There are approximately 55 different types of termites in the US. Here in the northeast, we have one species that causes considerable structural damage. It is known as the Eastern Subterranean Termite (Reticulitermes flavipes). It is the most common termite found in North America. These termites are the most economically important wood destroying insects in the United States.
Is my home safe from termites?
If you live in any of the 48 states or Hawaii, your home may be at risk for termite activity. Clearly, there are areas where the risk is higher than in other areas. Here in the northeast, especially on Long Island, the risk of termites is substantial. Why?
To answer this, we need to know something about the biology and behavior of termites. Termites feed on anything made of cellulose. Cellulose is the most abundant organic material on Earth. It is also the material that wood and paper is made of.
Termites are very happy to feed on decomposing trees. In fact, without termites to remove and recycle plant materials, the earth would be covered by dead trees and other plant material. Any structure made of wood or wood-based materials is susceptible to termites.
The subterranean termite, of which there are a number of species, as the name implies, lives underground. The termite feeds on buried cellulose containing materials; mostly trees and other similar materials.
While foraging underground, the termite may intercept structural wood from your home buried in the ground or perhaps just a few inches above ground level. The termite does not distinguish between buried trees or your home; cellulose is cellulose to a termite.
When termites feed they create galleries in the wood. Continued feeding weakens wooden members and causes damage. In most situations, the homeowner is not aware this is happening. Termites are very careful not to expose themselves to the environment outside their galleries. You see, worker termites have a thin exoskeleton. This creates a problem for termites. Termites will dry-out very quickly when exposed outside their galleries. Termites must maintain an environment high in humidity to survive. To help them do this, termites line their galleries with wet soil (mud) from below ground.
Termites also build shelter or mud tubes in which they live and use to bridge-over structural obstacles such as concrete foundations and similar items to reach wood.
They have been known to build shelter tubes straight up from the soil in a crawlspace to the floor joists on the first floor of a home. Termites will attack wood that is in contact with the soil. In this case, no shelter tubes are necessary to reach their food. They simply eat their way into the structure often without being detected.
Usually the first indication termites are active in or around a home are the presence of swarming termites. The swarm consists of winged males (kings) and winged females (queens). The swarm, however, may not be observed by the homeowner. The purpose of the swarm is to liberate reproductive termites from the colony to mate and start new colonies.
After swarming, which may take place indoors or outdoors, the mated pairs look for a cavity in the ground in which the queen and king seal themselves into and begin to start a new colony. The fertilized queen begins to deposit eggs. The male may continue to mate with the queen throughout their lives. Ultimately the male simply shares the “Royal Cell” with the queen for the rest of his life. Some queens may live for 40 years and deposit millions of eggs during her lifetime.
Termites are not fussy eaters. If the material contains cellulose, they will consume it. Whether the cellulose is structural wood in your home, a stack of newspapers or a tree in the back yard termites will use it as food.
If you live in a region where termites are commonly found, you may want to consider contacting a pest management professional to conduct an inspection of your home. Even if no live termite activity is discovered, the termite control expert can identify areas inside and outside of your home that are vulnerable to termite attack. Recommendations for corrective actions can also be provided.
Arrow Exterminating Company, Inc.
Lynbrook, New York 11563