Spring season brings termite activity in local homes

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Springtime, with its warmer temperatures and more abundant rainfall, is typically the time when winged termites emerge inside homes and other structures. Termites swarm from the colony to disburse, fall to the ground, find mates and start new colonies in the soil.

From now through May, swarms of winged termites may be seen inside your home, signaling an infestation that can cause extensive and costly damage. Because “swarmers” are attracted to light, they are often seen around windows, doors and light fixtures.

Winged ants are also seen in the springtime.  By examining an insect, it is possible to determine if it is a termite or an ant.

Termites have straight antennae; ants have elbowed antennae. 

Termites have uniform waists; ants have constricted waists between body regions.

Termites have two pairs of wings of equal size. Ants also have two pairs of wings, but the forewings are longer.

Signs of termite infestation are pencil-thin mud “tubes” on the inside and outside surfaces of your home, such as foundation walls, piers, sills and floor joists.

Termites make these mud tunnels to travel between underground colonies and your home. 

Another sign of an infestation is damaged wood hollowed-out along the grain with dried bits of mud or soil lining the feeding galleries.

Many infestations result from direct contact between structural wood and the soil, which gives termites access to food, moisture and shelter, and provides a hidden entry into your home.

Have at least 6 inches between the ground level and wood siding, porch steps, latticework, door or window frames, posts and similar wooden elements.  Contrary to popular belief, pressure-treated wood is not immune to infestation, because termites will enter through cut ends or cracks and build tunnels over the surface to susceptible wood above.

Keep in mind that termites are attracted to moisture, so they are more likely to enter a structure when the soil next to the foundation is consistently moist. Divert water away from the foundation with properly functioning gutters, downspouts and splash blocks. Adjust the soil grade next to the foundation so that surface water drains away from the building, and adjust lawn sprinklers and irrigation systems to minimize water pooling near the foundation.

Reduce humidity in crawl spaces by providing adequate ventilation. Do not allow shrubbery and other vegetation to grow over vents; it will inhibit cross-ventilation. Reduce crawl-space moisture by installing four- to six-milliliter polyethylene sheeting over about 75 percent of the soil surface.

Firewood, lumber and other wood debris stored against the foundation or in crawl spaces may attract termites and provide a food source. This practice also gives termites a hidden entry into the home and allows them to bypass any existing termiticide soil barrier.

Cellulose-containing materials including mulch and wood chips attract termites.  Use these materials sparingly, especially when you have other conditions conducive to termite problems. Never allow mulch to touch wood siding, door frames or window frames. Consider using crushed stone or pea gravel instead.  These materials are less attractive to termites and can reduce other pests such as millipedes, pillbugs, earwings and crickets.

The best way to prevent termite infestations is to have your home treated by a professional pest control firm.

There are two general categories of termite treatment, liquids and baits. Liquid treatments are intended to provide an effective, long-lasting chemical barrier, which termites cannot breach, around and beneath your home.  Termite baits are installed in plastic stations below the ground in the yard and occasionally indoors.  Foraging termites consume the bait and share it with their nest-mates, resulting in a gradual decline in termite numbers.

Pest-control firms should be licensed by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.  Membership in the Kentucky Pest Control Association and/or National Pest Control Association suggests the company is an established firm with access to the technical and training information necessary to correctly do the job. Consider calling at least two to three companies and asking for references.

Avoid pest-control firms that pressure you into immediately signing a contract with “specials” or scare tactics.

Source: Mike Potter, UK Extension Entomologist


Christin Herbst is the Carroll County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources. Call her at (502) 732-7030 or send e-mail to Christin.Herbst@uky.edu.