Of all the different species of termites, Subterranean termites can cause the most damage to homes and other buildings. These termites build distinctive tunnels, often referred to as “mud tubes,” or :earth feeder trails" to reach food sources, and protect themselves from predators.
They eat wood 24 hours a day, seven days a week, using their saw-toothed jaws to bite off small fragments of wood one piece at a time. Over time, subterranean termites can critically damage a building structure, sometimes causing a total collapse.
How fast do they eat? The time that termites need in order to cause noticeable damage can vary based on several factors. According to the North Carolina State Extension website, a colony of about 60,000 termites could eat a 2x4 piece of wood in about 5 months.
This doesn’t seem like a huge amount, and it’s really not, when you think about how many pounds of wood make up a house. Termite damage happens slowly and over time, and that’s where the problem lies.
When termites invade your home, they can stay there for years undetected. Termite damage can be extensive and very expensive to repair, specially when termites damage the structural integrity of a home.
Recognizing Subterranean Termites
There are three distinct types, or castes, of subterranean termites with physical differences, including reproductives, workers and soldiers.
The reproductives include the king, queen and alates are integral to a colony’s growth, the queen is the largest termite, while the king is much smaller.
Alates, also known as swarmers, have long, dark brown to almost black bodies and translucent, slightly milky-colored wings. Their bodies typically measure about ¼ to ½ inch in length and their wings may have a few barely visible hairs. Unlike swarmers, workers and soldiers do not have wings.
Workers are about ¼ inch or less in length are have cream colored bodies. They have small jaws that help them chew away at wood and move materials.
Soldiers can be distinguished by their large mandibles. They have rectangular shaped heads and their bodies are flat and wide. Although their body is usually a creamy white color, similar to workers, their head is darker and more brownish in color.
Signs of an Infestation
Subterranean termite infestations can occur on the inside or exterior of the home. There are several telltale signs of a termite infestation. One sign is the presence of mud tubes on the exterior or interior of the home. Mud tubes look like long tunnels made of wood and soil, which the termites construct to protect them from drying out as they travel.
Other signs of a subterranean termite infestation include soft wood in the home that sounds hollow when tapped, darkening or blistering of wood structures, uneven or bubbling paint. Discarded wings near doors or on windowsills also indicate that swarmers have entered 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.