Termite Treatment & Control

Termite First

Every year, roughly 600,000 homes in the US are affected by termites. Overall, experts estimate the annual cost of termite damage and control to be over $5 billion.

Except for Alaska, termites can be found in every US state. Generally, the incidence of termite infestation is higher in southeastern states, such as Florida, and west coast states, such as California. The more northerly states have a lower incidence of attacks.

Of the approximately 50 species of termite found in the US, only 20 are classified as pests.


Description

Colonies

Termite colonies can vary in size and structure depending on the species. Colonies can range in size from only a few hundred insects to giant nests consisting of millions of individuals.

Termites are social insects, with a highly developed caste system. Different members develop in specific ways to fulfill certain functions. The colony will normally contain queens and kings, along with large numbers of infertile workers and soldiers.

Although infertile, workers may be male or female and are responsible for the labor in the colony. Their work includes foraging for food, nest maintenance and caring for the nymphs.

Soldiers have larger heads and jaws than other termites, which they use to protect the colony from attack, often by ants. Soldiers also have a role in organizing the workers.

At certain points in the life of the colony fertile winged adults, called alates, are produced that disperse to start new colonies. Due to the large number of alates that appear at these times, they are often called swarmers.

Termite queens are the longest-lived of all insects, often living 20 or more years. In a well-established colony, a mature queen can lay 40,000 eggs in a single day.

Life Cycle

Unlike many insects, termites undergo an incomplete metamorphosis. The eggs hatch into nymphs, which after several molts become adults. The number of these molts varies by species and is determined by the role of the termite in the colony.

For the first few molts, all termites look similar. Depending on what functions are needed, the queen will produce pheromones to dictate how a termite continues its development. Most termites become workers.

The time taken to complete a termite’s lifecycle varies depending on the availability of food, temperature and the needs of the colony.

Feeding Habits

Termites primarily eat cellulose. Their main source of cellulose is grass, wood, rotten trees and dead leaves.

Unfortunately, many homes and furnishings also contain cellulose, which makes them targets for termites. Protein and carbohydrate are also required, which they get from fungi in rotting plant material.

Only workers and older nymphs can turn cellulose into digestible food. The protozoa and bacteria present in their gut are able to break it down. The workers then feed the rest of the colony using a food sharing process called trophallaxis to pass on the digested cellulose to other termites.


Identification

Identifying individual species can be very difficult. To overcome this, termites are grouped into three categories: subterranean, drywood, and dampwood.

Even within the categories, workers and nymphs are so alike in different species that it is hard to separate them. Pest control professionals normally identify a species by its soldiers or alates.

Subterranean termites

Subterranean termites cause the most damage to homes in the US and can be found in all states except Alaska.

According to the USDA, Formosan termites alone are responsible for causing $1 billion of damage a year. This species is found along the Gulf coast primarily in Louisiana, Mississippi.

Subterranean termites are ground dwelling insects. They obtain the moisture they need from the soil. The colonies can be very large and are often located away from a home under attack, connected to it by underground tunnels. If there is an underground barrier, the termites may use mud-walled galleries to travel above ground.

Unlike other termites, subterranean ones tend to prefer soft wood and eat along the grain. This causes the common ‘layered’ look often seen in termite attacks.

Drywood termites

Drywood termites don’t need contact with soil to survive and can thrive in areas with a low moisture content. They get needed water from the wood they feed on. Although their colonies are often relatively small, they can cause significant damage to homes if left untreated. Infestations normally develop at a relatively slow rate.

Termite Second

Dampwood termites

Dampwood termites don’t normally need contact with soil but they require a higher water content to thrive. As their name suggests, dampwood termites thrive on rotted wood.

Unless a building has a problem with rotting wood, possibly due to leaking gutters or roof, this category of termite does not normally attack homes.


Spotting an infestation

The presence of subterranean termites is the easiest to spot. Drywood termites may leave telltale signs, like droppings.

Dampwood termites can remain unnoticed until the damage itself gives them away.

Termite attacks are often first noticed by the destruction they cause but early signs of termite infestation may include:

  • Mud-walled galleries across walls or along fences.
  • Wood dust or small droppings near wooden walls or furnishings.
  • Wood that sounds hollow when tapped.
  • Cracked or damaged paintwork.
  • Discarded wings from alates near windows, or in cobwebs.

Inspection

Before treatment, it is important to know what category of termite is causing the damage. Subterranean, drywood or dampwood termites each require a different type of treatment.

The key to success is not just eliminating the current problem but removing the opportunity for future infestations. Termite pest control often involves an integrated pest management (IPM) approach. This recognizes that eradicating termites permanently may involve more than one method. Annual home inspections should be part of any IPM.

Inspections are usually visual, but pest control professionals have a wide range of tools at their disposal, including thermal imaging, methane sniffers, noise detectors and even trained dogs.

