According to AmericanPest, termite damages cost American homes up to $5 billion annually. Around 600,000 homes get affected with an average repair cost of $3,300. We can’t help but wonder, what attracts termites?
A lot of homeowners have faced the dilemma of termite infestation over the years. The common problem here is that homeowners are oblivious to “termite magnets”. These are attractants that send the mites running to your home. Here, I have discussed some of these attractants and how termites move into your home.
The termite habitat
Many termite types live beneath the soil while others forage in wood. This is the reason why an infestation can be kept undiscovered for decades.
The worst part here is that termites reproduce at a very fast pace. In fact, the queen termite – the producer of the entire colony – can live for 15 years under ideal conditions. That’s longer than the typical lifespan of a Golden Retriever dog.
There are three ingredients for a termite infestation: darkness, food source, and moisture. If a spot in your home has these three things, you’re inviting termites with open hands. Aside from termites, you may also develop molds and mildew along the way – a double whammy for a very intrusive infestation.
If you don’t act to remove the infestation, your house will sustain severe structural damage over the years. Take note that a small colony of 60,000 termites can consume a 2” x 4” wood in just five months.
In this video, pest control expert Tyler Royce tells us about the termite’s habitat and its foraging habits:
What attracts termites? Common Culprits on Your Home
The following attractants may look innocent, but if you look closely, termites might be starting to forage into it.
➡️ Piles of wood
Wood is the leading food source of termites. It’s packed with cellulose that they find irresistible. When you pile firewood on the ground, you’re giving termites easy access to food and shelter. If the woodpile remains undisturbed, the colony will propagate in silence.
Once the food is no longer enough for the whole colony, they will move to find another source. It could be the tree stump nearby or your home.
To avoid termites from targeting your home, always stack the wood at least 20 feet away from the nearest structure of your property. Aside from that, pile the wood in an elevated platform that’s at least 5 inches from the ground.
➡️ Excess foliage
Untrimmed shrubs and bushes make a perfect defense for termites against foot traffic. Also, a tree branch touching any part of your home can be the pest’s bridge to infesting your property.
Termites can live and eat a living tree. As they expand their colony, they will be exploring other possible habitats. Even a few leaves touching the wall can give away your home.
If the tree isn’t the pathway for termites, it might be blocking sunlight that causes moisture to evaporate slower. And as I have mentioned, many termite species love moisture.
Mulch is probably one of the strongest attractants and harborage of termites. It retains moisture and the wood chips and leftovers you dump into it become sustainable sources of food.
What makes matters worse is that many homeowners place their mulch beside their home’s wooden foundation. As the colony expands, the termites inch close to your home. Once the pest accessed your property’s foundation, it will be easy to spread the infestation on other parts of your house.
To reduce the likelihood of attracting termites to your home, place your mulch at least 15 inches away from the foundation.
➡️ Basements and crawlspaces
Hidden spaces in your house make the perfect harborage for any kinds of pest. Your basement, for one, is the ideal location for termites since it’s dark, likely moist, and stuffed with old boxes. Used basements are no exception since it’s located a few feet below ground level. Without termite protection, it can be a pathway for termites to get into your home.
Crawlspaces, too, are one of the leading termite hideouts. It’s usually undisturbed and dark. When there’s a water leak within this area, it remains unnoticed for a few days or weeks. This buys termites enough time to reproduce and spread their colony all over the property.
➡️ Clogged gutters
Cleaning the gutters is no one’s favorite chore. Still, letting the dried leaves and trapped water sit for too long is an open call for termites. The combination of moisture and cellulose will expose your gutter’s insulation to termite damage.
Many homeowners miss this spot since it’s out of sight. It will help if you will include gutter checks on your regular roof inspection. Aside from lowering the risk of termites, it will also do your insurance coverage a big favor.
During the winter season, termites find your well-heated home an attractive place. For the termites to survive the freezing outdoor temperature, they will take refuge to your home.
Turning the heater off isn’t the solution. Instead, termite-proof your home before the first snow falls.
In this video, Dodson Pest Control tells us about the things we do that attracts the pest:
Signs that your home has termites
Aside from knowing what attracts termites, it’s ideal to run a quick check on your home. Watch out for the following signs. If you observe any, termites may have already been wreaking havoc inside your home.
➡️ Shed wings
Shed wings came from alates (reproductive members of the colony). Once this is discarded, the termite will start looking for a place of harborage to launch its colony.
