The three principal
types of termites in Florida are subterranean (nest in the soil),
dampwood (infest damp wood), and drywood termites (infest dry wood).
Subterranean termites (Figure
1) are the
most destructive and frequently encountered kind of termite found
throughout the state. Although they nest in soil, subterranean termites
can attack structures by building tubes that connect their nest to wood
in structures. Aerial nests can occur without a ground connection if
all castes of the colony are present and moisture is available.
Figure 1. Eastern
termites are social insects that live in colonies consisting of many
individuals. The colonies are composed of workers, soldiers and
workers, which are about 1/8 inch long, have no wings, are white to
cream colored and very numerous. Soldiers defend the colony against
insects, like ants, that can attack the colony. Soldiers are wingless
and white in color with large brown heads and mandibles (jaws). King
and queen termites perform the reproductive functions of the colony.
They are dark brown to black in color and have two pairs of wings about
twice the length of their body. See Figure
3 for the
termite life cycle.
Figure 2. Castes
of termite from top left, right and bottom; worker, soldier, and winged
Figure 3. Termite
termites feed on wood or other items that contain cellulose, such as
paper, fiberboard, and some fabrics derived from cotton or plant
fibers. Termites have protozoa in their digestive tracts that can
convert cellulose into usable food.
termites nest in the soil to obtain moisture, but they also nest in
wood that is often wet. They easily attack any wood in contact with the
ground. If the wood does not contact the soil, they can build mud
tunnels or tubes to reach wood several feet above the ground. These
tunnels can extend for 50-60 feet to reach wood and often enter a
structure through expansion joints in concrete slabs or where utilities
enter the house.
Detection of Termites
hidden within wood and are often difficult to detect. However,
subterranean termites may be detected by the presence of winged
reproductives, mud tubes, and wood damage.
from colonies in great numbers usually in the spring and during the
daylight hours. Usually termites are first noticed by the presence of
winged reproductives. Mating occurs during these flights, and males and
females form new colonies. Winged termites can be distinguished from
flying ants by their thick-waist, straight antennae and wings of equal
size. See Figure 5.
Figure 4. Winged
reproductive subterranean termite.
Figure 5. Subterranean
termite (right) and winged ant (left) reproductive.
Termites have thick waists, straight antennae, and wings of equal size.
Large numbers of
winged termites in a house are an indication of probable infestation.
Termite wings break off shortly after their flight, and even though the
actual swarming is not observed, the presence of discarded wings
indicate that a colony is nearby. Because termites are attracted to
light, their broken-off wings are often near doors or windows where the
termites have been attracted to the light.
emerging from the ground out-of-doors near the house does not
necessarily mean the house is infested, but it is a good reason to
check further. Termites in the wood of homes or other buildings usually
come from colonies already established in the soil.
periods for subterranean termites are from January through May in
Florida. They may also swarm to a lesser extent during the other months.
termites build earthen, shelter tubes to protect them from low humidity
and predation (Figure
tubes are usually 1/4 to 1 inch wide. Houses should be inspected at
least once a year for evidence of tubes. If the house has a crawl
space, the inside and outside of foundations should be inspected for
tubes. If the house has a concrete slab floor, cracks in concrete
floors and places where pipes and utilities go through the slab should
be closely examined. Cracks in concrete foundations and open voids in
concrete block foundations are also hidden avenues of entry.
Figure 6. Mud
tubes connect the colony in soil with wood in structure.
Wood damaged by
subterranean termites is often not noticed because the exterior surface
usually must be removed to see the damage. However, galleries can be
detected by tapping the wood every few inches with the handle of a
screwdriver. Damaged wood sounds hollow, and the screwdriver may even
break through into the galleries.
termite feeding follows the grain of the wood and only the soft
springwood is attacked (Figure
drywood termites or other wood-boring insects, subterranean termites do
not push wood particles or pellets (fecal material) to the outside, but
rather use it in the construction of their tunnels. This debris, along
with sand and soil particles, is used as a form of plaster.
Figure 7. Wood
damage by subterranean termites. Usually damage is with the grain and
is covered with muddy material.
drywood termites require completely different control methods;
therefore, the termites must be correctly identified. Soldiers, winged
specimens or wings can be identified at your county extension office.
Workers and immatures are virtually impossible to identify. When
services of an experienced pest control operator are needed, contact at
least two or three reputable firms in your area for inspections and
estimates for treatment.
Subterranean Termite Prevention and Control
The best control of
subterranean termites is prevention. The best time to provide
protection against termites is during the planning and construction of
a building. Prevention should include:
- Removal of all
wood, and similar materials from the building site before construction
- Removal of all form
grade stakes used in construction.
- There should be no
between the building woodwork and the soil or fill. Exterior woodwork
should be located a minimum of 6 inches above ground and beams in crawl
spaces at least 18 inches above ground to provide ample space to make
foundations should be designed to prevent dead air pockets and of
sufficient size to assure frequent changes of air -- at least 2 sq. ft.
to 25 running feet of outside foundation wall. This helps keep the
ground dry and unfavorable for termites.
- Landscape plants
should not be placed within two feet of the foundation wall.
- Thorough annual
should be conducted to discover evidence of wood damage or termite
activity such as shelter tubes on foundation surfaces, discarded wings
or adult termites.
wood that contacts the
soil, such as fence posts, poles and general foundation structures,
should be commercially pressure treated, and should not be attached to
said that, it is not too late to get your home protected. By calling us
Pest Control you can be assured of professional assistance
using the latest in termite technology to safeguard your home.