Where Do Termites Live
Termites may be at the top of the list for a homeowner’s worst nightmare. They can evade detection for years, quietly munching away at a home’s substructure while safely tucked out of sight. Unless your home is made completely of steel and concrete, it’s at risk of being eaten by termites, who live on dead plant material, including the wood in your home.
Commonly known as the “silent destroyer,” termites are detritivores (they eat cellulose-based materials) with mouths perfectly designed for tearing both dead and living wood apart. They are similar in appearance to ants, but are more closely related to cockroaches, though far more destructive. Because there are several types of termites indigenous to every temperate zone in the United States, as well as the rest of the world, there is really no place you can build a house that is not in danger of being invaded by this insect and its voracious appetite.
Where Termites Live
In northern Australia, termites are known to build giant columns that reach upwards of well over 10 feet high. There are also mound building termites in Africa, as well as South America. These mounds–giant termite castles–are composed of intricate tunnels which serve as air ventilation shafts for the colony nesting underground. While you won’t typically see gargantuan termite mounds in America, the point to keep in mind is that these industrious vermin live anywhere in the ground that is in close proximity to a source of cellulose material. Shipworms, the scourge of ancient ship builders and sailors, are even considered a type of ocean dwelling termite.
For land-lubbers, however, there are basically three types of termites to worry about: dampwood, drywood, and subterranean. Zootermopsis –the dampwood termite–thrive on wet and rotting wood sources, and are common along the west coast. This type of termite is a threat to older homes that may have unseen water damage and decaying structures, especially around their foundations. These termites do not nest in the soil, but prefer damp, rotting wood. But they do not tunnel into the wood as other termites do; they prefer to eat the outside of the wood, usually across the grain. It’s a good idea to remove any firewood, lumber, or scrap lying about close to your house, especially if it is rain-soaked.
Drywood termites–cryptotermes and incisitermes–are considered the most destructive to homes. They are also the hardest to locate, as they can spend their entire lives inside of dry wood, like the wood in your house. These termites are often found in attics, and higher places in a home, since they can fly. They need no connection to the ground or soil, as other termites do. You may be alerted to termite activity in your home when it is suddenly swarming with a multitude of flying insects (winged termites are called alates). These are mature termites that begin colonies. They may be aggravated by heavy rains or excessive heat. Another sign that you may have an invasion is the tell-tale sign of their feces, known as frass. These hexagonal mounds (about 1mm, or less than a quarter inch in length) are the result of the termite extracting moisture from the wood, which is pushed out of the tunnel after being excreted. These termites are usually found in south-western states–especially in California.
Subterranean termites–specifically the Formosan–are sometimes called “super termites.” These form large colonies made up of millions, and are well known for how quickly they consume wood. These termites actually come from China, and are now common in many parts of the world. They were first discovered in the U.S. in several eastern coast states, but today are found throughout the southern half of the country. They eat anything, living or dead, that consists of cellulose fibers, and a large colony can consume up to 13 ounces of material per day. They are extremely destructive to living trees–Ash, Cypress, and Oaks–as well as homes, barns, boats, and anything made of wood. Native subterranean termites typically live under ground, and are not as much of a threat as the invading Formosan, though they will venture into homes to forage. Subterranean termites are common all over the U.S., but thrive in warmer climates.
Termites have been around for over 100 million years. Their tenacity for existence may be rooted in their social behavior, as they work together for the benefit of the colony. Once they’ve invaded your home, they won’t stop eating, until they are completely annihilated or convinced to give up and move on.
Prevention is the first step to controlling the costly damage of which they are capable. Inspect your home frequently, especially around areas like the foundation, basement, or anywhere that might get wet or has exposed wood (like the beams in your attic). Keep wood and leaves away from your house, and make sure rain water is properly diverted away from its foundation. Use a termite-killing spray around the exterior base of your home.
While there are kits and insecticides for anti-termite DIY projects, if you’ve discovered termite damage in your home, it’s best to call a professional. They are trained to detect and eliminate termites effectively. Just remember that termites are great at hiding, until the damage they’ve caused becomes visible, and costly.