termite types: Subterranean, Drywood, and Dampwood.

Subterranean termites
Subterranean termites are part of the family Rhinotermitidae. With minimal exceptions, these termites require contact with the soil, which provides optimal temperatures and moisture for their survival. Subterranean termites build underground nests connected to above ground food sources via mud tunnels (or mud tubes). These underground termites are responsible for the majority of termite damage to structures, homes and buildings.
The most aggressive subterranean termites in the United States, are the Formosan termites (Coptotermes formosanus). Each year, Americans spend an estimated $1 billion on combined control measures and repair costs associated with Formosan termites.
The eastern subterranean termite (Reticulitermes flavipes) is the most widespread termite in the U.S., found throughout the eastern, midwestern and southern states. Eastern subterranean termite colonies typically cause less damage than larger Formosan termite colonies. However, the far-reaching distribution of this pest leads experts to estimate it causes more structural damage nationwide than any other termite species.
The western subterranean termite (Reticulitermes hesperus) can be found in many of the western states. It is very common in California, where it is responsible for more damage in the state than any other wood-destroying insect.
Though restricted in geographic reach to the deserts of southern Arizona and California, the desert subterranean termite (Heterotermes aureus) is another subterranean termite that can cause significant damage to homes.
Signs of Subterranean Termite Infestation:
Large swarms of flying termites and the presence of mud tubes are the two most noticeable signs of subterranean termite infestations in homes. However, these signs can be difficult to detect. Annual termite inspections focusing on termite entry points and signs of activity are important to prevent damage.
Subterranean Termite Control:
Because they infest homes from the ground level, it is easier to prevent subterranean termite infestations than drywood termite infestations. The most common control measures for subterranean termite infestations include treating infested areas (direct applications to the soil and damaged wood) with termiticides, and placing bait stations around the home. To help make your home less hospitable to termites, you also can focus on reducing moisture sources and wood-to-ground contact. By limiting entry points and water sources, you can help make it less likely termites will invade your house.

Drywood termites

Drywood termites are typically found in the southern and western states. Drywood termites do not require soil contact or above-ground moisture sources to survive. They live (colonize) entirely within the material on which they feed. Including, but not limited to: dead trees, structural timbers, hardwood floors and wood furniture. Generally speaking, drywood termites are larger than subterranean termites. Drywood termites do not have a worker caste, which means they rely on nymphs (immature reproductives) to perform the typical worker tasks.  Drywood termite colonies tend to be much smaller than subterranean termite colonies. The largest mature drywood termite colonies typically have no more than 5,000 termites. Due to the smaller colony size, a drywood termite swarm is smaller than a subterranean termite swarm. Many drywood colonies produce less than 60 swarming alates in a season. Swarms are often the most noticeable sign of any termite infestation. However, drywood termite swarms can be so small that they may be overlooked. Other warning signs for drywood termite activity include groups of discarded same-size wings and small mounds of fecal pellets (frass).

Dampwood termites
Dampwood termites typically are found in the western states, from Washington to Montana and down through California and Texas. They also can be found from central to southern Florida.
As we can see in the dampwood termite pictures, these termites get their name honestly. They are most often found in damp wood, such as logs, stumps and other decaying wood. Most dampwood termites do not require soil contact. Since most homes do not have very moist structural timbers, dampwood termites are not classified as major structural pests in the United States. However, if your home has the proper conditions conducive to infestation, such as damp wood, termites can infest it and build colonies. When dampwood termites infest homes, their point of entry is often wood-to-ground contact. Compared to subterranean termite colonies, dampwood termite colonies tend to be relatively small. A mature colony might grow to only 4,000 termites.
Signs of dampwood termite infestation include small swarms of flying termites and fecal pellets. Both dampwood and drywood termites leave behind small mounds of fecal pellets. However, drywood termite pellets are six-sided and dry, while dampwood termite pellets are moist and not as well defined in shape. It is unlikely that you will see dampwood termite damage, as worker termites typically plug all holes in wood with fecal material.


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