Since termites are among the most ancient of insect groups, these small, but hardy insects have evolved many adaptations that have allowed them to survive even the harshest of environmental conditions. Subterranean, drywood and dampwood termites live in colonies that produce groups of swarming reproductive termites known as “alates.” Alates emerge from existing mature colonies during a specific time frame each year, but this time frame varies by species. The continued existence of termites on this planet depends on the ability of reproductive alates to find a mate and start a new colony as queen and king, but a typical termite swarm is comprised of thousands of alates, and only a few, or possibly none at all, will survive long enough to start a new colony. When a large number of alates, workers and soldiers from a mature colony die off, queens can produce an alternate class of reproductives in order to restore a colony’s strength and ensure its continued survival.
Generally, a subterranean termite colony contains workers, soldiers and the royal pair (queen and king). Workers are responsible for locating food sources, building nests, and grooming offspring. Soldiers exist to defend their colony, particularly the royal pair, from predatory attacks. The queen and king constantly reproduce in order to build a mature and self-sufficient colony. Queens lay around 1,000 eggs per day, and they release pheromones that determine whether larvae will mature into workers or soldiers. After a period of time lasting anywhere from one to ten years, depending on the species and the external conditions around a nest, a colony will mature to the point where queens must produce reproductive alates.
When a colony nest becomes damaged due to a predatory attack, an environmental event, or from construction projects, a large proportion of a colony’s inhabitants may die. When such events occur, a colony may not be able to survive, so in order to rapidly repopulate a nest with more workers and soldiers, queens release pheromones that prompt asexual workers and nymphs to develop into secondary and tertiary reproductives. These backup reproductives are capable of producing more workers and soldiers for a colony in need, but unlike reproductive alates, secondary and tertiary reproductives do not have wings, and therefore, cannot swarm. This makes sense, as backup reproductives are not produced for the purpose of establishing additional colonies as future queens and kings, but rather to provide much needed labor when the number of workers or soldiers within a colony becomes dangerously low. No matter how many termites are killed within an indoor colony, pest control professionals must always destroy the queen in order to fully eliminate an infestation.
Have you ever examined structural lumber that had been infested with termites?
Termite damage repairs and control costs in the United States exceeds five billion dollars per year, and subterranean termites are responsible for inflicting the greatest amount of property damage within the United States. The most damaging subterranean termite species in the country include eastern subterranean termites, dark southern subterranean termites, and light southern subterranean termites. The most voracious subterranean termite species in the country may be the non-native Formosan subterranean termite, which established an invasive population in southeast Texas and other areas along the Gulf Coast several decades ago. These termites consume wood at a much faster rate than native subterranean termite species, but this is due to the larger size of Formosan colonies, and not necessarily because Formosans are faster eaters. While drywood termite species cannot be found, or do not pose a significant economic threat in most areas of the US, they are tremendously destructive insect pests to structures in Texas. Multiple drywood termite species infest structures in Texas, but the western drywood termite species is by far the most damaging of all.
Unlike subterranean termites, which infest homes from the ground up, drywood termites do not make contact with the ground soil, and they dwell entirely within natural and finished wood sources. Drywood termite infestations are less common than subterranean infestations, as drywood termite colonies do not contain workers that forage away from their nests; instead, drywood termites infest homes as swarming alates. These reproductive swarmers emerge from nests each year during the spring or summer, which does not give these termites many opportunities to locate houses to infest. Indoor swarms indicate that a colony must be present within the structure, and these swarms are often the first sign of an active infestation. Since drywood termite colonies require a few years of maturation before reproductive swarming alates can be produced, indoor swarms indicate that the infestation has been active for quite some time. Swarming alates are poor flyers and many are not able to fly as far as ten feet upon emerging from a nest, but mediocre flyers can travel as far as 75 to 100 feet, and the strongest flyers can travel as far as 250 feet. If a male and female pair of reproductive alates land on a home’s roof, siding or on an indoor structural wood source, they will mate and start a new colony as queen and king.
Have you ever witnessed a termite swarm?
It is hard to accurately estimate the number of termites currently existing on the planet, but experts claim that there exists 1,000 pounds of termites for every one person on the planet. Considering how much a tiny termite must weigh, this comes out to be a massive number of individual termites. In fact, the total number of individual termites in the world far exceeds the total number of individual ants. So how is it that ants are encountered everywhere outdoors while the vast majority of people have never seen a single termite?
