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A Closer Look At Termites In The Home

termites near a home

One of the most prized accomplishments of every family is the acquisition of a new home. Part of the American dream includes ownership of your own house. Newlyweds search for just the right house in which to raise their children. Retirees search for that perfect retirement home to enjoy those golden years.

However, this dream could all be interrupted and come crashing down over a colony of small pests called termites. All homeowners share concerns about the potential damage termites can cause in and around your home. They are considered to be the number one threat to wood-based structures, even more so than the threat of a fire. Termites cost American homeowners more than $5 billion in damage each year. The National Pest Management Association stresses the need for education on termite basics, identification, warning signs of infestation, and preventative steps which are key to protecting homes from extensive termite damage.

An infestation of termites will be cause for much frustration and costly repairs for the homeowner if the presence of termites remains undetected. Business owners will recognize a negative impact on their company productivity, profits, and reputation anytime their commercial establishment becomes infested. In either case, professional services will be required.

Anytime termites are mentioned, one immediately thinks of the danger and damage they invoke on homes and businesses. This damage has such a negative effect on property owners that it is difficult to consider that there are benefits to the existence of termites. They are incredibly useful in that they fulfill a very important role in the ecosystem. The subterranean termite helps break down dead plants, returning to the ecosystem for further use. Without this function, we would be buried in dead plants. The termite also provides food for predators such as birds and lizards. This, of course, is helpful to our ecosystem.

There are two main groupings of termites attacking and damaging homes in the United States: termites that live underground and those that live entirely in wood. The underground termite is called subterranean termites while the species that live entirely in the wood are called drywood termites. Regardless of which species, the first signs of termites are grounds for immediate action.

The eastern subterranean termites are considered to be the most common termites found in North America. These wood-destroying insects feed on cellulose material found in the wooden structure of buildings, wooden fixtures, paper, and books. It is estimated that a mature colony of subterranean termites can range in population from 20,000 workers to as many as 5 million workers. The primary queen of the colony continues to add to the total by laying 5,000 to 10,000 eggs each year.

The subterranean termite is a social insect that shares resources and divides their responsibilities through a caste system. These colonies of male and female termites are organized and fit into the worker caste, soldier caste, or reproductive caste.

The worker caste is the largest group of the colony and is made up of blind, wingless, soft-bodied termites with a round head. They are sterile and devoted only to serving and caring for the rest of the colony. Their responsibilities include foraging for food and water, building and repairing shelter tubes, and feeding and grooming other termites. They also care for the eggs and young hatchlings.

The soldier termites are also wingless and look somewhat like the workers except for the head. The soldier’s head is large and rectangular with long black mandibles that are used to crush enemy ants and other threatening insects or pests. The soldier caste only comprises 1 to 2% of the entire colony and their primary purpose is defending the colony. The soldier is not capable of feeding himself and must depend on the worker termite to provide him with regurgitated food.

The reproductive caste is comprised of winged termites that sport two pairs of long narrow wings of equal size. They are dark in color and have beaded antennae. In the spring of the year, these adult-winged reproductive caste members begin swarming. This is when mating occurs. These swarmers, called alates, then shed their wings and begin a new colony.

These alates, or flying termites, are often confused with flying ants. However, ants and termites each have distinctive features and can be easily identified. A winged termite has a straight body with no waistline. They have 4 wings of equal size and their antennae are straight. The flying ant has an hourglass-shaped waist and their antennae are bent in the shape of an elbow. They have four wings but the first set is much larger than the rear wings. Following these identifying traits, even the novice should be able to identify whether you have flying ants or swarming termites on your property.