Like the subterranean termites, drywood termite colonies eat sources of cellulose – usually wood – and can cause major damage to a house’s structural elements. Yet this pest tends to go undetected for long periods of time, and by the time it is detected, the damage to wooden members is often extensive.
The insects’ ability to be secretive is due to the fact that entire colonies can live in dead wood without trekking back periodically to the soil to obtain moisture. Thus, when they invade the structure and form colonies inside the actual wooden wall framing and vertical wall studs, drywood termites can stay hidden for years. This unusual ability to live on only trace amounts of water not only means special measures must be taken in drywood termite extermination and control, but also that an infestation can remain unnoticed until the subtle signs of drywood termites appear.
A Sure Sign: Drywood Termite Swarms
Homeowners may never see signs of drywood termites until the damage is done. But in the damp, warm spring, from March until May, they may see swarming termites inside the house gravitating toward indoor lighting or windows. The swarm size is small, usually comprising less than 100 termites, according to the Consumer Education Council on Termites. A swarm of winged insects might be mistaken for flying ant swarmers. But unlike ants, termites have straight bodies, straight antennae, and wings of uniform size both front and back.
After swarming, drywood termites shed their wings and die. Though homeowners may not be present during the swarm, shed wings will probably be in evidence on the floor or other surfaces after a swarm. Though the shedding of wings is part of the drywood termites’ reproductive cycle, they cannot actually reproduce in indoor conditions.
Yet far from being good news, a swarm is a sign that the colony is most likely alive and thriving, since it takes years for a colony to reach the size necessary to yield swarmers. Any signs of a swarm should prompt a homeowner to contact a termite control provider for an inspection. Homeowners may also place a termite specimen in a jar filled with rubbing alcohol and contact their County Extension service to get the termite positively identified as the drywood variety.
Because they form colonies in wood instead of the soil, drywood termites must drill holes in their wooden home to expel their waste. From these tiny 1/16″ kick out holes they push fecal pellets, also called frass. The pellets are seen as small, powdery sawdust-like mounds of a beige or tan color and, when examined closely, have a distinct six-sided tubular shape.
To determine if the termite colony is active in that locale, a homeowner can sweep up the piles of drywood termite droppings and observe if more pellets appear in the next couple of weeks. If they do, the dark, discolored and sealed termite kick out hole may be visible somewhere above the area, either in a cabinet, on wood furniture or windowsills, or on a wall or ceiling.
Termite Damage to Wood Structures
Drywood termites can eat their way through furniture or wall framing structures until only a thin film of wood is left, which, though hard to see from inside the room, can be felt distinctly by touching the wood and noting if it gives easily. Knock on furniture to see if tiny piles of fecal droppings fall from them.
Drywood Termite Treatment & Control
An infestation of drywood termites requires different treatment than does a subterranean termite infestation. The good news is that drywood termites don’t range far from their living space and so are easy to kill, once the location or locations of their colonies are established. While this doesn’t mean there is only one colony, it does mean that the termites won’t escape exposure to termiticides, fumigants or heat through tunnels.
For small infestations, drywood termites are spot treated with termiticides, which are liquid pesticides injected into the wood. In the event of widespread termite infestations, the pests are killed with extreme heat or a fumigant. Both fumigant treatment and heat treatment require human and animal evacuation.
Signs of a drywood termite colony should not be ignored. Because of their ecology, drywood termites are not good candidates for do-it-yourself termite control. Most homeowners are not equipped to get rid of drywood termite infestations using fumigation or high heat, inject termiticide into colonies, or identify all areas of infestation. Therefore, if evidence of termite swarmers, droppings or wood damage is found, thoughts of DIY treatment should be abandoned and a pest control provider contacted.
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