Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on March 10, 2005. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information.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.
Recognize signs of termite presence
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Flowers blooming and birds courting are signs of spring's arrival, but swarms of termites are the more ominous indicators.
Blake Layton, an entomologist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said termite colonies normally remain unseen, shunning light and quickly plugging any holes or openings to the outside world. But each spring, well-established colonies send out swarmers to reproduce, spread and begin new colonies.
"Although several different species of termites occur in Mississippi, the Eastern subterranean termite is the most common species. Depending on location in the state and other factors, these termites will swarm from mid-February to mid-May, normally during the morning hours," Layton said. "Most swarming events occur quietly and unobserved. It is when the event is actually witnessed, or when dead swarmers are found in the home, that homeowners begin to worry."
Often homeowners don't know if they are looking at winged termites or ants. Layton said though swarming termites may resemble ants superficially, a closer examination reveals several major differences.
"Ants have elbowed antennae, a narrow, wasp-like waist and hind wings that are shorter than the forewings. Termites have straight, bead-like antennae, a broad waist, and the hind wings and forewings are the same length," Layton said.
Finding swarmers inside a house indicates an active termite infestation. If swarmers emerge within 10 feet or so of the foundation, the house likely is infested. However, remember that termites are present in every wooded environment in the state, and swarms emerging from stumps or other sites far away from the house are not cause for alarm.
A quality inspection can pinpoint infestations and help eliminate problem spots around the home that may reveal future infestation points. Knowing there is a problem is the best method of control.
"If you already have an active termite contract with a pest control company, contact the company, explain your observation and request a follow-up inspection. Depending on the contract, the company will usually provide any needed treatments at no additional cost," Layton said.
Homeowners without an active contract should begin contacting local pest control companies.
"If you have seen a swarm emerge in or near your house, the colony that produced it has been there for several years. In this case, it is critical that you have the home inspected and treated to eliminate the infestation," Layton said. "But taking a month or two to get the home inspected and compare bids from different companies won't result in that much additional damage, and it may result in obtaining a better treatment at a lower price."
The cost for a termite treatment can range from about $800 to several thousand dollars, depending on the size of the home, type of foundation and how the home is constructed. In addition to the original treatment cost, most companies charge an annual renewal fee, which usually includes the cost of an annual inspection.
"Ask questions and understand exactly what you are getting when you buy a treatment and termite contract. Read the contract carefully to see exactly what protection and services the renewal fee includes," Layton said.
One option for termite control is the use of in-ground bait stations, which are placed in the ground around the perimeter of the house and checked every three months or so for termite activity. Renewing a termite contract annually is a good idea especially with this treatment method because the protection ceases when service visits cease.
The other, more conventional treatment approach involves trenching, rodding and/or drilling around the building and flooding it with a liquid termiticide to create an insecticide barrier.
"Both the liquid termiticides and the in-ground baits are capable of providing effective, long-term termite control," Layton said. "The baits have the advantage of using far less total insecticide and of being able to provide control in sensitive or hard-to-treat situations. Liquid termiticides offer quicker control with fewer service visits, and they usually continue to provide years of effective control even if the contract is not renewed."
Termite damage costs homeowners billions of dollars every year, and this damage is not covered by homeowner's insurance. MSU forest products professor Terry Amburgey said homeowners can take two important steps to keep termites away from their homes.
"The best thing to do is keep mulch and any other vegetation about 18 inches away from the perimeters of the house, rather than putting it right up to the edges," Amburgey said. "This helps a lot because even if you have a good soil treatment, termites can come through the mulch and into the house."
In place of the mulch, which holds moisture, use decorative rock or gravel in the area right at the edges of the house. A clear area will allow access to view any termite activity. Keep the area free of organic matter by using a herbicide periodically.
"The second step homeowners with a conventional foundation can take is to look under the house following a heavy rain to see if any water is accumulating there. If it is, they'll have to work on a drainage system to divert the water away from the house," Amburgey said.
Keep all crawl space vents open to prevent moisture build-up from occurring under the house. A wet crawl space leads to wood decay, which often attracts termites. Also make sure gutters and down-spouts are clear and in operating order, directing water toward an area that slopes away from the house.
Mississippi homes often are near forested areas, and termites benefit forest biology. They become pests when they enter human living spaces, but prevention and control measures can help homeowners avoid this headache.