The word termite strikes fear into most homeowners, conjuring up visions of millions of insects gobbling up homes. In actuality water causes far more damage to property but it is wise to understand and protect against termite infestations as they can cause substantial and costly damage to your home.
Georgia is home to eastern subterranean termites. They are the most destructive of all the termite species found in the United States. Subterranean termites build their colonies in the ground and require moisture from the soil to live. They obtain nourishment from cellulose and most commonly feed on the cellulose found in wood, although they do consume paper products and even some living plants.
There is a saying here in Georgia: “If you don’t have termites now, you will at some point in the future.” Fortunately, if homeowners take the proper precautions risks associated with termites can be controlled.
Each colony consists of three types of termites: workers, soldiers, and breeders (which become queens). Adult workers and soldiers are similar in appearance. They are grayish white in color and do not have wings. Typically, both the workers and soldiers are about 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch long. Many people confuse breeders with flying ants. The best way to tell them apart is to note that ants have elbowed antennae, forewings that are larger than the rear wings, and a body with a constricted waist.
Soldiers: The soldier has a large rectangular yellow and brown heads with large jaws. It is the soldier’s job to guard the colony. Soldiers stay in the ground near the colony, so it would be rare to spot them.
Workers: A worker has a rounded head that is also yellowish-brown. The workers are the most numerous members of a colony and they are the only members of the colongy that feed on wood, causing damage to homes. The workers are either in the ground or found or in the wood where they feed.
Breeders: A breeder is usually black or yellowish-brown. They have two pairs of equal length wings that are smoky gray to brown in color. Their total body length is just under 1/2 inch.
Signs of Infestation
Georgia termites are subterranean, which makes them difficult to detect. Breeders are the only ones seen above ground.
Swarms: Homeowners should pay particular attention in the months of March, April, May, and June for swarms of adult breeders. Occasionally they will swarm in September and October. Emergence from the ground is stimulated by favorable temperature and moisture levels. Often they will swarm on a warm day following rainfall. A swarm will not last long, sometimes only a few hours. Since their wings are fragile, you can sometimes detect a swarm (after the fact) by observing wings laying on the ground. If wings are seen in the yard, it does not mean you have termites in your home, however it is an indication that there is a colony in the area.
Jeff’s Note: If you find these wings inside or see a swarm in your home — you definitely have a termite infestation and should call a termite company immediately!
Mud Tunnels: If you break apart infested wood you may see the workers or obvious sign of their presence. However, before you start tearing into the wood that comprises your home, there is a less intrusive way to search for signs of infestation. Since the termites must have moisture to live, they will carry moist dirt up into the wood as they eat. They avoid sunlight so they build mud tunnels from the ground to their entry point into your home. This is why there should be 6 to 8 inches of clearance from the ground to the home’s siding. Mud tunnels are easy to identify.
You should check around the perimeter of your home, in any crawl space areas, up the inside walls of your basement, and on any wood structure around the home for these signs. It will take months for termites to cause structrual damage to your home, but you should call a qualitied exterminator immediately if you see any signs of infestation. Termites may have been present for quite some time before detection.
Interior Tests and Indications: Inside the home, pay close attention to wood trim and wallboard. If the wallboard shows signs of pinholes or dents that look like veins running under the paint, you may have termites.
Tap on wood trim in your home with a screwdriver. If you hear a hollow sound, or if the wood seems spongy or soft, you may have an issue that needs to be addressed. Be aware that soft wood may also be caused by water. If you see mud inside the damaged wood, this indicates that termites caused the damage. Soft wood without any mud present is probably dry rot. Either way, you need to address the problem.