Everything About Termite Infestations
As a Florida resident, you’re no stranger to critters and creatures of all kinds visiting your property. But some of those guests are more unwelcomed than others, like termites. These insects may be small, but the damage they cause as a colony is mighty.
With these insect infestations potentially wreaking havoc on your home, you probably have a lot of questions. What do termites look like? What do termite tunnels look like? How much does termite prevention treatment cost? Luckily, the experts at Apex Pest Control are here to tell you everything about termite infestations.
What Do Termites Look Like?
If you believe you have termites, your first question will probably be, “What do they look like?” But you might not know about the different families of termites that all look slightly different. Within those families, you’ll often find different categories of termites, as well. These different categories have various responsibilities in the colony and have varying appearances. The three common termite categories include:
- Alates: This category of termite is also known as swarmers. Alates usually have wings, and their job is to leave the nest and start new colonies. They’re responsible for discovering your home and bringing termite colonies into it.
- Soldiers: These termites defend the nest. They often have large heads and a set of mandibles, or jaws, to fight insects that try to invade their colony.
- Workers: Worker termites build and maintain the colony’s nest. They also search for and collect food for other members of the colony. They’re usually smaller and lighter in color than soldiers and alates.
With those features in mind, it’s also essential to know the differences between termite families. In Florida, you could encounter these three common types of termites:
Subterranean termites are among the most common in Florida. The workers can have an opaque white body and no wings with a body that’s usually a quarter-inch long or shorter. The soldier subterranean termite has an orange-yellow body, a slightly darker head and large, dark brown mandibles. Subterranean soldiers are also recognizable by their rectangular heads and lack of wings. Instead, the subterranean alates have two pairs of wings that can be the same length as the body or a bit longer. Subterranean swarmers are a quarter- to half-inch long and have a dark-brown to black body.
These termites get their name from living underground. Subterranean termites sometimes create their nests above ground, but only during moist conditions. They typically enter your home through wood that contacts the soil, but sometimes subterranean termites build tubes to access the softwood they eat. Signs of subterranean termites may include damage to wood along the ground rather than in attics.
A drywood termite has a tan, dark brown and yellowish appearance. Swarmer drywood termites have long, slightly transparent wings, which are about twice the length of the body. Worker and soldier drywood termites have more of an off-white color, and they are most often the ones to cause damage.
The drywood termite is another primary termite family in the area. They live in dry wood, as their name implies, which they find above ground. These insects can be difficult to find in your home since they create many colonies within one structure at a time and hide inside the wood they feed on.
These subterranean termites are considered among the most aggressive. Formosan termites, especially the workers, look similar to ones from other termite families, so it’s best to let professionals help accurately identify the type of termite you have. They’ll recognize Formosan soldier termites by their oblong heads, which differ in appearance from subterranean soldier termites. Formosan alates have a yellow-brown color, a half-inch long body and wings with a thick covering of small hairs.
Formosan termites can create carton nests in your home, meaning they no longer need access to the soil to survive. And these insects pose quite a threat to Florida homes. One Formosan termite colony can have millions of insects, burrowing deep into the soil and spreading across a whole property.
Signs of Termite Infestation
Many homeowners experiencing a termite infestation may not notice the insects right away. Instead, there are other termite infestation signs. If you notice any of these warning signs yourself, you should contact Apex Pest Control right away:
1. Mud Tubes
Subterranean termites need moisture from the soil to survive. To retain their moisture as they access their food — wood from your home — they create mud tubes. What do termite mud tubes look like? They’re often around a quarter-inch to 1 inch in diameter. Because subterranean termites make mud tubes with materials like dirt, saliva and their own waste, termite tunnels are often various shades of brown. You’ll often find them along your home’s foundation or exterior concrete walls. But they can also be in walls or crawlspaces or hidden behind baseboards or cracks in your foundation.
A termite uses a tube for different purposes, so termite mud tubes can look a few different ways.
- Exploratory: Exploratory termite mud tunnels are thinner than others, but they branch out in different directions, making them easier to see. Termites use these mud tubes to search for food sources but don’t usually directly connect to wood. By the time you discover exploratory termite dirt tunnels, the insects have likely abandoned the tunnels and found food.
- Working: Termites use working tubes the most to move between nests and food. These quarter- to 1-inch diameter tunnels are made to last longer with multiple lanes suiting different purposes. You may notice working mud tubes along foundations, basement walls, windowsills and frames, subfloors, joists and under porches.
- Swarm: Swarm castles are made to house alates preparing to leave the colony. These shelter tubes can be as wide as 4 feet to accommodate however many swarmers a colony has. Swarm castles will have multiple exit holes to direct alates out.
- Drop: Drop tubes can be more obvious than others. Termites construct drop tubes between the ground and wood, creating structures that look like stalactites hanging in a cave. These termite shelter tubes also have a lighter brown color than other tubes because they contain more wood, but they have a similar thin diameter to exploratory tubes.
