Termites may be beneficial in the wild, but in your home, they're a silent, yet deadly killer of wooden structures and paper products. According to the LSU College of Agriculture, termites contribute to over $2 billion in damage to buildings each year. Add on the fact that termite damage isn't covered by your homeowner's insurance, and you'll understand why you'd want to detect an infestation sooner rather than later.
Discarded Wings as a Calling Card
When young winged male and female termites (also known as swarmers) arrive at a new location, they'll often start chewing their way through the bases of window sills and near doorways, discarding their wings in the process. Seeing a bunch of wings near a window or entryway could be the first outward sign of a termite infestation.
Mud Tubes and Wood Damage
Mud tubes are a common sight among structures damaged by subterranean termites. Although the termites spend much of their time underground, they'll typically feed on the wood above. Subterranean termites usually keep these tunnels covered with mud to retain moisture as they travel back and forth.
Another potential sign of termite infestation is the presence of cracked or distorted paint on the wood's surface. If you see your home's paint finish coming apart in one particular area, it could mean there's a termite infestation in progress.
For highly destructive insects, subterranean termites have rather picky tastes. These termites only dine on softwood, leaving the hardwood portion behind. In addition, subterranean termites also tend to feed along the grain, whereas their drywood counterparts happily dine against the grain.
Knock on Wood
Termites prefer to carry out their business under the cover of darkness and humidity, meaning that they seldom stick their heads out of their wooden or mud tunnels. As a result, a wooden wall that's been severely damaged by termite infestation might look fine on outside, but it could be destroyed on inside.
You can see for yourself by tapping on the surface of the wood. If it happens to sound hollow as you tap, then chances are you're dealing with an advanced termite infestation that needs to be taken care of right away.
Is It Really a Termite?
Of course, seeing live termites is a definite sign of a possible infestation. But can you really be sure that it's a termite you're looking at?
Termites and flying ants are often mistaken for one another – they have wings (in most cases), tend to swarm and look similar to each other at first glance. However, there are a couple of defining characteristics that help separate termites from their flying ant look-alikes:
- Winged termites feature a straight antennae, straight abdomen and wings that are equal in size to one another. Flying ants have an hourglass-shaped waist, crooked antennae and two sets of wings, with the top set of wings being larger than the bottom set.
- While flying ants are known for swarming at various times of the year, termites only tend to swarm during the springtime.
- Many termite species have very large mandibles for chewing through soft wood, whereas the mandibles on a typical flying ant are usually smaller.
Understanding the difference between termites and flying ants can help you intercept termite swarmers before they settle in and establish colonies within your home's wooden structure. It'll also help you avoid false categorization that could prove expensive when the exterminator arrives.
Once you've seen the initial signs of a possible termite infestation, it's a good idea to have it confirmed by your exterminator. Afterwards, your exterminator can sit down with you and discuss a possible plan of action to get rid of these destructive pests and keep them from coming back.
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