It's that time of year when, unfortunately, some homeowners notice termites around their home. It is the winged termites that are often first noticed flying around the house on warm & sunny spring days. The mere thought of termites causes some people to "panic". And while it is true that these insects can become quite destructive, it is important to realize that structural damage occurs very slowly. A mature colony of termites will only eat about one-fifth of an ounce of wood per day.
The eastern subterranean termite is the most common and troublesome termite in Kansas. This species requires warm air and moisture for its survival. They accomplish this by maintaining contact with the soil. Termites use the soil to construct tunnels and mud tubes.
What should you do if you think you might have termites? Well, the first step is to identify the pests and make sure that they actually are termites. Winged termites are often confused with winged ants. However, they can be easily distinguished from winged ants by looking at their antennae, "waists" and wings.
Winged termites have straight antennae, thick "waists" and four long fragile wings of equal size. Winged ants have bent antennae, narrow "waists" and two forewings that are larger than two rear wings.
Termite workers are creamy-white, wingless, eyeless insects and are the most numerous in the colony. The workers feed on the soft grain of wood, therefore causing structural damage. Soldier termites look very similar to workers but they have large, elongate, brown heads that are equipped with two large jaws. Soldiers defend the colony against predators, such as ants.
Winged reproductives (swarmers) are the termites that are most often discovered by homeowners in the spring. Swarmers have dark-colored, flattened bodies, large eyes, and two pairs of long narrow wings.
The following symptoms may indicate an infestation of termites:
-Winged adults (swarmers) emerge and crawl, or fly, around the area in large numbers.
-If the swarmers emerge inside, they will be attracted to light and their broken-off wings may be found near windows or doors.
-Presence of mud shelter tubes built between the soil and the wooden structure. These tubes might be found in crawl spaces, in concrete floor cracks, inside or outside foundations, holes where pipe and ducts go through the slab, etc. Mud tubes are often full of workers.
-Presence of mud-filled joints in wood framing, paneling and trim in finished parts of the structure.
-Damaged wood is often undetected. Probe any wood near the foundation with an ice pick, or similar tool. Should the wood break, or be soft and easily punctured, check the galleries which may contain soil and insect excrement. Termites are not always present in the galleries.
In most cases, once a termite infestation has occurred, control measures are best accomplished by a professional pest control operator. There are chemicals available for homeowners to use to treat termites. However, proper treatment usually requires special equipment that most of us do not have. Improper application may contaminate the environment and/or your home, waste your money and time and not control the termites.
Page 2 of 2 - If you do discover an infestation - DON'T PANIC. These insects work slowly and your house will not be ruined or collapse overnight. Never permit yourself to be rushed into purchasing termite control services. Any additional damage done in a few weeks or so will make very little difference. There is always time to purchase termite control wisely and at your convenience.
For more information feel free to contact Wildcat Extension District agent Scott Gordon in Independence by calling (620) 331- 2690.