Termites

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Identification

  • Colour Whitish-brown to nearly black
  • Size From 6 mm to 20 mm long
  • Description All termites have three body parts: a head with a pair of segmented antennae, thorax, and abdomen.

General Facts

Termite colonies range from hundreds of thousands to millions of members. Since each colony is capable of consuming at least half a kilogram of wood each day, termites are responsible for costly structural damage wherever they dwell.

The three main types of termite species are subterranean, drywood, and dampwood. Categorization is based on both the preferred habitat and main food source of the insects.

Aptly named after the Latin term for woodworm, termites have existed for over 120 million years. Despite their pest status, termites play an important role in the ecosystem by recycling wood, facilitating the decomposition of organic matter, replenishing essential nutrients in the soil, and assisting in the growth of plants by way of soil aeration. However, they can cause significant structural damage to homes and other manmade structures.

Types of Termites in Canada

The most common pest species of termites in Canada include the eastern subterranean termite (Reticulitermes flavipes), the western subterranean termite (Reticulitermes Hesperus), and the Pacific dampwood termite (Zootermopsis angusticollis).

Located in different regions of Canada, subterranean termites tend to be cosmopolitan in distribution, while dampwood termites cause problems on the western coast. Subterranean species are responsible for the bulk of damage inflicted on homes, as the dampwood species target moist and rotting wood. The presence of dampwood termites usually indicates an ongoing moisture problem.

Appearance

Termite colonies contain three main social castes: workers, soldiers, and reproductives. Each caste and type of termite differs slightly in appearance. In general, subterranean termites produce smaller workers of approximately 6 mm, while dampwood termite workers measure about 20 mm in size. Termite soldiers have enlarged mandibles, and reproductives feature two pairs of nearly identical wings. Members of every caste have three body parts: a head with a pair of segmented antennae, thorax, and abdomen. The insects appear whitish-brown to nearly black in colour.

Differences Between Termites and Ants

Because they look similar, people can often confuse termites with flying ants or carpenter ants. The only kind of termite that has wings is the reproductive swarmer while there are a few ant species that produce winged reproductives including carpenter ants, pavement ants and odourous house ants. Both ant and termite swarmers are active at the same time of year and in similar weather conditions making it even harder to tell the difference.

Here are few things to look for to identify the difference between flying ants and termites. Pay particular attention to these three parts of the body: the antennae, the waist and the wings.

  1. Termites have straight antennae while ants are bent at an angle.
  2. The waist on a termite is broad and uniform with the rest of its’ body while ants are very narrow
  3. Wings on a termite will be of equal length and on an ant the front wings are significantly larger than the back wings

Colour wise termite swarmers are black, flying ants are usually reddish-brown and carpenter ants are unusually large and black.

Habitat

Termite colonies are prone to drying out, and termites must live in warm and humid environments. They are most active in temperatures from 24° to 35° Celsius and thrive in tropical and sub-tropical regions. In the cooler regions of Canada, subterranean termite s nest below the frost line where they find their way into heated structures, such as homes and businesses.

Diet

Termites derive nutrients primarily from cellulose. Therefore, the pests consume live or dead wood, twigs, roots, grass, plant litter, paper, cardboard, fibreboard, cotton, and other plant materials.

Termite Life Cycle

It all begins with a mating flight. Swarming reproductive termites (both male and female) will leave their colony to procreate and establish new colonies. Once mating has been achieved they will land and shed their wings. Wherever they land is where they go on to form new colonies. Termite pairs that have mated go on to become the king and queen of their own new colony. The king and queen become the epicentre of the new colony and are responsible for the colonies reproduction.

After fertilization the queen will lay her eggs which hatch as larvae. As they grow and molt these larvae will become one of three different castes in the colony: workers, soldiers or alates (reproductive termites). Each caste has a very specific role. Soldier termites develop drastically large heads and mandibles which are used in combat with any predators they may come upon. Their large mandibles make them incapable of feeding themselves, which is where the workers come in. Workers are responsible for feeding the other castes as well as building the shelter tubes and chambers. Alates are the young reproductive castes of both sexes and are born with two pairs of wings. After they have left the colony, swarmed and mated alates will shed their wings and establish a colony of their own, becoming the new queen and king.

The typical lifespan of workers and soldiers is up to two years while queen termites can survive for up to ten years if all the climate conditions are optimal.