Knowing how to remove termite mud tubes can help you see if termites are still actively using them. All you need is a stick or a glove to wear to push away some of the tunnels. Note where you removed a bit of the termite tube and check back later. If the colony is active, they’ll have rebuilt the broken tunnel to use again.
2. Sawdust or Wood Pellets
If you notice piles of what looks to be sawdust not caused by human construction, it probably came from termite destruction. Drywood termites, in particular, excrete digested wood in pellets known as frass. While subterranean termites use their droppings to construct tunnels, drywood ones discard their frass in small piles.
Drywood termite tunnels are usually closed as they can survive without leaving. But they don’t have enough space for piles of frass inside. They create kick out holes to push out piles of droppings, which you may then notice as infestation signs. The individual pellets are only about 1 millimeter in size, creating what can look like fine sawdust. The pellets’ colors vary based on the type of wood the drywood termites have eaten.
3. Groups of Winged Insects or Discarded Wings
Remember that alates search for new locations for their colony. If you notice small, winged insects, often in groups, it could be a sign of an impending termite problem. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot swarmer termites before they find a location to create their colony. Alates don’t cause damage — instead, the workers and soldiers, the alates’ offspring, consume wood from your home. Noticing groups of winged insects and getting a professional exterminator could help stop the problem before it starts.
Another termite infestation sign courtesy of alates is discarded wings. When swarmers find a place for their new colony, they no longer need their wings to fly and search for somewhere to settle. They then discard their wings, which you might find in places like windowsills and spiderwebs, especially in lit areas as light attracts termites. If you notice discarded insect wings anywhere in your home, contact a professional exterminator immediately. Your home could already have termite damage that you’ll want to address before it worsens.
4. Hollow-Sounding, Cracked or Damaged Wood
Because termites eat wood, it’s no surprise that damaged materials are a sign of the pests. That damage can appear in different ways. Termite tunnels in wood can create wood that’s:
- Hollow: Termites eat wood from the inside, creating hollow pieces. If you tap on areas you suspect termites have infested, you may notice a hollow sound rather than a solid knock.
- Cracked or rotted: When these pests consume the wood of your home, they can cause damage, like cracks. If the wood is rotted, that’s a sign of moisture, which attracts termites. Have professionals inspect this damaged wood to see if you have termites or other issues you need to solve.
- Blistering: Wood or paint blisters when there’s moisture under it. While this could mean you have water damage, it could also be a termite infestation sign.
Damage Termites Cause
Termites can cause thousands of dollars worth of damage to your home, and you’re not alone. According to the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), termites create at least $5 billion in damage annually. The longer they go unnoticed, the more damage they can cause. Many homeowner’s insurance policies don’t cover termite damage, and repairs can rack up a bill higher than what it cost to build your home.
While you can check your coverage and see if your insurance covers termite damage, it can still be a hassle to organize repairs. And if you don’t notice termite infestation signs, the stress of repairs only increases. Noticing termite infestations can have a silver lining, though. Once you hire an exterminator to take care of your termite problem, you eliminate potential safety hazards. The damage and need for repairs build up with unsafe situations like termite damage to:
- Window and door frames: If termites eat the wood surrounding your doors and windows, you might notice these features don’t open or close properly. They may stick when you try to use them, or there may not be a proper seal between the door or window and the wall. That damage creates issues with your home’s energy efficiency and safety.
- Structural wood: Attic trusses and ceiling and floor joists are essential structural components. When termites hollow these wooden beams, they compromise your home’s structure. With that structural damage, the floors, ceilings and walls or your homes are unsupported and may show signs of buckling. That creates a structurally unsound and unsafe home.
- Hardscaping: Fences, benches, gazebos and other wooden structures in your yard can invite termites in. While pest damage to these features may not be as costly to repair, they could serve as pit stops before termites enter your home.
- Trees: Maybe the termites haven’t entered your home. But if they infest trees near your house, those trees could eventually fall. That poses a safety risk to you, your family and your neighbors, and if the tree falls on your home, it will cause indirect termite damage.
How to Rid Your Home of Termites
Most of the steps you can take to rid your home of termites involve help from a professional exterminator. You may be tempted to try DIY extermination solutions, but without proper knowledge or experience, you may not treat the problem correctly. You risk wasting time and money on ineffective methods. Save yourself the hassle by conducting termite prevention methods yourself and leaving the extermination to the professionals. To rid your home of termites, you could try the following methods:
Termites are an unfortunate reality for many homeowners. If you’re concerned about a potential infestation or want to care for your home after termite treatment, prevention is your best method. A lot of termite prevention methods are DIY, but you can also hire a professional. Take these steps to prevent termites from moving into your home or continuing to cause damage:
- Check your home’s exterior: Work from the outside in when preventing termite infestations. Find vulnerable points to repair, like cracks in the walls and foundation or broken roof tiles. You should also maintain a protective chemical barrier around your home.
