DTY Termite
Termites: Maintaining industry standards


For pest management professionals (PMPs), termites are nothing new, but there’s always time for a good review. Knowing the signs and symptoms of termite infestations is essential to proper industry standard of care.

Closely related to cockroaches, termites are small, pale, cellulose-consuming insects that thrive with a social group strategy. Cellulose is a significant component of plant cell walls. Termites feed on dead and decaying plant material, which may result in considerable damage to structures.

Living in colonies, termite populations can range from quite small to very large (up to two million individuals). Termites serve various roles within their colonies. Adult female and male reproductives (swarmers or alates) reproduce and create new colonies. Workers feed the colony and do not possess wings.

Different species of termites can be identified by what they consume and where they exist.

  • Dampwood termites feed on damp or wet wood and generally do not cause damage to structures.
  • Drywood termites feed on dry wood, and plastics and fabrics made of plant derivatives.
  • Formosan termite colonies may consist of tens of thousands of termites, and possess soldiers to protect the colony.
  • Subterranean termites are the largest in size, may have the largest colonies, excavate tunnels underground and inflict the most damage to structures.

As much as homeowners have a zero tolerance for cockroaches, the same may be said for termites. Termites inflict inhabitant anxiety and consternation, significant structural damage and devalue property.

Photo credit: ARTPUPPY

Signs of infestation

  • A musty or moldy smell resulting from a well-established infestation,
  • The sound of termites tapping on wood, as a means of communication with other colony members — generally in well-established colonies.
  • Broken-off wings due to insect swarms (a sign of reproductive termites within the structure).
  • Frass (termite scats) that resemble pellets or sawdust discovered in piles near termite-created holes.
  • Shot holes about the size of nail holes emerging from drywall and wooden surfaces.
  • Fractured wood that sounds hollow as if the wood has been consumed from the inside out.
  • Mud (shelter) networking tubes about the diameter of a pencil, constructed by termites on surfaces.

Symptoms of infestation

  • Damage to furniture, cabinets, furnishings and stored items,
  • Floors that may be moisture damaged and sag, buckle or are spongy.
  • Loose tiles and hardwood floor slats.
  • Swollen ceilings that resemble water intrusion damage, but are actually termite damaged.
  • Bubbling of paint and blistering laminate floors.
  • Cracks in walls to beams to decks to ceilings.
  • Crumbling wood structures and supports.
  • Windows and doors that do not properly operate due to misshapen frames as a result of termites tunneling through them.

Preventing infestation

Technicians should take the following steps to prevent infestations:

  • Conduct annual or more frequent inspections to discover, identify, and diagnose the initial warning signs of a termite infestation.
  • In addition to the standard of practice for using termite inspection tools, consider using an infrared camera after accredited usage training.
  • Minimize access points that termites might exploit (such as roof damage that allows water intrusion or wood to soil contact points).
  • Eliminate damp areas (repair leaking pipes and keep air conditioning moisture away from structural foundations).
  • Minimize cellulose exposure such as not using cardboard boxes or wood storage containers (use plastic).
  • Consider metal-frame furniture.
  • Do not use wood mulch near structures (consider ground covers such as rock, gravel or other non-wood coverings).

As a standard of care, it is essential that the PMP know what species of termites are in their area of practice. Know the signs and symptoms!

Stuart Mitchell, D.O., DVM, PsyD, BCE, is a board-certified family practitioner and entomologist, and a regular contributor to Pest Management Professional's Direct to You series.

PMP’s Direct To You provides pest management professionals with educational refreshers on timely and critical topics essential to operational success. This content is not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from an attorney licensed to practice where you live. Look for the content-rich PMP Direct To You archives at mypmp.net/direct-to-you-archive.

This newsletter was produced by North Coast Media’s content marketing staff in collaboration with BASF.

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