Discover everything you need to know about termites in our guide below.
What Are Termites?
Termites (scientific name Isoptera) are destructive pests that chew through wood and can cause thousands of dollars worth of damage to homes and other buildings.
Sometimes called “white ants,” termites look similar to ants, but they have very different habits.
Currently, there are about 2,750 different termite species distributed throughout the world. Termites are most common in tropical habitats but are also found throughout North America.
When termites strike, they can cause massive damage in a short period of time, so it’s important to take preventative measures at the first sign of termite infestation.
The Behavior, Diet, and Habits of Termites
Termites are detrivores, which means they eat dead plants. In the natural world, termites play an important role: they recycle organic waste material and help biodegrade dead and dying plants. Because they’re capable of efficiently digesting cellulose, they’re related to wood-eating cockroaches.
Interestingly, termites are divided into two groups: lower and higher termites. While lower termites eat wood and wood products, higher termites eat a larger variety of foods, including grass, leaves, and roots. Socially, termites adhere to a strict caste structure, with rigid and defined roles for each type of termite, including workers, soldiers, and reproductive termites.
Termites can also be divided into two classes: drywood and dampwood termites. Drywood termites seek out non-decayed wood to live in and feed on. Dampwood termites, on the other hand, infest moisture-dense wood and are typically associated with rotting or decaying wood.
While some species of termites build elaborate above-ground mounds, nests, or mud tubes, others live underground in extensive nest systems. All termites favor warm, damp habitats.
The termite life cycle begins when the queen termite lays fertilized eggs (she produces thousands of them throughout her lifetime). Termite eggs develop for 30 days before they hatch and develop into their larval stage.
Soon thereafter, the termite larvae molt and become workers, soldiers, or primary or secondary reproductive termites. While worker and soldier termites live for about 1-2 years, queen termites can live for more than ten years under optimal conditions.
What Damage Do Termites Cause?
While termites generally do not bite, they do pose a variety of risks to people and their environments.
The primary danger of termite infestations is structural damage to homes and other buildings. When termite infestations are severe, they can lead to expensive building repairs and safety issues. Over time, termite damage can become so extensive that it compromises the stability of a home.
While termites don’t carry diseases, unlike some other pests, termite infestations can pose health risks. As termites consume wood, they create fine micro-particles of dust, which can be hazardous for people with allergies or preexisting respiratory conditions.
Over time, inhaling termite dust can cause allergies, asthma, new or worsening respiratory symptoms, and more.
How to Get Rid of Termites
The most effective way to get rid of termites is to apply chemical termiticide treatments. Generally, termite extermination approaches involve treating the soil around your home with a termite insecticide containing the active ingredient imidacloprid or fipronil.
In some cases, wood components can also be treated directly if they’re already infested with termites. Termite baits can also be effective, as can insect growth regulators.
In cases where termites have infested wood, getting rid of them requires tenting and deeply penetrating the wood with termite-specific fumigants. While targeting swarming termites may look effective, it ultimately does not kill the millions of worker termites that have already infested a wood structure.
For extensive termite infestations, contact a professional pest management company for assistance.
When termite infestations are severe, they can destroy a home’s structure in as little as 5-6 years. With this in mind, it’s essential to treat and eliminate termites at the first sign of infestation.
Termites crave moisture, warmth, and lots of available organic matter. They’ll establish themselves in areas with lots of water-damaged wood, so it’s important to be on the lookout for termite infestations if you’ve had any flooding or water intrusion in your home.
To knock down termites on contact, look for contact sprays containing Fipronil or similar substances.