Most people are aware that subterranean termites dwell below the ground, just as their name suggests. Drywood and dampwood termites dwell solely within single items of natural and finished wood sources, with the exception of reproductive termites (alates) that swarm from their enclosed colonies each year. Given their cryptic habitat, termites are one of the most difficult insect pests to detect within infested homes, as well as within the natural environment. Rather than stumbling across individual termites within a home, subterranean termite infestations become apparent when their mud tubes are found along a home’s foundation. Drywood termite infestations are more difficult to notice, as these termites do not leave a mud trail in their wake. Many drywood termite infestations first become apparent after small “exit holes” are found on the surface of wood.
Once a colony of drywood termites become mature enough to produce swarming alates, which can take years, the destructive insects create holes on the surface of lumber in order to allow swarming alates to exit the colony. These swarming alates then fly to a new territory where males and females establish a new colony as king and queen. Exit holes are also used to discard feces that would otherwise collect within the internal wood cavities where colonies are located. Therefore, drywood termite infestations are noticed either by the presence of termite feces that collect on the ground beneath infested wood items or by the presence of exit holes, or both. Unfortunately, these signs are hard to notice, as termite fecal pellets, known as “frass,” are often mistaken for sawdust piles, and termite exit holes are smaller than ⅛ of an inch. Upon closer inspection, however, frass takes the form of hexagonal shapes. Just be sure to where gloves before thoroughly examining any material suspected of being frass.
Have you ever found exit holes in wood or termite frass within your home?
Numerous timber-made structures of historical significance are still inhabited today in Beaumont. Unfortunately, Beaumont’s location in eastern Texas means that termites of several species are also abundant in the city. Multiple subterranean termite species can be found in the region, including the most economically damaging species, the eastern subterranean termite, and the highly destructive invasive species known as the Formosan subterranean termite. Naturally, the high number of termites in eastern Texas wreak havoc on Beaumont’s many historically significant structures. Several large scale restoration projects have saved many of the town’s buildings from termite destruction over the years. For example, during the spring of 2016, the Jefferson County Courthouse in Beaumont underwent renovations in order to correct extensive damage inflicted by termites. The termite damage even reached the fourth floor of the courthouse, and renovations were not easy due to the unique style of decorative wood found throughout the structure.
The Jefferson County Courthouse was built during the 1930s at a cost of one million dollars. At the time this was a relatively high price for constructing a building, but the building’s majestic black walnut paneling was considered to be worth the high price, even during the depression era. The termite infestation had plagued the courthouse for what must have been decades, as termite damage inflicted to the expensive wood paneling in the commissioners court had been apparent for years to anyone who entered the fourth floor. Heavily damaged veneer, missing panels and deep termite tracks indicated Formosan subterranean termite activity. However, most of the termite damage had been inflicted to the soft longleaf and yellow pine timber-frame below the cosmetic wood paneling. One judge who had worked in the building claimed that he often had to brush sawdust-like wood carvings off his pants on a regular basis for years due to termite workers plowing through the wood above him. Another judge who worked in the building made a similar comment, only he recalled wood shavings landing directly on his head while presiding at his bench. Despite assurances from local pest control professionals that the building had been cleared of all termites, the judges still frequently visited the location during the renovation in order to see for themselves that the termite activity had truly ceased. Local regulations required the renovation company to find wood replacements that matched the original wood as closely as possible. Although this was a tall order, the courthouse was eventually restored to its original state.
Have you ever seen heavy termite damage within a home or building?
Every year in the United States termites cause well over one billion dollars in property damage alone, far more than the economic cost of tornadoes, hurricanes and all wind storms combined. Having a termite inspection conducted in and around a home is not expensive, but having an active termite infestation eradicated from a home can be costly depending on the extent of the infestation and the degree of damage inflicted. Unfortunately, the entire eastern half of Texas is located in a geographic zone where termite activity is categorized as “very heavy,” while the western half is categorized as “heavy to moderate.” The high termite activity in eastern Texas is largely due to the well established presence of the invasive Formosans subterranean termite, which is considered the most destructive termite species in the world. Also, the Gulf Coast area is a hotbed for termite activity, as all termite species rely on copious amounts of water and high-moisture conditions in order to survive, which explains why the destructive insects thrive in southeast Texas. It is recommended that residents of east Texas have two termite inspections conducted on their property per year in order to avoid the economic burden of a termite infestation, while residents of west Texas should have one termite inspection conducted per year.