- Check around your property: While you’re inspecting your home’s exterior, don’t forget about the rest of your property. Features like wooden fences and other hardscaping additions, along with trees and tree stumps, can become home for a termite colony. Once they’re finished with those features, they could move to your house.
- Check inside your home: With everything looked at and repaired outside, it’s time to move inside. Check your attic and your home’s wooden components regularly. Look for signs of infestation and damage like cracks that could invite termites into your home. Inspect materials like paper, as well. Many people have sadly discovered boxes of irreplaceable photo albums and scrapbooks destroyed by termites.
- Address moisture and water damage: Moisture attracts termites and other pests. Pay close attention to your air conditioner drain lines, gutter spouts, leaky windows, kitchen and bathrooms to make necessary repairs.
- Maintain your garage: Other than the attic, the garage is a common spot for termites to enter your home through. Perhaps it isn’t sealed properly or you have scraps of old wood or boxes of papers lying around. Many homes often have an expansion joint between the concrete garage floor and the house floor, and this is the most common termite entry point.
- Watch where you keep clothes: Termites are known for eating wood, but what they actually consume is the material’s cellulose. They can also find cellulose in clothing and fabric.
If you’re still concerned after those steps, you can do even more to protect your home and your property. These prevention methods, in particular, help keep subterranean termites away:
- Do not spread mulch within 5 feet of your home.
- Avoid storing firewood or lumber near your home.
- Check that air conditioning drain lines and gutter spouts drain away from the foundation.
- Ensure that wood surfaces, such as soffits, facia, window and door frames, are painted or sealed.
Fumigation is necessary to eradicate drywood termites. Because drywood termites don’t need contact with soil, they fly into and infest a structure and are difficult to find. With fumigation, professionals cover a home with tents or tarps and inject a gaseous pesticide. The termite treatment tent holds the gas in for the amount of time required to kill all the termites. The amount of gas used depends on the size of the structure, the temperature, the time of exposure and the type of wood-destroying organism or target pest.
Once the pest control specialists confirm they’ve treated a structure for the adequate time, they remove the tents and clear the property for safe return with calibrated gas-sniffing devices. The gas leaves no residue, and it’s safe to leave most belongings inside, except for some food products and items covered in plastic, like baby mattresses. You can leave food items if you bag them properly with specialized bags that a pest control specialist can provide.
Termite tenting takes anywhere from one to three days. But as the only effective treatment for drywood termites, it’s worth the time. Fumigation also kills other pests, such as a severe infestation of Formosan termites, powder post beetles or bedbugs. Leave the job to the professionals at Apex to ensure your home is treated properly and cleared for safety before you return.
Soil treatments control and prevent subterranean termites, including Formosan termites. Professionals pump a long-lasting termiticide into the soil around the foundation of the home or structure. The pesticides either kill the termites on contact or provide a delayed mortality, allowing the termites to spread the chemical throughout the colony. Depending on the infestation, specialists may need to drill into the concrete or floors. They do this if termites are entering around plumbing or conduit that extends through the floor, such as in kitchen islands or bathrooms.
After soil treatment, you shouldn’t disturb the treated soil around the foundation by digging, planting shrubs or adding mulch. It’s also essential to ensure rainwater or drip lines don’t constantly drench the area as the water will dilute the chemical product over time.
At Apex Pest Control, our preferred product is Termidor Brand Insecticide, which studies have shown to be effective for over 10 years. Apex has used Termidor for 20 years with great success, so trust your termite treatments to Apex Pest Control and Termidor.
Most homeowners insurance policies don’t cover termite damage. Instead, you should get a termite bond. What is a termite bond? It’s a contract or a warranty between you and a pest control specialist. For an annual fee, the company will offer different termite warranty services. That could help save you money on termite prevention treatment costs.
What your contract includes will depend on your situation and what a company offers. But, in general, a termite bond protects you from future infestations. Some termite bonds may include protections like:
- Termite treatment and prevention when the bond begins
- Yearly termite inspections
- Termite treatment at no additional cost if any are found on inspection
- Coverage for repair costs after termite damage
Contact Apex Pest Control to discuss your termite bond options to keep your home safe now and in the future.
Schedule Termite Control Services With Apex Pest Control
Now that we’ve answered your pest questions — from what termite mud tubes look like to how to rid your home of termites — contact the experts at Apex. Since 1985, we’ve provided safe, trusted pest solutions for residents and business owners throughout Florida. We understand the stress and worry that comes with thinking you have termites in your home. We’ve built our reputation for excellence by keeping homes and businesses safe from and free of pests, including these harmful insects.
Contact Apex Pest Control today to learn more about our termite control services, and regain your home’s comfort and safety.