Termites are wood-destroying insects that live in large, social colonies, often damaging human structures. In Nebraska, we have subterranean termites that lie in soil and require high moisture, temperature, and humidity to survive. While termites are most often thought of as strictly wood-nesting, subterranean termites may live underground, inside, or close to a food course, connected by tunnels or mud tubes. They feed on any cellulose material, which includes lumber, drywall, furniture, cardboard, paper, books, fabrics, plants, tree stumps, firewood, and landscape timbers.
Below are the most frequently asked questions we get about termites:
What type of termites do we have in Nebraska?
Usually, the termites found in Nebraska are subterranean termites, and as their name implies, they remain connected to the soil. This is why control measures usually involve treatment of the soil. In places like southern and coastal US regions where drywood and dampwood termites naturally occur, their ecology and management tactics will be different.
What do termites look like?
Termites are usually seen in two forms –
- Workers and soldiers: Small (1/8- to 3/8-inch long), cream-colored, soft-bodied insects sometimes seen when they are accidentally exposed in the wood or soil. They have no eyes and straight, beadlike antennae.
- Swarmers (alates): Larger (1/2- 1-inch long), black in color, and winged. They have eyes and straight, beadlike antennae.
What is the purpose of winged termites?
When ants and termites are in their mature reproductive phase, they produce winged members. Both mature ant and termite colonies will produce individuals with wings, and these are called swarmers or alates. Male and female take part in a mating flight (swarm), land on the ground, lose their wings, pair off as a queen and king, and disperse into the soil to establish a new colony. Termite swarms are seasonal, usually occurring in Nebraska from March through May after significant rainfall.
How far can termites disperse by flying?
Swarmers (also called alates) are not strong fliers. They may disperse more than 100 meters if they are aided by the wind. It is not uncommon to find a random alate on the wall of a house or car windshield. This would be considered an unsuccessful mating flight. Many swarmers are eaten by birds and other predators.
How can I tell a winged ant from a winged termite?
Winged termites have a broadly joined waist, straight antennae, and four wings that are identical in size and length. Winged ants have a thin waist, elbowed antennae, and four wings that are varied sizes (forewings are larger than hindwings). Both insects will lose their wings after swarming, but their distinct waists and antennae remain as distinguishing characteristics for identification.
What are the differences between termites and ant workers?
- Termite workers are rarely seen aboveground out in the open. They are cream-colored and soft bodied. They have a broadly joined waist, straight antennae, no eyes, and a pair of straight, beadlike antennae. Termites will eat or consume the wood and leave mud or frass in place of wood.
- Ant workers are very common in the landscape or sidewalk. Ants may be a variety of colors but have a hard exoskeleton. They have segmented bodies, eyes, and a pair of elbowed antennae. Ants do not eat or consume wood and will kick out coarse sawdust from the galleries they excavate. Termites will not leave piles of frass.
Do termites die in the winter?
Though termites are most active during warmer months, they can remain active all year in heated buildings. They are insulated deep in the soil.
What are termites doing when we cannot see them?
Termites have a caste system which includes workers, soldiers, and reproductives.
- Colonies primarily consist of workers. They perform all the work necessary for the colony to survive, which includes foraging for food, feeding and grooming other castes, and building and repairing mud tunnels. Workers are also the cause of structural damage to wood.
- Soldiers have enlarged, rectangular heads with large mandibles. They make up less than 3% of the colony. They protect and defend the nest from predators such as ants.
- Reproductives have plump abdomens and their job is to produce eggs and increase the size of the colony. There may be several reproductive termites in the colony. Rarely are queens (large physogastric queens) recovered from colonies.
What are termite mud tubes?
Because termites are highly susceptible to dehydration, they travel in mud tubes where they can retain moisture and be protected. They detect air movement with sensory hairs on their bodies, and when they sense air, they construct a shelter using wood debris, saliva, and fecal matter.
Why are termites pests?
Termites become structural pests when their food source extends to building materials used to construct homes and other buildings. Collectively, it costs homeowners billions of dollars annually to prevent, control, and repair damage caused by termites. Termite damage is not covered by homeowners insurance. This is because insurers believe damage due to termites is avoidable and due to homeowner negligence.
Does mulch attract termites to my yard?
Mulch helps to keep weeds down and conserve moisture for plants in the garden. Mulch may provide a bridge from the ground into the structure, but it does not attract termites to your yard if they are not already present. The best practice is to keep mulch shallow if it is adjacent to the foundation, leaving at least a 6-inch space between the soil and the siding. This allows the opportunity to see mud tubes.
How do I know I have a termite infestation?
Homeowners typically discover a termite infestation in one of two ways:
- During swarm season, when winged termites emerge from hidden locations from inside the building. Sometimes swarmers get trapped on windowsills and in cobwebs.
- When inaccessible areas of the structure are made opened or become accessible during home renovation or repair.
What should I do if I find termites?