Many residents are under the impression that only old homes are vulnerable to termite attacks. While it is true that older homes are particularly vulnerable to termite attacks, termite infestations have occurred in Texas homes during construction, and it is not uncommon for homes in southeast Texas to become infested a mere four days after construction is complete. In some cases, an old home may be better protected from termite infestations than a new home, as old homes that are bordered by a termiticide barrier are less likely to become infested than a new home that is lacking such a barrier. While drywood termites are less common than subterranean termites in Texas, the former can be more difficult to detect and eradicate from a home. Subterranean termites can often be eradicated from a home with wood treatments or bait stations, but drywood infestations often require fumigations, as spot treatments can be a gamble. The only sure method of ridding a home of termites is to have a wood-penetrating fumigation carried out, but this is only a last resort, and recently developed termite control methods have proven effective while being far less of an inconvenience for the occupants of an infested home.
If your home became infested with termites which sort of eradication method would you prefer?
While termites infest homes within every region of Texas, infestations are more common in the south where a greater number of species can be found. The termite species responsible for the greatest amount of property damage in the United States, the native eastern subterranean termite, is abundant throughout the state, particularly in the cooler north. This is the only termite species out of several in Texas that may be more abundant in the northern half of Texas than in the south. Despite this, the eastern subterranean termite is actually more destructive in the south, as the state’s largest and most populous cities are located in the south where timber-framed structures are in greater number and are more densely located. This allows the ground-dwelling termite to move from house-to-house in suburban and urban southern areas. However, the significant disparity between the north and south concerning termite infestation rates largely stems from the fact that the south is home to several highly destructive termite species, most notably the invasive Formosan subterranean termite, which is the most structurally devastating termite species in the world next to the Asian subterranean termite, which has established an invasive habitat in the state of Florida only. Luckily, the Formosan’s invasive habitat in the US is limited to the southeast where the insects are particularly abundant near the Gulf Coast. This puts the largest city in Texas, Houston, right in the center of the most active Formosan subterranean termite zone.
While the Formosan subterranean termite has been found in counties in every area of Texas, this species maintains a permanent habitat within 31 counties in the southeast and into the central portion of the state. The native eastern and invasive Formosan subterranean termites are usually the only two subterranean termites in Texas that are mentioned by experts, but another subterranean species, the arid-land subterranean termite, can be found all over Texas, but infestations are almost exclusive to the west and southwest portion of the state only. Although this species is highly damaging, it is often overshadowed by the far more destructive eastern and Formosan subterranean termite species. Another native subterranean termite species, R. virginicus, also maintains a small population in eastern Texas. A Drywood species, the desert drywood termite, is the most destructive drywood termite in the United States, and it is abundant in the west and southwest region of the state. The desert dampwood termite is the only dampwood species in Texas, and it can be found in the southwest, west and even the northwest portion of the state. This species is of little concern in the state, as it does not infest structures often.
Have you ever heard of anyone’s home becoming infested with dampwood termites
Texas is home to several termite pest species that cause significant damage to timber-framed structures in every area of the state. These species include the eastern subterranean termite, the arid-land subterranean termite, the western subterranean termite, the western drywood termite, the native subterranean termite, the Formosan subterranean termite, and more. Termite control and repair costs in the US exceed 5 billion dollars annually, which makes termites the most economically significant insect pests in the country. In an effort to reduce the damage that termites inflict to structures, pinpointing termite habitats and tracking termite movements into new areas is a priority for government employed entomologists. This is especially true when it comes to the invasive Formosan termite species, which has established colonies within the entirety of the eastern half of Texas, but the Golden Triangle sees the highest rate of Formosan termite infestations. This is not to say that Formosan termite infestations are unheard of in west Texas, as these insects also infest dead trees that are sometimes removed so that the wood can be shipped to other areas of the state for commercial purposes . According to entomologists, the eastern half of Texas sees “very heavy” termite pest activity, while the eastern half is considered “heavy to moderate” in terms of termite pest activity.
