There are more than 2,000 species of termites. Only about 70 species are frequent enough invaders of human's wooden structures to be called pests. The most damaging are roughly 20 species we call “subterranean” termites because of their nesting and foraging habits.
Two of these, the Eastern Subterranean Termites and the Western Subterranean Termites, are by far the most common, widest distributed and most damaging in the U.S. The following description of biology refers to these two closely-related species. Termites feed on cellulose, a complex chemical in plant cell walls, and they are very important in the natural decomposition of fallen trees, leaves and other plant products. Subterranean termites build their nests in the soil or in the sides of trees or poles, and they rely mainly on the soil for their source of moisture.
A subterranean termite colony is large (60,000 to 1.5 million termites), and made up of several “castes”, each with distinct functions and behaviors. These include reproductives (the queen, king, and winged swarmers), soldiers and workers. Worker termites are small (0.1-0.25 in. long), creamy-white insects. Soldiers are larger (0.2-0.4 in. long), about 1/20th as numerous as workers, and have a large, dark head, with long, strong, sharp-pointed jaws which they use to attack intruders. Property owners seldom see the worker or soldier termites, but in the spring or fall they may see swarming “winged reproductives”. This form of termite can easily be confused with a winged ant unless you look closely.
- All termites have a “thick waist” where their abdomen is joined to their middle body region (thorax); but all ants have a “pinched-in waist” at that point.
- All termites have antennae that look like a “string of beads”: but all ants have distinctly “elbowed” antennae.
- Termite “swarmers” have two pairs of long, narrow wings with few clearly visible veins; both the front and back pair of wings are nearly equal in size and length. Winged ants have two pairs of wings with several distinct cross veins, shaped like long triangles, and the back pair is much shorter than the front pair.
There are several things you can do as a home owner to help prevent or avoid termite infestations including:
Stack all firewood, lumber or other wooden items several feet away from your building.
Keep all wood supports of porches, patios, decks, or separate buildings more than one foot from contact with your homes foundation; and use only pressure treated wood for all construction which contacts the ground. Even treated wood has a limited protection period.
Move all wood-containing mulch (even cedar or redwood) and decorative wood chips at least one foot away from your foundation. Sand and stones can be just as attractive and they discourage pest (including termite) harborage next to your building.
Repair any leaking water lines or fixtures, especially any that wet any wooden parts of your house.
Repair any eaves, downsprouts, gables, or shingles which allow wooden parts of your house to get wet even occasionally.
Monitor moisture levels and take steps to reduce moisture build-up in any crawl spaces.
Relocate any frequently watered garden or flower bed as far away from your homes perimeter as you can.
Change your outdoor light from “white” to some yellow or pale amber, especially during the spring, to reduce attraction of any night swarming termites near your house.
This is the time of year when many creatures normally found outdoors come in to spend the winter. They like the warmth and often help themselves to foods stored in our pantry such as boxes or bags of cornmeal, nuts, cereals, or dry pet food. They also may chew holes through walls, boxes, and sometimes electric wiring.
These furry little creatures can be a lot more than just a nuisance. Several wild rodents which come into homes in the autumn or winter spread strains of Hantavirus which sometimes kill people. The biggest source of this virus is the very wide spread, yet harmless looking Deer Mouse. Wild and domestic rodents have been reported to harbor and spread as many as 200 human diseases.
You can help prevent these problems with the following steps:
- Cleaning up thoroughly and often any spilled food, garbage, pet food or grain which might attract rodents. Don't forget those fall decorations hung on doors or walls, and don't leave food or water in a pets dish overnight.
- Keep all garbage in tightly-closed, metal cans, and keep the cans and area around them clean as well.
- Clean up and remove all trash and rubbish, especially near your buildings.
- Be sure all outside doors, windows and vents fit snugly, with no gaps, and are kept closed, especially at night. A mouse needs only a 3/8-inch crack or hole to get inside.
- Seal up any hole or crack in the outside of any building that is big enough for a rodent to enter. Pay special attention to places where wires, pipes, or other utility lines enter a building.
- Keep plants and shrubs trimmed back at least 12 inches from the outer surface of any building. These can provide rodents food, shelter, and an easy way up to higher entry points. Rodents climb very well.
- In urban settings, trim back or remove any extensive plantings of low-growing shrubs, especially Taxus or Junipers. Norway rats have a strong tendency to establish extensive outdoor burrows under these two types of shrubs.