Termites have its own caste:
- Workers – these mites compose the largest portion of the colony. They are tasked to construct chambers and tunnels as well as feeding other members of the colony.
- Soldiers – these members usually bear a yellow-brown color and large mandibles that they can use for defense. They use the large claw for combat and when they sense a threat, soldier termites will bang their bodies on the surface of the chamber to alert the colony.
- Alates – these are the reproductive members set to be queens of separate colonies. These are the termites that fly into your home, usually attracted to sources of light. After a while, they will mate with a termite, shed their wings, and reproduce the colony.
➡️ Frass or droppings
Frass is termites’ poop. These are small, grain-like droppings somewhat similar to pellets. If you find a small mound of frass near a wooden part of your home, there’s a high chance that your home is already infested.
Frass can be seen on window panes, foundations, and wooden beams on the attic. Basically, it’s the termites pulverizing the wood in your house.
➡️ Pencil-thick mud tubes
Subterranean termites, one of the mite’s species, create mud tubes as pathways for their colonies. This species of termites need moisture to survive. So to keep the moisture in their bodies, they will create these tubes as they move along.
Mud tubes are made from moist soil and termite saliva, one reason why you’ll see it on wall sidings and foundations connected to the ground. Aside from locking in the moisture in their bodies, Subterranean termites use mud tubes to shield them against predators.
When you see mud tubes running into your house, it’s means Subterranean termites are already in the move. A sub-species of Subterranean termites called Formosan termites has the largest colonies in the world.
➡️ Structural damage
Physical damage to your home like hollow wood is a tell-tale sign of termite presence. Try knocking on a wooden beam on your house. If you hear a papery and hollow sound, it means that the termites have already eaten the insides of the wood.
Such damages will compromise the integrity of your home, especially if the damage is located on major foundations and large beams.
➡️ Low ticking sounds
When soldier termites bang their bodies on the wood, it creates a low ticking sound. Also, the munching of the wood will produce an audible sound.
Place your ear on a wood beam and check if you will hear any of the ticking sounds. Make sure that the wood isn’t receiving vibrations from an appliance which may mimic the sound.
Here, Isaac Camacho of Accurate Termite and Pest Control walks us through the signs of a termite infestation:
Types of termites and what attracts them
Each species of termite will have different behaviors. Also, there are specific attractants that pull them in into your home.
➡️ Subterranean termites
Subterranean termites are the most common type of termite in the U.S. It’s present in all states except Alaska. These termites live underground or any above ground structure with sufficient moisture.
It’s also one of the most destructive species as it can multiply into a colony with 2 million members.
Subterranean termites are attracted to moisture and wood. This is why heat treatment methods work best for this species.
➡️ Drywood termites
Unlike Subterranean termites, Drywood termites don’t need moisture to survive. These insects will eat dry wood and any dead wood that lies bare around your home.
Due to their nature, Drywood termites are usually found in southern states with drier weather including Florida, South Carolina, and Delaware. Also, Drywood termites don’t have a distinct caste.
Drywood termites are usually brought into a home by flying or through secondhand furniture. Once they are in, they will attack all types of wood, unless it’s pre-treated against mites.
The consolation here is that Drywood termites are less destructive than Formosan or Subterranean species. Its colony is smaller too, usually composed of 10,000 members.
➡️ Dampwood termites
The total opposite of Drywood termites, Dampwood species prefer to eat moist wood. These are the tree stumps on your yard, piles of wet firewood, and other outdoor food sources.
Dampwood termites don’t usually infest structural wood since it has lower moisture content. Still, you should be cautious during the rainy or snowy months when humidity drops and water molecules stick to surfaces.
Dampwood termites are also larger than most termite types. They also have large heads and mandibles that they use to chew on wood.
Still, they don’t live in a large central colony. Instead, they form small and independent colonies in their harborage. Collectively, they can be highly damaging.
Although they prefer moisture, they don’t need contact with soil to survive. Also, there’s no work caste present in Dampwood colonies since the nymphs perform all the work.
➡️ Formosan termites
Formosan termites, on the other hand, are an aggressive species. It’s actually considered as the most voracious termite over the 2,000+ existing types.
It’s also considered as the most destructive termite, being a sub-species of the Subterranean type. Once it infests a wood, it will create mud nests inside. Formosan termites are also difficult to control once it started infesting a house.
Formosan termites are commonly found in North Carolina, Hawaii, Texas, South Carolina, and Tennessee though it originated from China.
