Termite Inspection Articles

Beating Insects to the Punch


A MOSQUITO in the bedroom is usually just a nuisance, but other insects can cause serious damage to the house itself. “Termites are the first thing that comes to mind when you think of wood-destroying bugs,” said Michael F. Potter, a professor of urban entomology at the University of Kentucky.

They also cause the most damage. “They like to eat wood,” Dr. Potter said, “and they don’t differentiate between the wood outside and the wood in your house.”

The most obvious sign of termite infestation in a home, Dr. Potter said, is evidence of swarming indoors. In early spring, reproductive termites emerge from an underground nest, which can contain hundreds of thousands of insects. They fly around, land, discard their wings, mate and crawl back into the soil.

“Seeing winged termites inside almost always indicates an infestation,” Dr. Potter said. Other signs are mud tunnels, pencil-size brown tubes that termites use as highways from the nest to their food.

The tubes can extend up foundation walls and support piers and across beams and floor joists. Since termites eat wood from the inside out, infested wood may look fine, but poking with a screwdriver or awl near a mud tube may reveal hollowed-out areas.

Carpenter ants — usually black and a quarter to a half inch long — can also pose a hazard. Because they also swarm, they are often mistaken for termites. But carpenter ants have a narrow, pinched waist, bent antennae and front wings that are longer than the back wings. In contrast, termites are the same width end to end, have straight antennae and four equal-size wings.

Powder-post beetles also damage wood. Some prefer hardwoods, making them more likely to damage flooring, molding and furniture. Others damage softwood, too. Signs of infestation are small round holes, ranging in size from a pinhead to a BB, with fine, flourlike wood powder coming out of them.

“These are exit holes,” Dr. Potter said. The adult beetle lays eggs on the wood, the hatched larvae bore into the wood, mature and then chew their way back out. “In most cases, powder-post infestations occur in wood that contained eggs or larvae at the time it was installed,” Dr. Potter said.

Carpenter bees also bore round holes, which they use as nests. The holes are about the size of a finger and are usually in unpainted or weathered softwood. “The damage they can cause after years of nesting can be considerable,” Dr. Potter said.

Carpenter ants can be controlled with prepackaged baits that are easy to use and effective. Place the baits next to whatever ant trails you see.


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