Termite Inspection Articles

Your Home; Ending Invasions Of Termites


ACCORDING to some estimates, termites have been nibbling away at wood on the earth for at least 100 million years. For most of that time, of course, few complaints were registered.

As soon as people came along and started building homes out of wood, though, the relationship between humans and termites became decidedly antagonistic. The bugs would do everything they could to get inside people's houses and eat them, while the people would do everything they could do keep them out. In fact, pest control experts say, until relatively recently the primary strategy for dealing with termites was to create a chemical barrier around the house to act as a moat of sorts to keep termites at a respectable distance.

In recent years, however, pest control professionals have adopted a couple of new strategies for dealing with termites. In short, rather than merely repel the insects -- leaving them to regroup and fight another day -- they instead try to eliminate them. For good.

''Termites cause billions of dollars in damage each year,'' said Michael F. Potter, a professor of urban entomology at the University of Kentucky. ''They primarily feed on wood, but they may also damage paper, books, foam board insulation and even swimming pool liners and filtration systems. And oftentimes, there will be no sign of the termites themselves.''

Dr. Potter explained that in most cases, termite colonies -- which can contain hundreds of thousands of insects in interconnected subcolonies -- are underground, as many as a couple hundred feet from where the termites are feeding.

Worker termites travel through tunnels in search of food -- basically, anything made of cellulose will do -- and then return to the nest with their booty. If the termites encounter an obstacle -- a concrete foundation wall, for example -- they will construct pencilwide mud tubes on the surface so that the termites can travel inside the tubes without being exposed to the air. Once they hit wood, they start eating.

''Termite-damaged wood is usually hollowed out along the grain,'' Dr. Potter said, adding that termite feeding -- and the damage it causes -- can remain undetected even in wood that is exposed because the outer surface of the wood is usually left intact. ''An infestation can go undetected for years, hidden behind drywall, paneling, floor coverings, insulation and other obstructions,'' he said.

While termites do most of their work out of sight of the homeowner, there is a moment when some termites in a colony emerge from their hiding place to enjoy one brief shining moment in the sun.

''Spring is typically when large numbers of winged termites, known as swarmers, emerge,'' Dr. Potter said. ''Triggered by warmer temperatures and rainfall, the winged termites emerge from the colony and fly into the air. The swarmers then drop to the ground, shed their wings, pair off with a mate and attempt to begin a new colony.''

In most cases, he said, swarmers emerge outside. In some cases, however, a swarm might emerge in a living room. In either case, it is not necessary to witness an actual swarming to know one has occurred; discarded wings and some dead termites are the evidence.

''The discovery of winged termites inside a home almost always indicates an infestation warranting treatment,'' Dr. Potter said. ''And in most cases, ridding a home of termites is a job for a professional.'' (Termites can be differentiated from flying ants, which are usually less of a problem, by their appearance. While flying ants have constricted waists, elbowed antennae and fore-wings that are longer than the hind wings, termites have uniform waists, straight antennae and four wings of equal size.)

The most common method for dealing with termites, Dr. Potter said, involves injecting a chemical in the soil around the house, drilling through concrete where necessary. The substance injected -- called a termiticide -- provides a chemical barrier around the structure, which repels termites.

Over the past several years, however, two new methods have emerged for dealing with termites. One involves the use of nonrepellent but lethal chemicals that allow the termites to dig through the treated soil, ingesting the substance and ultimately transporting it on their bodies to other termites.


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