These termites are so destructive that each colony can eat one ounce of wood every day. In this rate, a 2” x 4” piece of wood can be consumed in 25 days. That’s much faster than any other species that can consume the same piece of wood for 5 months.
Aside from dead wood, Formosan termites also infest living trees, shrubs, and even boats.
➡️ Conehead termites
Conehead termites are highly invasive in the Caribbean region. It’s one of the newest species introduced back in 2001. Nevertheless, conehead termites were believed to be entirely eradicated in existence in 2003. However, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) confirmed that conehead termites have reemerged in Broward County just recently.
Conehead termites are aggressive and they forage on the ground like ants. This allows them to spread faster and to incur damages in just a short period. They eat trees, living shrubs, structural wood, and anything that has cellulose.
Conehead termites can also create mud tunnels, which is why they are often mistaken for Subterranean termites.
Debunking some misconceptions
Misconceptions about termites make homes vulnerable to an infestation. Here, we will debunk some of the common beliefs about the pest:
“Termites eat plastic.”
Nope, no species of termites are known to eat plastic. Plastic doesn’t have cellulose, the primary component of a termite’s diet. They will only tear through a soft plastic if there’s a food source inside. Hence, the belief that termites are eating plastic too.
“Termites won’t survive winter.”
Termites don’t take a break during winter, and yes, they can still survive the freezing temperatures. Subterranean termites dig deeper to the ground for warmth. Other species just sit tight on the houses they are infesting. Since homes are well-heated during the winter season, termites won’t find it hard to survive.
“Termites and flying ants are the same”
Alates and flying ants can be confusing, but the identification lies in their body structure. Alates (reproductive termites) have wings that are twice the size of their bodies.
Flying ants, on the other hand, have wings and bodies with the same size. Also, their bodies are segmented, unlike termites with an elongated body structure.
“One termite treatment is enough”
If your last termite treatment was 20 years ago, you need your home retreated now. Just like any home system or pest treatment, the residual effect of the chemicals has an expiration.
It’s best to take a proactive approach than to wait for an infestation to happen just to justify the treatment. Preventive treatments cost less than dealing with an existing infestation.
How to remove termite attractants?
If you have any of the attractants on your home or yard, it’s time to take action. Here are some of the steps you can take to start termite-proofing you home. You might even discover an infestation along the way.
➡️ Clean up
The first step is to clean any pile of dried leaves, old piles of wood, and mulch. Make sure that you dispose it off out of the yard. Also, check for water leaks that may fuel a possible infestation.
It’s a big task, but cleaning up your basement and crawlspaces is a must. Remove any possible source of food like old boxes, a stash of paper, books, and more.
➡️ Don’t put mulch near your home’s foundation
Take the time to move your mulch away from your house’s foundation. It may need a lot of work, especially if you have roses and berries growing already.
Also, take a closer look at the soil and check if any crawling insects look like termites.
➡️ Use a dehumidifier
Inside your home, you can reduce the risk of an infestation by using a dehumidifier. This will remove excess moisture in the air and surfaces. It may also help arrest the population of Subterranean termites.
➡️ Let sunlight in
Sunlight can do wonders in your home. Also, it may help dry out moisture naturally. However, you should know that the termites may move away from the wood exposed to sunlight. It may transfer to other parts of your home.
➡️ Don’t let the AC blow directly to wood beams
Place your AC against the wooden beam with the air blowing in the opposite direction. Cold air may bring in moisture, and if it’s blowing directly to the wood, it may transfer the water molecules. Moist wood is an inviting place for termites, as you know.
➡️ Revisit your basement and crawlspaces
After cleaning your basement, make sure that you revisit it all the time. It will also help if you put it into use aside from making it as a storage room. This way, you can see a sign of termites before it becomes a widespread infestation.
➡️ Ask for professional help
Whether you confirm the presence of termites or not, a professional inspection is the best option. The termite exterminators will check for the presence of the pest. If they discover an infestation, they can apply the necessary solutions to kill the mites.
If your home isn’t infested yet, a preventive treatment can be performed as well. Exterminators will give you different options based on your location and the extent of infestation if there’s any.
Professional extermination is the best option if the infestation is already at an advanced stage. Also, an advanced stage of Formosan termite infestation requires a sophisticated approach to eradicate the entire colony.
Knowing what attracts termites is just the first step in protecting your home against infestations. By removing any termite magnets in your property, you can reduce the likelihood of attracting the pest.