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So You Think You Have Termites? How to Tell for Sure

Updated on January 5, 2017

What are Termites?

Termites are tiny insects in the cockroach family that are very social, working together to accomplish huge tasks such as hollowing out trees or eating your house one support beam at a time.

There are several kinds of termites. The two most common types are drywood and subterranean. Drywood termites are more commonly found in warm climates, like Arizona living in dry wood and dead tree limbs. Subterranean termites are the more commonly found termites throughout the U.S. They live in ground colonies and need moisture to survive. Depending on where you live, if you notice a termite infestation you could have either of these varieties.

Because Termites are tiny like ants many people consider termites to be white ants. In truth, Termites and ants differ in many ways. Termites are related to cockroaches while ants are closer to bees and wasps. Termites have longer wings than ants and their bodies are long and skinny like an ant, but do not taper at the midsection like an ants' body.  

What Damage Can Termites Do?

Termites eat wood, and can migrate to your wood piles, sheds, furniture, walls, and structural beams. Subterranean termites need water at all times in order to survive, so they build small tubular mud tunnels to transport them from the wet soil to your home, and keep them supplied with water at all times. Look around your foundation on the interior and exterior of your home as well as window sills, supports and joists, porches or decks made of wood, and scrap wood piles. Drywood Termites on the other hand do not need water, so the first sign you will see of them are the excreted pellets they kick out of the colonies.  

How to Tell if You Have Termites

Termites live in every state in the U.S except Alaska, so don't believe rumors that they are only in the southern States. You have to keep an eye out for them. If you notice some damage to your wood The first step of the process involves inspecting the damage to see if termites are the cause of your problems. The main things to look for are swarming, tunnels, eaten or hollowed wood, the bugs themselves, and dirt in the wood they have damaged.

In the springtime, termites typically swarm to establish new colonies. The swarms happen very fast, and the swarming, winged termites die rather quickly. So if you don't see a swarm of winged termites, you may see many dead bodies or piles of wings. This is a definite sign that termites are present.

The tunnels that termites build are also evidence that they are taking up residence in your home. If you see pencil sized mud tunnels on any exposed wood or exterior foundation areas, you should contact a termite professional immediately. Many people find these tunnels when they are working on remodels in their homes. They take away a section of wall for work and are surprised to find eaten wood and termite tunnels within.

Termites eat wood from the inside out, so at first glance the wood appears to be fine. But if you tap on it with a knife handle or poke with a flat-head screwdriver the wood sounds hollow or is so weak that it breaks with a small tap.

If you have mulch piles or wood piles close to your home, you may find termites hiding in these cool shaded areas. Termites are usually clear or white in color and have no eyes. If you find these pests lurking in your wood piles, you will need a professional to help you get rid of them.

Many times termites cause damage to areas of your home that have been exposed to water. A leak from a busted pipe or run-off from the garden that gets into your foundation can make walls and beams damp and attract termites to the area. It is common for homeowners to be confused if they are looking at water damage or termite damage. When termites are present, they bring small bits of dirt into the wood. It is very common for water-soaked wood to have termite damage as well.  

How quickly do Termites Work?

Even though they do constant eating, they still work very slowly. It can take up to five years for a colony of termites to do enough damage to the structure of a home to call for serious structural repairs. But eliminating them before they cause serious damage can be tricky if you aren't sure that you have termites. You can use the steps above to determine if you have a termite problem, then you can bring in a professional to determine the corrective actions that can be taken to remove them from your home.  

More Resources:

For more information on termites, insects, and other pests, visit The Pest Nest!

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    • profile image

      Kathy 4 months ago

      I was told by an inspector that I have breeder termites and they don't destroy, is this accurate?

    • profile image

      kelsey 2 years ago

      I have been thinking i have termites but I have not been able to tell. This is great information to help me make sure that I do have them so I can get it taken care of. I wonder how long it will take to get rid of them. http://www.bucksmontgomerypestinspection.com/

    • profile image

      debra 4 years ago

      do you need to move out

    • profile image

      Lauren 4 years ago

      My bathroom sink in my house has kind of cheap wood and there's a giant hole at the edge.... Does any one no if that Could that be termites?

    • profile image

      Pattie 5 years ago

      Has anyone seen evidence of termites on the inside walls of their house? I have tubes that look similar to the red tubes in other pictures but these tubes are the same color of gypsum board (whitish). Please e-mail me @ paloma1955@hotmail.com

    • ThePracticalMommy profile image

      Marissa 6 years ago from United States

      Thanks for this hub! I just found evidence of termites near my home...yikes! This is very informative. Nice job!

    • Barbara Kay profile image

      Barbara Badder 6 years ago from USA

      Great informative article.