Growing up, I remember watching cartoons depicting termites as an unstoppable whirlwind that rapidly razed wooden houses to the ground. Fortunately, although termites can be destructive, there’s enough time for you to intercept their infestation and protect your property!
Termites eat cellulose-based products and establish colonies within these materials. You can find termites living in wood siding, drywall, paper, books, cardboard, cotton, insulation, and even swimming pool filters. Termites never sleep, meaning they are always eating and expanding their colonies.
Even though it sounds frightening to have your house damaged by termites, there are many steps you can take to prevent this. Let’s talk about what exactly termites are and where they live!
What Are Termites?
Termites are small insects that are roughly the same size as ants. They live in colonies, similar to bees and ants.
But unlike bees and ants, termites have made some big enemies. A study published in the journal International Biodeterioration & Biodegradation named termites as the most destructive pest to urban development.
The most destructive pest? That might sound like such a harsh judgment to cast on something so tiny, but termites cause significant harm to crops and buildings.
It can easily cost THOUSANDS of dollars for homeowners to repair structural damage caused by termites.
What Purpose Do Termites Serve?
Termites are not supervillains, smugly rubbing their hands together and calculating how to most devastatingly ruin your home.
Termites are a crucial part of the ecosystem.
A research study from the journal Agronomy for Sustainable Development compared termites to earthworms. The data suggests that perhaps rather than considering termites to be pests, it might be more useful to view them as “soil engineers”.
To understand this, it helps to think of an ecosystem as a giant web. No organism is isolated— plants, animals, and insects constantly interact with one another.
Plants use the sun to produce energy through photosynthesis. Herbivores consume the plants, then carnivores eat the herbivores.
The food web does not only contain predators and prey. It also contains a category known as decomposers.
Think of decomposers as Mother Nature’s clean-up crew.
Termites are champion decomposers. Substances like wood (which can take years to rot) will decompose much faster after termites hollow it out.
Like earthworms, termites help aerate the soil and decompose dead plant matter.
Termites are essential for a healthy ecosystem. But like most creatures that creep and crawl, termites don’t belong inside your house.
How Do I Know If I Have Termites In My House?
Before we continue, we need to clarify something very important: termites can live in your yard without necessarily infesting your house.
Termites can and will be found in the soil wherever there is wood nearby. Different species can be found throughout the world, but generally, you will find termites in areas with higher temperatures and humidity.
This means that unless you live in an exceptionally harsh climate (like Antarctica or in the middle of the Sahara Desert), you will likely have termites nearby.
Keeping termites and other pests out of your home is an ongoing process of prevention rather than elimination.
So how do you know if you have termites in your home?
According to Texas A&M, it can be tricky to identify the presence of termites because you will rarely see them. Young termites are so small that they can be difficult to distinguish with the naked eye.
But even if they are big enough for you to see, worker termites (cream-colored laborers about the same size as ants) do not ever come out into the open. Rather than travel where predators could eat them, worker termites will build dirt tunnels along the non-edible portions of your house.
If you find dirt lines (with a diameter about the width of a pencil) climbing up your foundation, that is a huge red flag that termites have made the journey into your home. Breaking these tunnels open might even reveal termites commuting along!
The University of Kentucky advises homeowners to watch for rippled or sunken parts of interior walls. This is a sign that termites have been burrowing inside.
However, this advice is not foolproof. Sometimes the outside surfaces of hardwood may deceptively appear to be fine, even if there is significant damage underneath.
You may not realize the intensity of the infestation until a bump from the vacuum cleaner causes one of your baseboards to disintegrate!
When it comes down to it, one of the only sure ways to know for certain if you have termites or not is to break open wood to see if there are termites inside.
For obvious reasons, this is not an ideal testing method.
The most effective sign of termites is the presence of swarmers.
If you do believe you have termites, you may want to use our pest professional finding network so that you can solve your problem fast!
What Is A Swarmer And Why Is This A Sign Of Termites?
Like other insect colonies, termites have different castes with varying roles. You can identify a termite’s job by the appearance of its body.
The majority of the colony consists of workers. The reproductive caste (king and queen) look similar to the workers, but their bodies are much larger.
When the time is right for an established colony to expand and create new colonies, termites utilize a third caste: swarmers.
Swarmers are winged termites that resemble flying ants. Even though they are small, they have reproductive abilities and are capable of starting a new colony.
The University of Nebraska emphasizes that termites need high moisture, temperature, and humidity to thrive. In the spring, when rainy weather and warmer days meet these requirements, you are more likely to see colonies sending out swarmers. This time of year is known as “swarming season” due to the frequency in which this occurs!
Although swarmers optimistically set off to establish a new home, you’ll often find them in cobwebs and on windowsills.
Some might think that dead swarmers are a good sight because that means new colonies were not established in your home.
