Kentucky termite season has started! To help homeowners cope with this growing problem, this article provides basic information on termite biology and control. However, this article is intended to serve as a quick guide to answering the most common questions / concerns. For more information, see University of Kentucky Entfacts on Termites (Entfact-605, Entfact-604, Entfact-639).
Termites are small, soft social insects that feed on wood. They are found almost anywhere wood is available and are an important part of most ecosystems as they help remove dead wood from forests. However, termites quickly become a problem when they invade our homes and structures.
Termites cause billions of dollars in damage each year, and if identified in homes, they should be a cause for concern. Not only can their damage be costly, it can impact real estate transactions and put people in incredibly stressful situations (which is worse than thousands of unidentified bugs flying around your home!).
Between March and May (depending on temperature and rainfall), winged termites (known as “swarmers”) appear in homes. In nature, hawks are used to disperse and reproduce, but when they appear indoors they get trapped and are a major nuisance to homeowners. While hawkmoths found indoors pose no risk to homeowners (they cannot eat wood), they do indicate an infestation is present.
Signs of infestation
The presence of swarmers indoors almost always indicates an infestation is present and treatment is needed. Additionally, termite swarmers emerging from the base of a foundation wall or adjacent structure require further investigation and possible treatment. However, termites are ubiquitous in residential areas, and their presence outside of homes is not always a cause for concern.
Termite swarmers are also often confused with winged ants, which can swarm at the same time of year. Termites can be distinguished by their straight antennae, regular waist, and equally sized wings. (Ants have curved antennae, narrowed waists, and fore wings that are longer than the hind wings).
Other signs of infestation include earthen (mud) pipes that extend over foundation walls, buttresses, rocker panels, etc. The mud pipes are typically the diameter of a pencil but can sometimes be thicker. Termites build these tubes for protection as they move between their underground colonies and the structure.
To determine whether an infestation is active, the tubes can be broken open and checked for the presence of small, creamy-white worker termites. If a tube is free, it does not necessarily mean that the infestation is inactive. Termites often leave sections of pipe while searching elsewhere in the structure. Termite-damaged wood is usually hollowed out along the grain, with pieces of dried mud or soil lining the feed galleries. Wood that has been damaged by moisture or other types of insects (such as carpenter ants) does not look like this.
Occasionally termites bored tiny holes through plaster of paris or drywall, accompanied by pieces of earth along the edge. Wavy or sunken tracks behind the wall cladding can also indicate termites tunneling underneath.
Unfortunately, there is often no visible evidence that the home is infested. Termites are cryptic creatures and the infestation can go undetected for years, hiding behind walls, flooring, insulation, and other obstacles. It is therefore important that the signs listed above are not overlooked and that trained professionals are consulted to confirm an infestation.
Once termites have been identified in a structure, a professional pest control company should be consulted. While some pests can be effectively controlled by homeowners, termites require special skills and equipment that most households do not have. We therefore strongly recommend leaving termites to the professionals.
Treatment options are generally divided into two categories: (1) fluid barrier treatments and (2) bait. Liquid barrier treatments are applied into the soil surrounding the structure. The main idea is to create a non-repellent zone that will kill termites tunneling through the treated soil (e.g. when entering or exiting the structure).
Baits work by placing an insecticide-treated cellulose-based substrate in a cylindrical container in the ground that surrounds the building. Termites forage in the houses and when they hit the bait they begin to eat and share that food with the colony. Once consumed, the baits slowly begin to kill termites.
Both treatments are usually effective, but the decision on which to use is best with the pest control company and the homeowner. Whichever method is chosen, it is important to have an experienced technician backed by a responsible pest control company. It’s important to note that all treatments need time to work so the problem doesn’t go away overnight.
Because of the cost of termite treatment, homeowners often ask if “partial” or “spot” treatments can be performed. While these are appealing, they are a great gamble for homeowners. Termite colonies often number in the hundreds of thousands and we can only see a fraction of the population. Hence, signs of termite infestation are observed, which usually indicate a larger termite problem, meaning that point treatments are unlikely to be effective. In addition, these treatments are generally not guaranteed, which means that future problems are the responsibility of the homeowner.
Finally, note that registered termiticides do not pose a significant hazard to humans, pets, or the environment when used as directed on the label. However, if you have any concerns, contact your pest control provider to determine the best course of action.
How to Pick a Good Pest Control Company
Termite treatments are often expensive; Hence, it is important that homeowners take the time to choose a business. Time is rarely an issue as termite damage progresses slowly, which means it could take homeowners weeks (even a month or more) to make a decision with little increased risk to the structure. It is recommended that homeowners get at least a few quotes so they can compare costs and treatment options. Often times, companies have different approaches to treatment, which will benefit homeowners hearing and comparing them. Some things to consider when choosing a pest control company:
Call: How long has the company been around and how have you worked for other customers?
Experience: How many termite jobs has the technician done and what is their success rate?
Licensed and insured: The company was due to obtain a license from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture to operate a pest control business in the state of Kentucky. In addition, the company should insure all pest control measures.
Pest Control Association Membership: Are you a member of the Kentucky Pest Management Association or the National Pest Management Association? Both provide ample training resources and indicate that the company is an established business that has access to the technical and training information necessary to properly complete the task.
Guarantee services Agreement: does the company guarantee its work and does it offer an annual renewal of the service?
Ask Lots of Questions: This is a great way to get knowledge of the company offering the treatment.
Termites are a challenging pest to say the least. However, with the excellent termite control products currently available, an experienced technician should have little or no problem controlling the infestation.
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