How do termites spread? Do they spread fast? House to house?

FAQs

When you see a neighbor tenting their house for termites, you will likely immediately wonder, how do termites spread? Can termites spread from my neighbor’s house to my house? And if so, do termites spread fast?

If you want a quick answer, termites normally get into your home via winged termites. Termite alates are reproductively mature termites that sprout wings and fly, looking for places to establish new colonies. Though less likely, you can also accidentally transport termites into your house through used furniture, books, or other cellulose-containing items.

We will try to answer all your more detailed questions about different ways that termites can spread below but if you have a question we didn’t answer, ask it in the comments and we will get back to you.

First, we will explain a bit about termite infestations and then go over several ways termites can infest your home (or building) and what to do to prevent termites from entering your home. If you want to skip to a certain section, just use the table of contents.

What is a termite infestation?

Termites live in colonies, meaning that they are social insects. When your house has a termite infestation it means that a significant number of termites have formed a colony in your house—often in wooden structures but not always. There are three main types of termites that infest homes in the U.S. (and more around the world).

  1. Subterranean termites: These termites live primarily underground, and require moisture to survive. They need either a humid environment or a source of humidity and moisture.
  2. Formosan termites: These termites are a subterranean termites subtype. These have an aggressive nature and nest above ground.
  3. Drywood termites: These termites do not require moisture (or any special condition) to survive. They are capable of forming colonies that do not need to be anywhere near the ground.

How do termites spread? How do infestations start?

Video of entomologist explaining how termites spread

Termites eat cellulose-based materials to survive. Cellulose is found in plant-based things other than wood-constructed items, including leaves, firewood, furniture, drywall coverings, paper, boxes, and books. This means termites are attracted to

Termites forage from almost at a constant base and can spread up to 150 feet around their one colony. It doesn’t take long for termites to ‘nest’ and establish an infestation. A termite infestation can be established within a few days.

There are two primary ways that termite infestations can start:

  • Colonies will send out winged reproductive termites (alates) to start out new colonies. These termite alates will initiate a new colony if they find a suitable environment.
  • Subterranean termites searching for new food sources can find a way into buildings through tiny cracks in foundations. They can also build mud tunnels in an attempt to access the wood inside a structure. These tunnels are made over the foundation walls of a structure and although there are many more methods of spread of infestation, this one has proved to be the most common one.

How do Drywood Termites Get into Homes?

Video explaining how drywood termite swarms get into homes

Drywood termites primarily get into homes when their alates (winged termites) fly around scouting for an adequate spot to establish a new colony. They often get in the attic, or around doors and windows. Once they get in, they start eating wood non-stop. But, people often do not discover termites until after the termites have caused significant damage.

Can termites spread through furniture?

A video showing a termite-infested nightstand

Yes, termites have infested homes through furniture but rarely through new furniture. Typically, when termites hitch a ride into a home via furniture, they sneak in via second-hand furniture that was infested with termites. Termites can get into used bed frames, cabinets, rocking chairs, or any other furniture with wood.

Because of this, it is good to inspect any used furniture you are interested in for termites. You can do this fairly reliably via a tap test. We explain how to do your own termite inspection in more detail here, but a tap test involves taking something like a screwdriver and tapping it on the wood at different places on the furniture. Termite-infested wood will sound different when tapped (more hollow than normal wood).

The good news is that you can often treat termite-infested furniture relatively easily if the termites didn’t damage the furniture too much.

Can termites spread through books?

Video showing thousand of termites that ate several books

Though it is unlikely, yes, termites are able to spread through books.

As we wrote earlier, termites are attracted to any material containing cellulose and paper fits that bill. You shouldn’t worry about getting termites through new books, but it is a good idea to check used books for termites (and other pests).

The good news, though, is that it is easy to detect termites in second-hand books. Just flip through the books and look for termites or chewed pages. If you are buying a large number of used books, it might not be feasible to flip through every book, inspecting for termite activity. You could sample a number of the books from the total book collection and perform your inspection on those books.

Can termites spread through clothing?

Can termites spread from luggage?

Do termites pass through concrete or bricks?

Unfortunately, yes, termites can pass through tiny cracks in concrete or brick mortar. Termites do not eat concrete, nor are termites attracted to concrete. But, termites often pass through tiny cracks in search of food to eat, so sealing cracks in concrete or mortar helps deny termites entry into buildings.

