Types of Termites

Subterranean termites live in colonies in the soil. They require moisture from the soil to survive, and can tunnel hundreds of feet to reach feeding sites. To reach food above ground, they build mud tubes to protect them from exposure to light, air and enemies.

Found coast to coast throughout the southern regions of the U.S., Drywood termites live inside dry wood. Their colonies can be dispersed within your home and can spread, infesting more than one area.

Formosan termites are a more aggressive species of Subterranean termites that can establish secondary nests above ground.

Termite Identification

Termites are insects. There are over 45 different species of termites found in the United States.

Like other insects, termites are “cold-blooded,” meaning termites live and forage in the soil at a temperature comfortable for them and will not be found where the temperatures are too cold or too hot. During the winter, in northern areas of the U.S., termites cannot cross a frost barrier to forage at the soil surface but may be active deeper in the soil. When temperatures warm in the spring and summer, termites will be found near the soil surface.

by University of Nebraska, Department of Entomology


Quick Inspection Guide

What do I need?
Flat bladed screwdriver

What are the signs of termites?
Shed termite wings and dead swarmer termites
Termite mud tubes
Termite damage

by University of Nebraska, Department of Entomology


Termite Inspection Resources

Termite Swarming

A swarm is an indicator that a termite colony is present and a termite inspection should be scheduled.

Every year between January and July, termites swarm different areas of the country. They start in Florida and work there way up. During these first few months termites are active. But between the months of March to mid June these insects come out in severe swarms. All states are affected to an extent but the farthest northern states like north and South Dakota and Wisconsin do not have any severe swarming. These swarms can be determined by hot weather and rainfall in each individual area.


Detecting Termites

subterranean termite colony

termite mud tubes

subterranean termite workers

termite hardboard/siding damage

Termites try to stay hidden. Everything they do hides their existence.

Essential items needed to do an inspection are a bright flashlight; a flat-bladed screwdriver; a pencil, clipboard, graph paper and a tape measure. The flashlight allows the inspector to examine all the “nooks and crannies” where termites hide. The screwdriver is used for probing (more later on this). The other items are for constructing an accurate scale drawing of the house. Additional a moisture meter can detect high moisture inside walls without opening the wall. High moisture is a good indication of termite activity.

Inspection Targets - The inspector is primarily looking for two things: live termites and signs of termites. If any of these are spotted, we suggest hiring a professional inspector to assure nothing is overlooked. Live termites are sometimes spotted outdoors when soil is disturbed around wood that touches or penetrates into the soil. The other time you may see live termites is during swarming

There are three main signs of termites that can be seen during an inspection: shed termite wings and/or dead swarmer termites, termite mud tubes and termite damage. During the swarming season, termites shed their wings.

These wings become very important as an indicator of termites. The wings can be anywhere (inside or outside), but a good place to start looking is in window sills. The wings/dead swarmer termites will also sometimes fall into spider webs.

Termite Damage - Can be either inactive or active. It often takes an experienced inspector to tell the difference.
Termites can damage softwood and hardwood lumber products, masonite paneling, composition siding and other construction materials within a house. They can also damage such cellulose materials as books, paper, cardboard, wallpaper and the paper covering on drywall. The wood or cellulose that has been infested with termites is usually damp and invaded by fungi. Termites feed in the larger, softer areas of the wood first (between the tree growth rings of the wood). The resulting damage appears “lattice-like.” As the wood is eaten, the empty spaces are replaced with soil.

Probing and Sounding:: Tapping wood by hitting with the blunt end of the screwdriver (sounding) is another technique used. Sounding will tell you where the wood may have been damaged. The inspector will hear a hollow or dull sound indicating possible hidden termite damage.

Where to look for damage: The most commonly infested areas in homes are exterior walls, areas near cracked foundations/slabs, sill plates and joists, walls common with garages/additions and areas near porches. However, if there is a problem that creates a buildup of moisture, like a plumbing leak or leaky roof, the termites may gravitate toward these areas.

by University of Nebraska, Department of Entomology

Signs of Termites

Wood Damage
The pattern in which subterranean termites feed on a piece of wood is hard to miss. These cellulose-loving insects can leave nothing behind but the wood grain. However, termite damage is usually hidden, due to the insects’ habit of eating the wood from the inside out.

Discarded Wings
Even if you miss an exterior termite swarm, it may not be difficult to see that it took place. Soon after swarmers take flight, they shed their wings, leaving small piles of wings behind in spider webs and on surfaces around the home’s foundation.

Termite Swarmers
Swarmers from mature colonies typically spread their wings and leave their colonies in the springtime in order to start new colonies. Swarms on the exterior of a home may be missed by homeowners, as they are typically brief events during the morning or afternoon — a time when many of people are not at home. Formosan termites can also swarm at dusk.

Mud Tubes
Subterranean termites build mud tubes (also known as shelter tubes) to serve as bridges between their colony and the wood they are feasting on. These tubes are made of tiny pieces of soil, wood and debris, and are used to protect the colony from predators and conserve moisture.

Termite Mounds
While termites in the United States cause billions of dollars in damage every year, no North American termite species is known to build mounds. Termites that construct their colonies above ground live primarily in Africa and Australia.

Termite Droppings
Because termites don’t have the luxury of indoor plumbing, drywood termites often leave behind frass or droppings. These tiny fecal mounds often mean the wood above is infested with termites.

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