Problems Caused by Termites

As termite activity primarily takes place below the surface of wood, the pests are capable of completely excavating through wooden floors, furniture, window frames, doors, panelling, and other important structural components of buildings. The resulting damage weakens the wood and makes the structure prone to further deterioration. Several billion dollars are spent on termite damage each year.

Detection/Signs of Infestation

Despite their covert lifestyle, termites consistently leave behind certain indicators of their presence. To avoid drying out, subterranean termites make mud tubes along walls, fences, and steps to help them travel between the colony and food sources. Homeowners should remain on the lookout for the dry and moist lines of mud, particularly in basements and garages. Spotted, striped, discoloured, or warped wood may also indicate the existence of termites below the surface. Furthermore, knocking on wood and hearing a hollow sound typically indicates termite damage.

Possible Areas of Termite Activity in Your House

People often wonder how such small insects can cause so much damage. If your home is in a known termite area it is at risk because these little insects have a never ending appetite. Remember that a regular inspection by a trained Orkin Canada Termite Specialist can help you identify any clues of an infestation.

Here are the top four reasons why your home can be at risk of termites:

Temperature

Any home that is climate controlled year round will help create the conditions that are optimal for termites.

Moisture

Anything that creates moisture around your home can help attract termites including runoff moisture, drainage issues and condensation around and under your foundation.

Food

Any wood products are at risk of attack by termites. This can include framing, debris, landscaping products and even firewood stored outside.

Access

Termites can enter your home through even the smallest cracks or openings.

If you live in an area that is known to have termites these are some of the places on your home that you should pay particular attention to.

  1. Roof Vents, Siding and Windows:
    Anywhere in your house where there is a crack there is the potential for termites to enter. Consider areas like window joints, your siding, your eaves and roof vents.
  2. Plumbing:
    Anything that creates moisture can attract termites. Fixing any leaking plumbing to avoid the buildup of excess moisture will help.
  3. Foam Insulation:
    Termites can move quite quickly through foam insulation which leads them right to the wood in your house.
  4. Decks and Wooden Fences:
    Have a look to see if there is any damage on your decks or fences and repair as needed. If the wood touches soil it can be an attractive target for termites.
  5. Firewood and Lumber:
    Remember that any wood touching the soil are perfect ways for termites to get into your home as it may create a path that bypasses any protective soil treatment that may have been applied. Have a look around your house and remove any stacked firewood or lumber away from the foundation.
  6. Air Conditioner Condensation:
    Moisture is essential to a termite colonies’ survival so be sure to divert water away from the foundation in any area that is continually moist.
  7. Crawl Spaces:
    Any debris of a wood nature in a crawl space can also help attract termites. Keep your crawl spaces as clean as possible.
  8. Gutters and Downspouts:
    Anything on your home that helps create moisture is an issue in known termite areas. Keeping your gutters and downspouts clean and flowing will help.
  9. Wood-to-Ground Contact:
    A large number of termite infestations happen because somewhere there is wood to ground contact. Do your best to reduce these kinds of opportunities for termites.
  10. Wood Chips and Mulch:
    As with firewood and lumber be aware that any kind of wood related material can attract termites.

Termite Warning Signs

In can be very difficult for a home owner to see evidence of wood eating insects because they live inside the wood or underground. Termites are no different but they often leave clues behind. Here is what to look for:

Wood Damage

Termites will eat the wood from the inside out and can sometimes leave behind nothing but the wood grain.

Discarded Wings

You do not necessarily have to see a swarm of termites in action to notice it has taken place. Not long after the swarmers take flight they will shed their wings and leave behind small piles of wings. These wings can often be found near your structure around the foundation or in the webs of spiders.

Mud Tubes

Subterranean termites will build mud shelter tubes to serve as safe paths between the colony and the wood they are eating. These tubes can be found both inside and outside and are made of small bits of soil, wood and debris. These tubes are used to conserve the moisture that is essential for their survival and also to protect the colony from any nearby predators.

Termite Droppings

Some termites will leave behind frass or droppings. These tiny fecal mounds often mean the wood above is infested with termites.

Prevention Tips

In general, altering the surrounding area of a home or building to make it less favourable for termites will prevent infestations from occurring. Reduce moisture levels by fixing leaky plumbing and ensuring all drainage flows well and away from the building. Keep shrubbery and trees maintained so that the vegetation does not come in contact with the structure, and store lumber and firewood away from the building in a dry place.

