Termites and Termite Control in Houston
Termites are the most destructive insect pest of wood in the Houston area. Studies continually report billions of dollars in damage to U.S. structures and create financial hardships for any homeowner not protected against them. The Houston area is reported to have approximately 16-20 colonies per acre.
In nature, termites are beneficial because they break down cellulose into usable nutrients. The biomass resulting from this process is recycled to the soil as humus. Termites are considered an important part of our ecosystem. Problems occur when termites attack the wooden elements of homes, businesses and warehouses built by humans. Termites can go undetected for years if professional inspections are not performed annually. Because their activity is hidden behind wallboards, siding or wood trim a property owner may not notice the damage occurring right underneath them. Homeowners across the Houston area should contract with a professional PCO (Pest Control Operator) and follow the precautions advised by such professionals.
Types of Termites in the Houston area
Subterranean Termites: These are social insects that live in nests or colonies in the soil. They build shelter tubes to protect the colony from other insects and from the environment (heat & cold). This “Shelter Tube” acts as a central heating and cooling system for the above ground colony. It brings cool moist air throughout the tunnel system during hot dry periods and warm moist air during cold dry periods. This can be achieved because termites tunnel deep below the affected surface soil. When rising up from the soil they will attach the shelter tube to the side of a concrete slab and enter the home through small openings in the mortar or through weep holes (common in Houston area construction) where they have access to the wooden framing members of the structure. They may also perform the same maneuver following piers underneath a home (very common in much older Houston area homes – pre 1970’s).
Formosan Termites: Think of the above termites on steroids. This termite is more aggressive and supports much larger colonies (up to and exceeding 1 million workers). Additionally this termite can separate the colony from the ground by building a carton within the structure allowing it to absorb the moisture from the surrounding atmosphere rendering traditional trenching and rodding methods ineffective. It is not uncommon to see Formosan termites swarming late night under a street light or during summer days.
Drywood Termites: This termite can keep people up at night due to it’s method of entry into a home. When it swarms it does not re-enter the soil but may rather light on the side of a structure and enter through the openings in siding or fascia boards. It does not require the same moisture levels and therefore begins its colony in the structure right from day one. The drywood termite can survive on very little moisture as it recycles any moisture harvested from the wood it ingests. A sure sign of drywood termites are pellets they produce.
Signs of a Termite Infestation
TERMITE SWARM: After 2 to 4 years a subterranean termite colony may be mature enough to produce “swarmers” (winged primary reproductives). These termite “swarmers” leave the colony in large numbers during the spring and early summer months. Swarming may occur in the Houston area at any time of the year due to certain environmental conditions. The traditional season for us however is generally April through June and may be preceeded by a morning rain with light winds. The number of “swarmers” produced is proportional to the age and size of the colony. If this should occur, while it can be intimidating to a property owner we simply suggest collecting a few for our technicians to positively identify and then vacuum the rest. The action of the vacuum will likely kill them and you can dispose of the remaining “swarmers” into a trash bag.
TERMITE MUD: When termites have successfully entered a structure they begin consuming wood (cellulose) for their nurishment and that of the queen and juveniles. They will eat and tunnel through framing members, trim work, door casings, wood flooring, cabinets, carpet fibers (if natural fibers), sheetrock paper, wall paper, newspaper, books, linens and anything else you can think of with natural cellulose. When in search of additional food they know virtually no boundary.
CRACKING/CRUMBLING PAINT: This could be a sign of tunneling activity described above and should be examined by a trained professional. Termites may actually penetrate the skin of your enamel paint on trim work. Don’t take a chance thinking it’s just a bad paint job or defective wood – get it checked today!
PELLETS: Note that these are only produced by Drywood Termites! They are excrement pellets and are approximately 1/32” long, rather blount on one end and pointed on the other. The pellets will have a similar color to the wood the Drywood Termites have been consuming.
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