If you find multiple swarmers inside your home, this is a very bad sign.
Only established colonies send off swarmers. If you have swarmers inside your home, that means there is an established colony inside your home.
If you find swarmers or other signs of termites, you must contact a pest control professional IMMEDIATELY to avoid the problem getting worse.
13 Places Where You’re Likely To Find Termites Living
Now that we understand how termites operate and how to control them, here are 13 places in your home where you are likely to find them!
Termites Can Live In The Subfloor
Whether you have tile, hardwood, linoleum, vinyl, or carpet in your home, we all have one thing in common: there’s a subfloor underneath!
Subfloor is wood to which your top floor (whatever material is it made from) is firmly affixed. It’s a place for glue, staples, mortar, or any other attachment to stick.
Subfloor is designed to be strong and create a flat, smooth surface. It acts as an intermediary between the hard concrete foundation and the top floor. Although it might not be the prettiest to look at, appearance is less important than function.
If your subfloor is functioning as it should, you will never even think about it. As with many reliable people and products, you only notice it when things go wrong.
If termites access your subfloor, they will burrow and create a network of horizontal tunnels. The remaining wood will eventually disintegrate, leaving pits and collapsing floor tiles.
If this happens, you will have to rip up the top layer of your floor to access and replace the subfloor. Keep up with your pest control schedule to prevent termites from having access to this part of your home.
Termites Can Live In Tunnels On Your Foundation
The foundation of your home will be built with stone and concrete— if the building is going to stand for any lasting amount of time,
(That being said, some houses don’t have a foundation, such as some modular homes or perhaps a very old cabin. If your home is like this, you will have to pay even more attention, as there will not be a boundary between the wood and the ground!)
Fortunately, termites can’t burrow into solid rock or cement. But they can build dirt tunnels that connect the dirt to the wooden parts of your home. These tunnels are a common hiding place for termites!
Old Firewood Provides A Home For Termites
Many homes utilize fireplaces or wood stoves as a source of heat in the winter. To limit time spent in the cold, you might bring some of the wood inside until you burn it.
Think twice about doing this. The longer that wood has been sitting around outside, the more likely it is to be infested with termites. Don’t give termites a free ride into your home.
Burn firewood immediately after bringing it inside your home. Store wood piles away from your home. (This is good practice not just for termites, but for a variety of pests as well!)
Termites Can Live In Wood Siding
Although it’s more popular to use brick and plastic siding on newly constructed homes, you will still see plenty around the country that have wood siding.
Wood siding can be more vulnerable to harsh weather, but it’s also an easy target for termite swarmers to access.
Watch the siding on your home and replace warped or pitted wood as soon as you notice it. Removing compromised wood can prevent termites from spreading.
Termites Love To Live In Trees
Well, sort of. Termites are incapable of damaging live, healthy wood. They are decomposers that opportunistically feed on dead wood.
If a tree is hosting termites, then that tree’s health has been declining for some time.
It’s always wise to keep the immediate area surrounding your home free from trees, but especially consider removing unhealthy trees that could potentially house a termite colony.
Termites May Live In Your Drywall
At first glance, you would think that drywall would be safe from termites. After all, it’s not wood, right?
Drywall can be made from a variety of materials depending on where you live and what company produced it. Generally, drywall is made of gypsum (also known as plaster of Paris) and layers of paper or wood pulp.
Termites are unfortunately not as picky as we might hope when it comes to our home. The cellulose base in drywall is enough to welcome termite visitors. Watch your drywall for pitting and other signs of termite damage.
Paper And Books Can Provide Shelter For Termites
We all know that paper comes from trees, but we often do not consider what that might mean regarding termites.
Although not the first choice for termites to feast upon, stacks of papers or books are a natural extension for them if a colony is already established in your home.
Carefully store your books and important papers in places where they will be protected. Proactively prevent termite access to your home to keep all of your belongings safe.
Swimming Pool Filters Are A haven For Termites
This might be the strangest place on the list, but yes! Termites love to feast on filters made of paper and wood pulp!
The filter you’re actively using is safe due to the pool water, but you will want to be cautious with your extras!
Store your extra filters in an airtight container to prevent damage from termites.
Interestingly enough, beetles (and other insects) also tend to try and live in swimming pool filters. Read up on these 6 easy tips to keep beetles (and other insects) out of your pool!
Termites Can Live In Cardboard Boxes
Well, not in the box, but rather inside the sides. The cardboard already has holes in it, and termites can’t help but add more!
In long-term storage situations, opt to use plastic totes rather than cardboard boxes. This will protect your belongings from a variety of pests!
Cotton Fabrics Provide A Home For Termites
Some candidates are more likely to cause damage to fabrics, but we can’t overlook the potential that termites have to consume the cellulose in your cotton clothing.