How fast do drywood termites spread?

How fast do subterranean termites spread?

Peninsular Pest Control Professional explains how subterranean termite swarmers scout places to establish new colonies

Like drywood termites, subterranean termites also use swarmers (winged termites) to scout out places to establish new colonies.

In six months, a mature easter subterranean termite colony (around 65,000 termites) can consume approximately one foot of a two-by-four pine board.

An average eastern subterranean termite colony, however, is nearly five times a ‘mature’ colony (around 300,000 termites). This means a typical-sized eastern subterranean termite colony can consume approximately one cubic foot of wood annually.

Formosan subterranean termite colonies can destroy buildings faster than other subterranean termite types in the U.S. A typical-sized Formosan termite colony (around 3 million termites) can eat an entire 2-by-four pine board in a single day.

Do termites spread from house to house?

Termites can spread from one house to another home. Supposing that termites have an established colony in your neighbor’s home, they will send out termite swarmers (winged termites).

Some of these winged termites can make their way to your house. If that happens, these swarmers will look for entry points into your home. These are often around window sills.

What are the signs of infestation?

Signs of termite infestations vary by the kind of termite infesting your house. Treatment also does matter on what termite is infesting the house/property. However briefly putting it; dry wood termites will result in termite ‘droppings’ these may fall from the ceiling in form of wood colored, ridged pellets.

Subterranean Termites often form mud tunnels to protect themselves when they traverse exposed areas (like up your foundation). So, if you ever find mud tunnels on your foundation or around your property, there’s a probability you have an infestation either in your house or in the surrounding premises. Similarly, Formosan Termites also leave behind a mud-structured trace in wall structures, signifying their presence.

Why are termites a threat to my home?

Termite infestation can be devastating at times. When termite infestations remain undiscovered, serious, costly damage can occur to buildings.

If large enough, single termites colonies can eat up to 6 pounds of wood in a year. Termites will likely compromise structural timber in your house if more than one termite colony infests your home. Although the structural integrity of a building is most important thing to protect from termites, they can also eat other wooden objects, including your furniture!

Around $5 million in documented damage has occurred on a yearly basis alone and that’s only the damage that has been studied and recorded. It is quite likely that there are far more expenses related to termite infestation. Insurance also does not cover termite infestation and such related problems and this results in unreported infestations. If there is humidity in the surrounding environment and there is anything cellulose based in vast numbers in an area chances are that an infestation will occur.

The infestation will not die down on its own and will spread ridiculously fast. Any buildings or homes with a significant wooden infrastructure could be weakened by the presence of termites making it all the easier for them to collapse. Imagine multiple termite colonies each eating away an average of 6 pounds of wood on a yearly basis, from multiple parts of a structure.

So you have termites? Now what? What can you do to get rid of and exterminate any termite colonies inside or outside your house?

Inside your house? You can get liquid termiticides (basically pesticide, but for specifically engineered for termites), this will either kill them or force the colony to evacuate.

If there is a termite colony outside and near your house, you can’t often do much to remove that colony. But, you don’t need to.

When you treat your home treated with liquid termiticides (also known as termite trenching), the chemicals form a chemical barrier around your house. Additionally, you can install termite bait monitoring stations, to surveil for any termites that sneak through possible gaps or holes in termite trench.

How do you stop termites from spreading?

Effective termite treatments vary based on the termite species infesting your home. The treatment should preferably be done by a professional pest management official. Do-it-yourself (DIY) methods are more feasible for localized, spot termite infestations.

DIY termite control, however, will not often completely eradicate large, established termite infestations. DIY methods do not often form sufficient chemical barriers and can cause poisoning if ingested or not handled properly.

Professionals will be able to recognize and identify the termite species, the most suitable and efficient method/termiticide to use to remove them, and will use just the right amount to get rid of the infestation without using enough to form a considerable health risk to any children, pets, or the environment.

Further Resources about How Termites Spread

  1. Formosan Subterranean Termites – Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities
  2. Termites in Wisconsin: Insect Diagnostic Lab Note – University of Wisconsin
  3. Tree Termites – Inspect & Treat Tree Trunks & Stumps for Termite Damage – MyTermiteTreatmentCosts.com
  4. Subterranean Termites – University of Missouri Extension Department of Entomology

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