Collect a few intact specimens in a clear container and have them identified by the local Extension office before determining a management strategy. You can also call a licensed termite control company so they can do a full inspection of the building and determine the appropriate course of action.
How did termites enter my home?
Subterranean termites enter buildings through cracks in the slab foundation; slab basement, or garage by way of expansion joints; along the sill plate, especially in dirt-filled porches. They can also travel unseen in the soil and get into the structure via mud tubes through crawlspaces and concreate foundation blocks. They may feed and cause damage for years without detection.
How can I tell if I might have termites in my house?
The extent of termite damage depends on the size of the colony and how long they have been feeding. Termites consume along grain patterns and leave mud frass (excrement) packed into the galleries in place of the wood. Other signs of damage include seeing mud tubes coming up from floor or down from ceiling; dips or holes in hardwood floors; and bubbles or peeling of paint on walls. They do not prefer one wood over another when it comes to building materials, but a significant factor would be wood with high moisture. If there is an active infestation, moisture readings may measure above 20 percent.
How can I prevent termites from entering my house?
Termites must maintain a certain level of moisture to survive. The constant connection with the soil allows them to transfer moisture from the ground to their colonies inside wood. Without a source of moisture, their soft bodies would dry out and desiccate. It is also important to have visual access to see mud tubes as soon as they are constructed.
Where should I scout to look for a termite infestation?
Conditions conducive to termites include:
- Wood-to-soil contact (e.g., storing firewood on the ground next to the house, and dirt-filled porch).
- Exterior moisture problems (e.g., improper grade, poor drainage, broken gutters, and downspouts).
- Interior moisture issues (e.g., plumbing issues, condensation, and leaky pipes).
- Structural damage leading to high moisture (i.e., damage due to wind, rain, or hail to roof, windows, and skylights).
- Vegetation along the exterior perimeter (e.g., ivy on the home, and mulch piled too high).
- Poorly ventilated crawlspace.
What are the signs of an active termite infestation?
Old mud tubes and wood damage do not necessarily mean there is an active and ongoing infestation. Check the moisture in the walls with a moisture meter. If the reading is 12-20%, investigate further because this indicates high moisture content. If mud tubes are present, break them open and see if workers fall out or start to rebuild. If you scrape off a piece of the mud tube, an active tunnel will be repaired within a few days. A recent termite swarm indoors also indicates an active infestation and may warrant treatment.
Where can I purchase a moisture meter for walls?
Special moisture meters designed to detect dampness in the walls can be purchased at hardware stores. Pin-type devices need to have the metal prongs pushed into the wood, and pin-less devices use induction to detect moisture without damaging the wood. They usually have settings for drywall, masonry, hardwoods, and softwoods.
If we find damaged wood in the structure, does it mean there will be termites?
Due to decay, moisture problems can easily lead to pest problems, including carpenter ants and termites. It is recommended that moisture-damaged wood be replaced and salvaged lumber be monitored using a moisture meter. Wood with high moisture is a concern for wood-destroying organisms, including termites and carpenter ants.
Why are termites in my yard?
In natural ecosystems, termites are considered beneficial organisms, breaking down cellulose material such as decaying plant matter, decomposing trees, and leaf litter. If you live in a wooded area or somewhere with decaying wood, it is quite common to find termites in the landscape if you turn over a decaying log or break apart a tree stump.
How do I choose a reliable company to treat termites?
There are many pest management companies that perform termite work. Consider whether you want to hire a national firm or local company. We recommend asking for referrals from family or friends, consulting the Better Business Bureau, and reading online reviews. Contact more than two companies and see if they will come to your home for an inspection. After the inspection, each company should provide a detailed report complete with a map indicating the dimensions of the structure(s), areas of active infestation, extent of damage, conducive conditions, and recommendations for a treatment. Ask whether the company has liability insurance and whether the applicator is licensed by the Nebraska Department of Agriculture (NDA). Upon selection of a provider, read contracts fully to ensure understanding before signing.
What are the different types of professional termite treatments?
If you have a termite infestation, choosing a professional company is recommended to treat the building for long-term effectiveness. Professionals are trained and licensed, have the products, PPE, and the equipment for the job. Different types of post-construction treatments will vary in cost, application method, and warranties. The two main types of treatment are the following:
- Liquid termiticide – This includes common methods of applications such as trenching and rodding, sub-slab injections, and foaming wall voids. The applicator schedules a day to come and treat the home based on the contract. It can involve digging around the foundation; drilling into concrete sidewalks, garage, and basement floors; and applying the required volume of liquid termiticide to create a barrier around the structure. Current termiticide brands with the active ingredient fipronil, include Termidor® and Taurus®.
- Baiting system – This includes the installation of termite bait stations/stakes around the exterior perimeter of the building. After bait stations are in the ground, the applicator returns in intervals according to the contract to check them and replace bait, as necessary. Current termite bait brands that contain different insect grown regulators as the active ingredient include: Sentricon® and Trelona®.
