Subterranean termites are the most destructive among various termite species, particularly when it comes to homes and buildings. They construct unique tunnels, commonly known as "mud tubes" or "earth feeder trails," to access sources of food and shield themselves from predators.
Termites consume wood continuously, day and night, every day of the week. They do so by using their saw-toothed jaws to bite off small fragments of wood, working on one piece at a time. Over a period, subterranean termites can cause significant damage to a building's structure, and in some cases, even lead to its complete collapse.
How quickly do termites eat? The time it takes for termites to cause noticeable damage can vary due to several factors. According to the North Carolina State Extension website, a colony of approximately 60,000 termites could consume a 2x4 piece of wood in approximately 5 months.
This may not appear to be a significant quantity, but in reality, it is quite insignificant when considering the volume of wood used in constructing a house. The issue with termite damage lies in its gradual occurrence over time.
When termites infest your home, they can go unnoticed for years. Repairing termite damage can be costly, especially when it affects the structural integrity of the house.
Recognizing Subterranean Termites
There are three different categories, known as castes, of termites that live underground. These castes consist of reproductive termites, worker termites, and soldier termites. Each type of termite has distinct physical characteristics.
The reproductive members of a termite colony are composed of the king, queen, and alates. They play a vital role in the colony's expansion. The queen, being the largest termite, and the king, being significantly smaller, are included in this group.
Alates, which are also called swarmers, have dark brown to almost black bodies and translucent, slightly milky-colored wings. Usually, their bodies are about ¼ to ½ inch long, and their wings might have a few barely noticeable hairs. It's important to note that workers and soldiers do not have wings.
Workers are approximately 1/4 inch in length and have cream-colored bodies. They possess small jaws that enable them to chew through wood and transport materials.
Soldiers are recognizable by their big jaws. They have heads that are rectangular in shape and bodies that are flat and wide. While their body is typically a light cream color, similar to that of workers, their head is darker and has more of a brownish hue.
Signs of an Infestation
Subterranean termites can invade both the interior and exterior of a home. You can identify termite infestations through various clear signs. One indication is the existence of mud tubes either outside or inside the house. These mud tubes resemble long tunnels created with wood and soil, serving as a protective cover for the termites, preventing them from drying out while they move around.
Other indications of a subterranean termite infestation include home wood that feels hollow and makes a soft sound when tapped, darkening or blistering of wooden structures, paint that appears uneven or bubbled. Additionally, discarded wings near doors or on windowsills suggest that swarmers have made their way into the home.
The best method of subterranean termite control is prevention first and foremost. Here are some tips
Avoid water accumulation near the home's foundation, as these pests are attracted to moisture.
Divert water away with properly functioning downspouts, gutters and splash blocks.
Reduce humidity in crawl spaces with proper ventilation.
Never bury wood scraps or waste lumber in the yard.
Additionally, be sure to seal cracks and crevices in the home’s foundation to keep termites out.
Most importantly, eliminate wood contact with the soil, and maintain a one-inch gap between the soil and wood portions of the building.
Do not store timber or woodends in your crawlspace areas.