Guide to Termites

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What are Termites?

Termites, also sometimes known as 'white ants', are social insects that build nests, live in large colonies and consist of over 2500 species. They are most commonly known to feed on dead or decaying organic matter such as soil, wood and crop residue, although termites have also been accused of munching on money!

Termites are blind, soft-bodied insects, usually white or light brown in color. They have a merged thorax and abdomen so that there's no space in between. Their antennae have ridges along them. Some termite species have wings, although they cannot fly for a long duration.

Even though they are typically compared with ants, they originate from a completely different species than ants.

Termites are often classified as pests; however it is important to note that from the 2500 species, only 300 are known to cause destruction to crops, forests, wooden houses and wooden furniture - the rest are crucial contributors in maintaining the ecosystem. However, before any form of termite control can be carried out, it's important to understand termite colonies, the different types of termites and causes of infestation.

Termite terminology: Dr. Don's site provides a comprehensive A-Z database of all the terms related to termites that you've ever wanted to know.

Australian Museum - Termites: The Australian Museum provides some great general information about termites, their mating habits, their social colonies, and pictures of termites and their mounds.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum: About 40 species of termites reside in the Sonoran Desert and this site gives you the breakdown of that species, complete with their ecology and social behaviour characteristics.

Colorado State termite Factsheet: Colorado State University provides an interesting table of comparison (also available as a downloadable PDF) between a termite and an ant!

Dave's Garden: Ant or termite? If you're having trouble telling the difference between a winged ant and a winged termite, this site lays down the differences for you.

Pestworld for Kids: Download their very informative pest info-sheets in PDF form. Even though originally developed for kids, these fact sheets are great for knowing all sorts of termite-related facts at-a-glance. If you teach an educational class these sheets would look great printed and hung on the walls of a classroom.

Termite Colonies

Termites have a well-defined cast system within their social colony. At the head of the colony are the king and queen. Under these royal figures are the worker termites - sterile male and female termites. Finally at the bottom of the colony are the nymphs - baby termites in various stages of development. Nymphs undergo a process called incomplete metamorphosis - the systemic shedding of outer skin.

In parallel to the worker termites are the 'alates' winged reproductive termites that typically migrate from their colony to set up a new colony. A termite queen can lay tens of thousands of eggs per day, thus allowing for a new colony to expand and grow exponentially. The role of the termite king is to continue mating with the queen so that the latter is able to continue producing eggs.

While termite colonies can reach into the millions, they are still small as compared to ant colonies. Another unique characteristic of termite colonies are their unique mounds termites build these elaborate sand structures typically above the underground nest. The mound provides multiple ventilation shafts to the nest through a series of elaborate tunnels.

Termite Web: Termite Web is a one-stop site with information as diverse as termite nests, colonies and species to how termites rebuild their mounds after nest damage.

Termite Institute: The Termite Institute is geared to educating homeowners about what to look for in a termite infestation, bug forecasts according to region, and what to look for after a natural disaster like hurricanes or floods.

Types of Termite Species

The most typical termites that cause damage to the home and wood are classified as Subterranean, Drywood, Formosan and Dampwood termites.

Subterranean termites, as their name suggests, live underground and consume soft pliable wood. Wood damage created by these termites often resembles a honeycomb in appearance.

Drywood termites live in dry wood, do not need a lot of moisture to survive and can live off the moisture in wood for a long time. Termite-damaged wood by this species appears very smooth in appearance.

Formoson termites typically live in larger colonies thereby causing more wood damage due to their sheer numbers. They prefer to retain the moisture in wood by forming storage nests within the wood they damage.

Dampwood termites can typically be found on wood which maintains surface contact with moisture.

Termites 101: This website, created by the Consumer Education Council, helps homeowners understand how to prevent, reduce and treat termite infestations in their homes. It includes hot spots in your homes where termites are likely to be found and warning signs so you can start treatment early. It also includes links to termite exterminators by State.

Termite Inspection

It is a good idea to have a thorough termite inspection conducted in a house prior to purchase. Often homeowners looking to sell their property also have termite inspections conducted to make a better sale by providing an all-clear certificate from a termite inspector.

A termite inspector will typically look at the external and internal structure of the house or building and examine it for visible signs of termite damage, such as termite tubes, actual live termites or damaged wood.

Termite inspectors will also typically provide information on to prevent further termite damage.

Terminix: Provides real time data and maps about termite swarms and pest activity across the United States. Use their data to determine if you live in an area of imminent termite infestation.

Pestworld: The official page of the National Pest Management Association, provides termite-related FAQs, guides and prevention tips.

Preventing and Controlling a Termite Infestation

Termite infestations typically start in spring when the temperatures are suitable for new termite colonies to start and termites are looking for new places to inhabit.

Signs of termite infestations typically include visible damage to wood and wood surfaces, termite tubes found along structures and live termites. It is best not to perform a termite inspection yourself unless you are intimately familiar with the types of termite species and can accurately diagnose the damage and determine corrective procedures. When hiring a termite pest control company, be sure to hire experienced professionals and remember that the decision does not need to be taken immediately the rate of termite infestations is very slow will not be affected by a few days or even a few weeks.

Termite Control: Their guide gives a lot of information on the 'best ways to defend your home against infestations'. They also have a learning center where you can read articles on topics ranging from identifying termite species to blocking termites with sand!

Subterranean Termite Treatment Options: Virginia Tech's website provides some very comprehensive information on the different kinds of chemical treatment options for termite pest control as well as a useful cheat sheet for subterranean termite treatment. You can even download this document as a PDF from their site.

HUD Reference Guide to Pest Control: The official HUD guide explains the pest-control forms needed during a property's appraisal. Builders can even download a Subterranean Termite Protection Builder's Guarantee form from this site to use during their inspections.

Chemical Termite Treatments for Homeowners

Termite Control for Homeowners: This site, maintained by the College of Agriculture at University of Kentucky, provides valuable information for homeowners looking to solve their termite problems. It includes pictures, common questions and a comprehensive downloadable guide for termite baiting.

Termite Problems Found During Home Inspections: US Inspect is a termite inspection company which lists the types of common chemical treatments performed to get rid of termite infestations inside a home. They also have information on other household pests so if you have more than just a termite problem, check out this resource.

DIY Pest Control Tips: For those willing to do it themselves, this website provides some handy tips for the handyman in you from how to spot a termite infestation to which chemicals to use and when.

Non-Chemical Termite Control

How to Control Termites without Chemicals: This site maintained by the HDRA-the Organic Organization, mainly focuses on eliminating termite infestation in crops and plants and using non-chemicals means to destroy termites without damaging the crops. It also has a handy table to determine which parts of which trees are resistant to termite damage and hence don't need to be treated.

National Geographic: Looking for an innovative non-chemical organic termite control substance? Look no further because the answer might reside in your sugar jar! This news item by NatGeo explains how sugar weakens the termites' immune system and can be used as effective pest control.

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