Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on May 25, 2006. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Swarms are over, but termite threat remains
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Termites have nearly finished their swarming season in Mississippi, but their threat continues year-round, only less visibly.
Blake Layton, entomologist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said termites from established colonies swarm once a year to start new colonies. Winged swarmers fly out, pair up for mating, fall to the ground and lose their wings before trying to start a new colony.
“Thank goodness it happens because many people wouldn't realize their houses had termites if they didn't swarm,” Layton said.
Eastern subterranean termites are found throughout the state and start swarming in mid-February on the coast and finish in north Mississippi about mid-May. Mississippi has Formosan subterranean termites that swarm during May in 25 south and central Mississippi counties.
Any homeowner who spots swarming termites or finds the dropped wings that indicate a swarm occurred should locate the source of the termites.
“If you had swarms inside the house, you know your house is infested,” Layton said. “Your house could be infested even if they don't swarm inside because the termites could exit to the outside and you may not see them.”
Since Eastern subterranean termites are a natural part of the ecosystem, Layton said their mere presence in a log or stump away from the house is no cause for alarm.
“The woods are full of termites; we just need to be sure to keep them out of our homes,” he said.
Anyone with a swarm of termites in the house should have a certified pest control operator rid the structure of the wood-eating pests. Get bids from more than one company to ensure the best price and the best extermination. A qualified contractor can determine if termite damage to the house is cosmetic or structural.
Layton encouraged homeowners to maintain a pest control contract that keeps the house treated to prevent termites. Examine the house annually for evidence of termites.
“Look for mud tubes going up the foundation, and look for wood damage. There is wood rot and there is termite damage. Termite damage has tunnels in the wood, often with dirt inside for keeping the tunnels airtight,” Layton said.
Maintain a gap between the wood of the house, such as siding, and the soil. Garden and landscaping mulch that is piled too high can provide termites easy access to a house. Brick houses are not immune to the insects, as most are brick veneer with wood studs and building material inside. Termites can enter through cracks in foundations and brick walls.
Inside the house, look for suspicious holes that appear in the wallboard or paneling. Sunken trails in walls can indicate a termite tunnel below. Termites can do extensive damage to a structure before they are noticed.
Layton said pest control companies offer homeowners two types of termite treatments. With a liquid treatment, holes are drilled and trenches made around the perimeter and insecticide is applied to the soil. This treatment kills termites almost immediately and remains effective for several years.
The other option is placing bait stations in a ring around the structure. Layton said these baits are not insecticides, but are there to alert the pest controllers when termites are present. If termites attack the bait, the bait is replaced with active ingredient insecticides.
“If you drop your contract or don't pay your renewal fee, the baits are no longer monitored and your house is not protected from termites,” Layton said. “If you have the liquid treatment, the insecticide is in the ground once you pay for the service, and it keeps working regardless of whether the contract is renewed.”
MSU is involved in research to better protect structures from termite attack. In Pearl River County at the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station's McNeill Unit, researchers are looking for ways to help homes and other wooden construction resist the Formosan invasion. The test site includes four wooden structures and a small laboratory.
The area is infested with Formosan termites. Unlike the more common Eastern subterranean termites that must remain close to the soil for moisture, the Formosans are larger with bigger appetites and often nest within structures without the need to return to the soil if a source of moisture is present. This characteristic may make traditional soil treatments ineffective. However, soil treatments can protect structures from Formaosan subterranean termites if above-ground nests have not become established.
“When fully operational, the McNeill site will be one of the few places in the world where the termite resistance of 4-by-8-foot building panels and associated wall framing can be tested in replicated studies,” said Terry Amburgey, a professor in MSU's forest products department .
“Tests conducted at McNeill will provide data needed by building product and termiticide manufacturers, code officials, architects, contractors and entomologists to ensure that new construction will have reasonable resistance to Formosan termites,” Amburgey said.
New patented technology developed at the McNeill laboratory for protecting structures from both native and Formosan subterranean termites now is being field-tested to determine its commercial feasibility.