Burrowing into your clothing is a sign of severe infestation. You would notice termite damage in other places before you noticed it in your wardrobe.
Store off-season and sentimental clothing in plastic containers. Storage areas often go untouched for long periods, which can allow termites to cause damage uninterrupted.
Insulation Provides A Habitat For Termites
This might not have been on your radar since most modern insulation is made of fiberglass, but termites are known for burrowing in it to find their next meal.
Routine termite treatment will protect your insulation as well, but don’t overlook this location if you are searching for signs of termites.
Termites Can Live In Wood Bark Mulch
Wood bark mulch is an economical, ecological way to fine-tune your landscaping. Wood mulch decomposes over time, and termites are a great contributor to that.
You can’t prevent termites from eating your wood mulch bark, but you can control where you place it. Avoid using bark along the foundation of your home. Even though it looks nice, it can invite termites to hang out closer to your home!
Termites Love To Live In Soil (Even Your Yard)
Our list would not be complete without including a termite’s favorite hiding place of all— soil!
As we mentioned above, you can have termites in your yard without ever having an infestation in your home. It is ideal to have termites in the soil because they break down plant matter that would otherwise take a long time to decompose.
You do want to be cautious of termites coming into the soil surrounding your home, as the next step would be for them to enter your home.
Some pest control experts will install termite detectors, such as these Spectracide Terminate Termite Detection Stakes. If termites come too close, a plastic marker pops up to warn you to take action. These can bring immense peace of mind.
Although termites can Live in a variety of places, they are relatively simple to control with concentrated effort and skilled observation. Even if the soil outside your home is full of termites, you can protect your home from damage and infestation!
Why You Need To Act Fast Against Termites (And Why They Don’t Sleep)
You might have thought that the last paragraph was a tad dramatic.
Immediately? But the damage won’t progress that much further, right? Termites are so small! Besides, they need to rest just like everyone else.
The reason you need to act so quickly is that termites never sleep.
Termites continue eating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year.
They don’t take vacation time, parental leave, or respond to jury duty summons. They’re always working.
Termites never have to clock into work, because they never clocked out. Their colonies don’t establish bedrooms or any type of sleeping area— there’s no point in building a room no one would use.
Animals with more advanced brains (like mammals and birds) have adapted to higher energy demands by integrating a period of rest into their day.
Humans, under ideal conditions, will sleep deeply for a longer period through the night.
Ducks, a type of bird that often fall prey to larger animals, take a series of short naps over 24 hours to protect themselves from being vulnerable by sleeping.
Even though humans and ducks have different sleep patterns, the result is the same: rest enables one to better accomplish the tasks demanded of them.
Termites, however, don’t have to use different thinking patterns.
Their jobs are about as mindless as you can get. Eat, dig, repeat.
Because their lifestyle does not require any energy-draining decision-making skills, termites can continue through life without sleeping.
While your body adapted by requiring you to sleep, termite bodies adapted by eliminating the unnecessary rest period.
Fortunately, termites don’t cause instant destruction. But their time management skills and unwavering dedication to the job at hand mean you can’t delay treating your home!
How Do You Treat A Termite Infestation?
Treating termites is relatively simple, although it may take patience and multiple treatments. It is always recommended that you consult with a pest control professional, but there are products you can use at home as well.
There are two main ways to treat a home for termites: using bait or spraying pesticide.
Pest control professionals tend to have a favorite product that works well for your geographical area, but bait and pesticide generally have equal effectiveness.
Bait stations, such as the ones in this Advance Termite Bait System, attract termites with an appetizing (but toxic) cellulose-based treat. To effectively work, you will need to place the bait traps every few feet outside the perimeter of your home.
It’s wise to have sturdy, weatherproof bait stations, as this is a long-term solution and will need to be in place permanently. This is something that should be installed under the guidance of a professional, however.
Mississippi State University recommends professional treatment for termites. U
Although there are at-home methods you may choose, you will need a significant amount of product to effectively treat an infestation.
It may be less expensive to hire a professional than to purchase enough products on your own!
In addition, it’s important to correctly identify the species of termite when controlling pests. It makes it so we can protect against unnecessary damage to the ecosystem. A pest control specialist would be able to help you do this.
At a minimum, annual inspections from a trained eye will identify concerning areas of your home. Professionals can find and treat termites before your home faces irreparable damage IF you suspect termites.
Jouquet, P., Chaudhary, E. & Kumar, A.R.V. Sustainable use of termite activity in agro-ecosystems concerning earthworms. A review. Agron. Sustain. Dev. 38, 3 (2018).
Kirton, L. G. The importance of accurate termite taxonomy in the broader perspective
Verma, M., Sharma, S., &; Prasad, R. (2009). Biological alternatives for Termite Control: A Review. International Biodeterioration & Biodegradation, 63(8), 959–972.
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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