Since the late 1980s, I have received an education about various aspects of pest control as the public relations counselor to the New Jersey Pest Management Association. Most people are unaware of how much damage pests do—particularly the ones that invade a home and settle in to eat parts of it.
“It’s an annual ritual of spring,” says my friend Leonard Douglen, the Executive Director of the NJPMA. “Along with the warm weather, thousands of homeowners will discover that they have been playing host to colonies of termites.”
“In the springtime the most visible evidence of a termite infestation are the winged “elates”, those termites whose job it is to start new colonies. This mating flight of hundreds and, in some cases, thousands, usually lasts from three to five days.”
Here’s a quick guide to what to do if you discover winged swarmers, usually gathering around windows as sunlight streams in. It is a guaranteed sign that the structure has a termite colony.
Estimates of the nationwide cost of the damage termites do every year range between five and six billion dollars.
“By far the Subterranean termite species pose the greatest problem,” says Douglen, “because they are the most difficult to control and their nest may be below ground.” There are several species of termites throughout the nation. In addition, there are Carpenter ants which also cause comparable damage.
The most visible sign of an infestation are the mud tunnels termites build to access a structure, often against a foundation or pier post, and frequently visible in basement void areas under porches and other parts of the home.
Homeowners are advised to eliminate any water leaks in the roof and other areas, and have the system of gutters inspected to ensure they are keeping water away from wooden surfaces. Crawl spaces in attics or basements should be kept dry through ventilation or vapor barriers. “It is essential to eliminate all wood-to-soil contact,” says Douglen, “and to avoid having mulch against the structure.”
Based on normal feeding activity, it can take from three to eight years for a termite colony to do serious damage to any structure. Experts believe that, under ideal conditions, a termite colony of 60,000 workers will consume one foot of a 2-inch by 4-inch pine word in 118 to 157 days. Termites eat wood, flooring, sheetrock, wallpaper, plastics, paper products, and fabric made of plant fibers.
“One of the best investments homeowners can make,” says Douglen, “is an annual termite inspection by a certified, trained pest management technician to identify such potential points of infestation.” The bad news is that a colony of hundreds of thousands of termites may operate in different locations throughout a structure.
Douglen notes that people sometimes think the swarming termite alates, the winged reproductive class, are winged ants because “ants and termite swarmers not only look similar, but they come out at the same time, either to expand their colonies or to start a new satellite one.” The termite swarmer is drawn to any light source such as a window or where the sun is shining on a wall. The usually drop their wings. “A termite has a straight body compared to an ant which has a pinched waist. The termite’s antennae are straight while ants have an elbowed antennae.”
Douglen recommends gathering a few samples of the winged insects and seal them in a plastic envelope such as a sandwich bag. Then call a pest control firm. “They will send a technician who has been trained to identify various insect species.”
© Alan Caruba, 2013