The word termite can be terrifying to the ears of a homeowner. Subterranean termites and dry wood termites are the two species that cause problems for households around Southern California. Knowing the signs of a termite infestation can help you decide when it’s time to start worrying and call an exterminator.
The Feeding Habits of Termites
We all know that termites feed on wood, but it’s not as simple as that. Termites are actually feeding on the cellulose found in wood, which serves as a high source of energy for both plants and insects like termites.
- Subterranean termites feed on cellulose that’s present in the soil.
- Grass-eating termites feed on the cellulose in dying grass.
- Dry wood termites most easily digest the cellulose found in decaying wood.
Dry wood and subterranean termites are the types that cause the most problems for homeowners because they will literally feed on your home and the soil that it rests on.
Signs of Termites
Tubes and tunnels: Termites are sensitive creatures that require moisture and cool temperatures to survive. They often build tunnels just above the ground’s surface to protect themselves from heat, dry conditions, and predators. These tunnels, also called shelter tubes, are made from a mix of soil, plant matter, saliva, and feces.
Tunnels and tubes that cover surfaces, including the sides of your house, are one big sign that you have termites. Subterranean termites are the termite species most likely to leave shelter tubes around properties. Look for them on the ground, on the trunks of live trees, and on logs and stumps around your property before they move on to your home’s exterior walls.
Frass: When termites eat wood they ingest the cellulose and eliminate the byproduct, a sawdust-like substance called frass. Frass refers to any insect waste that’s created from eating plants. Although frass is a waste product, it is very high in nutrients and can support the life system of a termite colony inside the nest and/or when other sources of food are unavailable.
If you have termites present on your property, you may find piles of frass that look like fine piles of sawdust. What you’re seeing is essentially termite poop: bits of chewed up wood that are moist and slightly sticky. Dry wood termites are the most likely species to leave frass piles around your home.
Like shelter tubes, you can see frass piles around your property as a sign that termites are in the area. Look around wood piles, stumps, standing dead trees, fallen trunks, and structures such as old sheds that may be around your property.
Termites go for decaying wood first, so if the siding of your home is in good shape you may be safe while termites exhaust other sources of food first. Looking for signs of termites early can help stop them before they get to your house.
Structural damage: Termites keep themselves well hidden in order to survive, and in many cases they are not detected until the damage to your home is already done. Termites will visibly damage your home’s exterior siding first, but by the time you notice it they may have already made their way inside. Once indoors termites will eat nearly any plant-based household material containing cellulose (even some plastics!).
Check your home’s exterior weekly for signs of termite damage. Remember that they prefer decaying wood, so if you have untreated or damaged wood anywhere on your home, especially close to the ground, they will begin feeding on these areas first. Fixing or replacing raw or decaying wood can help save your home from becoming termite food.
Ways to Prevent Termites
Termites mate and migrate during their winged phase. During this time they’re living off stored energy and aren’t interested in eating. The young termites that hatch in spring develop wings and migrate to a new location where they mate, shed their wings, and begin building a nest in which the queens will lay eggs and the new colony will take shelter.
Removing dead and decaying sources of wood from your property will send migrating termites on their way to set up camp in a place with better sources of food to support the colony. Dead stumps are a primary source of food for termites in residential areas, so removing these from your property completely and encouraging your neighbors to do the same can keep termite populations down.
Making sure the wood on your house is primed, painted, and properly sealed is another way to deter termites from your home. If you have a wood-burning stove and a wood pile, keep the pile away from your house and burn properly seasoned wood, not old, decaying, or rotten wood.
Photo Credit: bgv23