Order: Blattodea (Isoptera)
“We were just stripping off the old wallpaper so we could replace it when we encountered this unexpected problem! How could we have such a heavy termite infestation and not know about it until now?”
Termites are reclusive insects. They spend most of their lives underground or tunneling through wood and taking great care to avoid exposure to open air. Worker termites do not have eyes, which means they do not go out of their way to void light, but they are highly susceptible to desiccation, which means they take great care to avoid exposure to dry outside air, thereby inadvertently avoiding exposure to light or places where they can be easily seen. This allows termite infestations to remain undetected for years, with colonies growing larger each year. Even experienced professional termite technicians can’t detect active termite infestations until there is something there to see, some sign of termite activity that can be observed without tearing into walls, ceilings or floors.
It is only when they swarm, build mud shelter tubes in visible areas of the building, or cause visible damage that an infestation becomes detectable, and even then, the more subtle signs of infestation may occur in such out of the way places in the building that they may continue to go undetected for several more years. Usually by the time a termite infestation is detected in a building they have been there several years. Sometimes the damage they have caused is relatively minor, requiring only minor cosmetic repairs, but heavy, prolonged termite infestations can cause extensive structural damage, resulting in costly repairs.
The best way to protect your house from termites is to make sure it has been properly treated by a professional pest control company. There are two major methods of treating termites, soil-applied liquid termiticides and termite bait stations. Either of these methods can provide effective long-term termite protection, but they must be properly installed and maintained. If you don’t know when and how your house was last treated for termites, it is probably time to contact a local pest control company and have the building inspected and treated. Termites are a fact of life in the South and buildings that are not properly protected are sure to become infested.
See Extension Publication 2568, Protect Your House from Termites, for more information on termite biology, signs of infestation, and how to control termites.
Extension Publication 2765, What Homebuilders Need to Know About Termites, contains additional information that will be of special interest to new home builders, and Table 1 of this publication contains information on how long the various soil-applied termite treatments last.
For even more information on termites, including answers to some of the most commonly asked questions, see the MSU Extension Termite Web Site.
Blake Layton, Extension Entomology Specialist, Mississippi State University Extension Service.
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