Control/Removal

Suspected termite infestations usually demand the attention of a pest control professional. Most instances of infestation require the application of termiticides on or in the soil, and industry professionals possess the proper certifications and experience to apply termiticides safely and correctly.

Termite Control in Canada

Luckily for the majority of Canadian home owners most of our country is past the northern limit for termites. Still, over 20% of the Canadian population live in areas where there are active termite colonies, as they, just like us, prefer the warmer southern parts of the country. Our longer winters seem to deter termite activity in the wild but our urban areas and the warmth they provide supplies termites with all the necessities of life. In Canada termites are most prevalent in the southern coastal areas, the dry climate of the Okanagan areas of British Columbia, southern Ontario, southern Quebec, and the Maritime provinces. The termite populations that do exist in Canada were likely brought here years ago in wooden products that came from warmer southern climates. The most damage in Canada is caused by subterranean termites and in some areas, such as Toronto and southern Ontario, has reached significant economic levels.

Don’t Let Termites Eat You Out of Your House

Your single biggest investment is likely your home and termites can be a real and present danger to that investment.

Termites are known as the “silent destroyer” and can be very hard to detect. Like many other insects the best way to prevent an infestation is to remove access to the things they find critical. These include food, warmth and a water source and for termites in particular eliminating moisture and removing wood sources is important. Rotted or damp wood is the most common way termites will gain access to your home. The soft, pulpy wood gives access to both moisture and food to termites.

Another thing termites love is warm temperatures, so as the temperature rises, it is important to recognize the conditions conducive to termite infestation. This will help you protect your home and property. Here are some quick tips to keep in mind:

  • Make sure no wood or wood debris is in contact with the soil and store any firewood away from your foundation and off the ground if possible
  • Repair any leaks or drainage issues. Damp wood or moisture creates a tasty target for a new and healthy termite colony
  • Humidity is conducive to termite problems. Insulate your crawl spaces or create a barrier to moisture and condensation

 

Why do I have termites?

The most common pest species of termites in Canada include the eastern subterranean termite, the western subterranean termite, and the Pacific dampwood termite.

Termites live in colonies made up of hundreds of thousands to millions of members, all divided into three main social castes: workers, soldiers, and reproductives.

They prefer warm, humid environments, so often find their way into heated homes and businesses through damp, rotting wood, and consume live or dead wood, twigs, roots, grass, plant litter, paper, cardboard, fibreboard, cotton, and other plant materials.

How worried should I be about termites?

Termites play an important role in the ecosystem by recycling wood, facilitating decomposition, replenishing essential nutrients in the soil, and assisting in the growth of plants, but they can cause significant structural damage to homes and other manmade structures.

Termites can completely excavate through wooden floors, furniture, window frames, doors, panelling, and other important structural components of buildings, with each colony able to eat at least half a kilogram of wood each day.

The resulting damage weakens the wood and makes the structure prone to further deterioration. Several billion dollars are spent on termite damage each year in North America.

Termites can leave wood spotted, striped, discoloured, or warped. Subterranean termites make mud tubes along walls, fences, and steps to help them travel between the colony and food sources.

With millions of termites to tackle, these infestations are a serious challenge and must be left to properly certified professional pest control services with the experience and expertise to apply termiticides and eradicate your termite infestation for good.

How can I prevent termites invading?

Reduce moisture levels in the home, Fix leaky plumbing and gutters, Ensure drainage is free flowing, Trim back shrubbery and trees, Store lumber and firewood outside

How much does it cost to fix a termite problem?

No insect causes as much damage in North America as termites. Most of the damage is structural and depending on the extent of the damage extermination and remediation costs can sometimes run well into the thousands of dollars. Once termites find their way in they are extremely hard to control and exterminate so we recommend preventative measures in many cases.

Based on the species of termite and other factors such as the size of the infestation, treatments can vary. The chemicals required for a successful termite treatment are not for sale to the public and must be used under strictly controlled conditions. That is why a licensed pest management professional is the best option. They can set up the best corrective steps if you have a termite infestation or preventative measures if you are worried about the possibility of a termite infestation.

Knowledge is the best tool to protect your home and your investment in it. A qualified and licensed pest control specialist from Orkin Canada can set up a corrective or preventative termite treatment program customized specifically for your home.

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