Before buying a property, the purchaser should ensure a thorough inspection has been made for termites.


Do-It-Yourself Treatments

Typically, DIY treatment falls into two main categories, baits and termiticides.

DIY Bait traps

The term bait trap is misleading as there are no baits that attract termites. The traps are simply containers placed above or below ground and filled with wood, cardboard or other cellulose-based items that termites eat. When placed in suitable locations, termites find the traps and start eating, drawing other termites to join them. This is called aggregating.

The larger the aggregation, the better the results. Initially, only food is used in the traps but when enough termites are feeding, poison is added. Foraging worker termites carry the tainted food back to the nest and distribute it via trophallaxis to the whole colony, including the queen.

Bait traps are good for reducing termite numbers and for spotting early signs of their presence. There is little evidence that bait traps will eradicate a large colony.

DIY Termiticides

Few of the termiticides sold to the public are effective for the removal of termite colonies. Many chemicals will kill hundreds, perhaps even thousands of termites.

Unfortunately, some colonies comprise millions of individuals. They may even be made up of sub-colonies scattered around the premises. Eradication is unlikely to be achieved.

Generally, DIY termite treatments are not recommended for any but the smallest infestation. Professional exterminators are the most reliable way to eliminate termites.


Prevention

Homeowners can take steps to minimize the threat of termites, such as keeping the garden or yard clear of old wood and fallen trees. Items should not be left resting against walls of buildings as they can be used by termites to gain access.

Any leaking pipes or gutters should be fixed to prevent wood rot, which may attract termites.


Professional Control

Professional pest control companies will accurately identify the category of termite involved. Their knowledge of termite habits and their nesting places enable them to deal with the pest efficiently. Their aim should be not just the removal of termites but the prevention of future infestations.

Chemical barriers

Two types of chemical barrier are used. The first is a repellent barrier, involving chemicals that don’t kill termites but deter them from crossing it. Although these can be effective, even a tiny gap in the barrier may be exploited by termites. Small renovations, such as newly laid pipes, are sufficient to breach it.

Non-repellent barriers allow termites to cross but in doing so they pick up minute traces of poison they take back to their nests. Even if a breach occurs in a correctly laid barrier, enough poison often gets back to the nest to destroy it.

Barriers of either type may involve trenches, high-pressure sprays and possibly holes drilled into concrete slabs or paths to ensure a complete barrier is formed around the building.

Termite Third

Soil conditions may affect the type of chemicals used and soil that is regularly damp may make such barriers ineffective.

Physical barriers

Physical barriers do not rely on any chemicals, only the size of the foraging termite. Special types of concrete or fine-mesh wire are incorporated into new buildings or extensions as physical barriers. These barriers prevent termites passing through, forcing them to come above ground using mud-walled galleries or other visible pathways to enter a building.

Physical barriers will not stop termites gaining access to a home. But they reduce the risk and any attempt will make them more visible for treatment.

Professional Bait Traps

Not all termite species respond to bait traps in the same way and a few ignore them altogether. However, bait traps are becoming more sophisticated in their design and the chemicals they use.

With large colonies, how the traps are distributed around a property is important. There must be sufficient traps in the correct locations so enough termites transfer adequate poison back to the colony.

If the traps are too few in number or small in size, they will be ineffective. Too large and the termites will sense the chemicals and avoid them.

Even in the hands of a pest control expert, larger colonies are unlikely to be completely eradicated using traps alone.

Fumigation

Drywood termite infestations are often removed by fumigation. The gas will kill an existing colony but does not prevent a new one forming later. Fumigation is an invasive treatment, during which the homeowners must vacate the property. It is not always practical.

Professional Termiticides

Used in conjunction with other treatments, termiticides play a valuable role in the IPM for the removal of termites. The volume of sprays needed and the amount of chemicals used is lower than historically, reducing many environmental issues.

Spot treatments can be used in areas where colonies are known to live in a home, such as in the attic or basement. Drilling may be required to ensure the correct spread of the chemicals.


Heat and Cold Treatment

Termites cannot survive extreme heat or cold. Localized drywood infestations can be treated with mobile heaters which are used to raise the temperature in a room to 140°F for four hours. Alternatively, liquid nitrogen is used to bring the temperature in a room down to -20°F which is fatal to termites.

Both types of treatment can damage certain household articles, so ask the expert what to expect. These methods work best on small infestations and neither prevent new infestations.


Costs

Pest control costs vary depending on location, the extent of the infestation and the size of the property involved.

An inspection may cost between $50 and $150, subject to the type of inspection and the equipment used.

For a 1,250 square feet home, both fumigation and termiticide treatments cost about the same at between $1,300 and $2,500 each. Heat or cold treatment for the same property is about $1,250. Professional baiting costs are roughly $1,500. Always insist on warranties for any work done.

DIY treatments start at $30 for basic termiticides and range to above $320 for sets of baiting traps.