How does a liquid termiticide like Termidor® work to control termites?
Termidor® is a liquid termiticide applied to the soil for subterranean termites and effective for at least 10 years, according to field studies. It must be used according to the pesticide label, by a professional applicator with appropriate licensing by the NDA in category 08W. There is Termidor® SC and Termidor® HE, which utilize different rates and application procedures. The contract usually involves a warranty and stipulations requiring annual inspections by the same company.
How do termite bait stations work?
These are not traps but bait stations. They offer a palatable, attractive, and slow acting consumable poison designed for subterranean termites and only. Termites are social insects and workers forage and feed the rest of the colony. This social behavior allows the transfer of toxic bait to kill the entire colony. The baiting system is an on-going expense because it requires an annual service by the pest control company.
How can I decide on the types of treatment?
Liquid termiticides like Termidor® bind closely with the soil and can last for up to 10-15 years. This will provide a non-repellent barrier around the house protecting it from termites. Currently, companies have options that use less termiticide and fewer penetration holes. It should be fine for the environment, provided homeowners do not have a garden within 10 feet of the treatment area.
However, depending on the situation and needs of the homeowner, a baiting system can also be effective, too, especially if clients do not want to drill into cement patio, basement floor, tile, or other location (depending on the situation and type of construction). Baiting is the better option if the building contains a well or cistern or has an inaccessible crawlspace. Baits work by interfering with insect development (called insect growth regulators), which are not toxic to humans and pets.
Which is the best method of treatment?
All termite treatments are for structural protection. Both options, liquid termiticide and baiting, are good and legitimate ways of eliminating termites from structures. It is entirely up to the homeowner which method is chosen, but decisions are based on construction type, preference, and cost of treatment. Today some people choose to do both.
Would flood waters interfere with liquid termiticide so that a structure would require another treatment?
Structures that have been treated previously with a liquid termiticide, such as Termidor®, are protected by creating a soil barrier using an active ingredient formulated to bind tightly to soil. Products like this have low water solubility and do not move readily with flood waters. There are two situations that may require the barrier around the foundation of a structure to be re-established by retreatment. These include situations when:
- Treated soil has moved away from the intended areas, or
- Flooding has added untreated soil into the treated area.
What should be done with termite bait stations after a flooding event?
For baiting systems previously installed on the property, only internal cartridges or baiting components will require replacement if damaged by the flood waters.
Who should pay for the termite treatment?
Termites are widespread, and it is up to property owners to pay for inspections and treatment. Many inspections are challenging because of accessibility issues. Often inspectors cannot see all areas with wood because it is covered with drywall, paneling, ceiling, furniture, and other items. It is good for people to be aware of termites, like any other pest, because treatment and repair can be costly and are not covered by home insurance. Termite damage is not covered by homeowners insurance. This is because insurers believe damage due to termites is avoidable and due to homeowner negligence.
How much does it cost to treat termites?
The cost of a termite treatment will vary based on the company, location, size of the structure (linear feet), type of treatment, and products used. The cost can range from $450 to $2,000. A home with more linear feet will cost more to treat than a smaller home.
Can I sell my house if I had a termite infestation?
If you are buying or selling a house, a termite inspection is required by law. Most states and lenders for home loans require that the seller pay for the termite inspection. If the structure is found to have an active termite infestation or termite damage, the seller is responsible for treatment. Old termite damage alone is not a deal-breaker unless there is an active and untreated termite infestation or there is extensive structural damage, and the building has never been treated.
Should I have my house preventatively treated for termites?
If the structure has no signs of termites, no feeding damage, no signs, or conditions conducive to termites, a preventative termite treatment is not a priority. Homeowners should perform regular visual inspections of their property to maintain the structural integrity by making repairs, when necessary, to reduce moisture in and around the buildings.
I am building a home and want to pretreat for termites. Where would I start?
Preconstruction treatments could include liquid termiticide applied before the foundation is poured and during the construction process. An alternative treatment is a borate treatment to exposed wood (e.g., frames, basement, and crawlspace). It is not required when you build a house. Costs vary, and it really is up to the homeowner.
What can I do for termites that are eating rhubarb or fruits in the vegetable garden?
Unfortunately, there are not a lot of natural options for termite control since termites are natural decomposers. Nematodes may be purchased as a biological control agent for termite control; however, nematodes are living organisms and require favorable environmental conditions for success. Many organic products without U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registration numbers have not been tested specifically against the target pest, so it’s hard to say without research how effective it will be.
Is there a way to prevent or treat termites without the use of termiticides or baits?
While you may not be able to prevent termites on your property, you can prevent termites from finding your structure favorable by decreasing structural moisture, making sure water drains away from the house, eliminating any wood-to-soil contact, and monitoring for damage, swarming termites, and mud tubes. We do not recommend DIY treatments or home remedies for termites.
Termites are often compared to and believed to be “white ants”; however, termites are more closely related to and belong to the same insect order as cockroaches. In essence they are social cockroaches.