While Formosan subterranean termites are most problematic in southeastern cities like Beaumont, Lumberton, Houston and Port Arthur, eastern subterranean termites are active in every region of the state. Eastern subterranean termites usually swarm during February and March in Texas, while Formosans swarm during the month of May, but swarms are often spotted in April as well. Unlike eastern subterranean termite swarmers (alates), Formosan subterranean termite swarmers are attracted to outside lights, much like moths. These swarms can become a nuisance, and if they are spotted near a structure, then a colony must be nesting nearby. If a swarm occurs within a structure, an active infestation has likely already been established. Not long ago, a massive Formosan termite swarm occurred near a business in Beaumont, causing the outside window sills and front walkway to become covered with thousands of dead alates. In other words, Formosan termite swarms are difficult to miss, as they are large in size and are apt to approach outdoor lights around dusk. Eastern subterranean alates are slightly smaller in size, and they often swarm during the daytime after a bout of rainfall. Western and arid-land subterranean termites are most abundant within the western half of Texas.
Have you ever examined a winged termite (alate) shortly after witnessing a swarm?
It is currently not hard to find piles of discarded termite wings in urban areas of southeast Texas, as winged termites (alates) of multiple species have been swarming frequently in the region. This time of year sees swarms of southeastern drywood termites, dark southeastern subterranean termites, arid-land subterranean termites and Formosan subterranean termites emerge in areas all over the southern half of Texas, particularly southeast Texas where Formosan subterranean termites are abundant. Alates from the most destructive termite species in the US, the eastern subterranean termite species, are probably still active, but their swarming behavior is winding down and will soon cease for the year. Formosan subterranean termite swarms are by far the most conspicuous, as these swarms contain a relatively high number of alates.
Formosan swarms occur at night, and alates are attracted to artificial lights, making swarms a major nuisance for homeowners. The bodies of Formosan alates are covering some homes, and many residents have reported the presence of thousands of alates gathering on window frames and entering homes beneath doors. In some cases, alates are establishing new colonies indoors. In Waco, a historically significant African-American church was recently found to be infested with termites.
The Texas Historical Commission has recently petitioned the National Park Service to have the St. James United Methodist Church building registered as a historically significant structure. The building was recently purchased by a couple who plan to open a restaurant in the building’s basement. Unfortunately, termites are damaging some areas of the building, particularly the original wood window frames. The termite pests were likely attracted to the high moisture environment within the building. The building’s significant leaks and water-logged structural and cosmetic wood provide termites with an ideal environment. Hopefully, the termites can be eradicated before they inflict irreparable damage. The building was constructed in 1924 out of brick masonry, but this has not stopped termites from eating away at the floors, window frames and parts of the roof.
Have you witnessed any termite swarms yet this year?
Termites start becoming active during the spring season in Texas, and it is during this time that homeowners need to start being mindful about the destructive insects and their possible presence on properties. Spring and early summer is the best time to have a home in east Texas inspected for termites, as the climate during this time of year causes swarming termites to emerge from the ground in search of new colony nesting sites. Winged termites (alates) are already beginning to swarm in large numbers in the region due to the recent increase in temperatures and the rise in humidity levels. According to experts, the subterranean termites that are most abundant in east Texas begin to swarm when temperatures reach 80 degrees and when humidity levels reach 80 percent. Therefore, it is highly likely that numerous homes in the region have already become infested with species like eastern and Formosan subterranean termites.
After finding an area of a home that has become infested with termites, it is common for the home’s owner to dismiss the notion that termites may be infesting other areas of his/her home. However, pest controllers claim that it is typical to find termites eating away at structural wood located within vastly different areas of a home. In fact, one termite colony often feeds on wood located within 35 to 40 different locations around a house. So even after a termite infestation has been spotted by a homeowner, there remains a good chance that he/she has not seen the worst of the damage being inflicted. Already this year, an unusually high number of homes in east Texas have become infested with termites. One resident, Arleen Sterling, claims her home became infested despite personally inspecting all areas of her home on a daily basis. Of course, Sterling did not waste a moment contacting a pest control operator who promptly drilled into her home’s foundation in order to inject termiticides that dissolve the destructive insects. Due to the high number of termite swarms spotted in east Texas already, residents of the area are strongly advised to have professional inspections carried out on their property.
Have you ever found a termite infestation in multiple areas of your home?