By Eddie Ayers, County Extension Agent
Did you know that spring is a very important time of year for homeowners and pest control professionals where termites are concerned? If winged reproductive termites are seen, that’s an indication there’s a colony close by. Swarming is a springtime phenomenon triggered by warm weather and moisture, often after an early morning shower. These normally wingless insects expand their territory when the male and female reproductive termites leave an established colony and take wobbly flight for a few hundred feet, drop to the ground and search for a new home. They’re looking for moist wood. They won’t attack a living tree unless it has rotting or dead parts. And unless they encounter some natural or chemical barrier, these insects will move in on all that lumber which is dead wood. However, just because you see large blackish insects inside your home, with or without wings, does not mean that you have termites. It is a good idea to identify them so you can choose the proper control measures.
The easiest ways to distinguish between ants and termites is to look at the abdomen and thorax (main body parts.) An ant has a narrow waist joining the two sections, while a termite’s body is broadly joined. Both winged ants and termites have two sets of wings, but there is a difference between the two species. Both pairs of wings on the termites are the same and they are longer than their body but the two pairs of wings on ants are different sizes.
If you have termites swarming inside your home, it’s likely they’ve been gnawing away for at least three years. A colony normally doesn’t swarm until it’s well established. According to the U.S. Forest Service, subterranean termites deliver a one-two punch to homes. These tiny insects need warm air and moist conditions to live so they must maintain a direct link with the ground. As they eat their way through the wood, the structural fiber of the wood is weakened but they cause much more damage than this. They bring moist soil with them to build protective tubes and tunnels, and this leads to attack by wood decay fungi. Subterranean termite damage is almost always accompanied by wood decay, which further weakens the wood.
Because there are so many termites in Georgia, it is a good idea to have your home professionally inspected. A homeowner should rely on a professional but they should get involved too. It’s hard to know what to look for but there are certain things that are noticeable such as earth tubes between the soil and the wooden structure, particularly going up the foundation wall, along plumbing or directly from the soil to the wood. You should also take note if you see any hollow wood underneath a finished surface, however, wood underneath will have earth-filled galleries, but termites aren’t always present. At this time of year, look for termite wings in or around the home. Soon after swarming, termites shed their wings and become the king or queen termites of their newly established colonies. They will become responsible of the new colonies work and reproduction.
If you suspect a termite problem, contact a pest control professional immediately or if you need more information on termites and identifying these insects, contact me in the Gilmer County UGA Extension office.