There are close to 2500 species of termites described worldwide. If you weighed all of the termites, they would weigh twice as much as all of the humans on the planet. There are over 50 species in the United States, but only a few species of subterranean termites and drywood termites are serious pests.
Drywood termites (Kalotermidae – Incisitermes spp.)
Drywood termites do not need soil contact. They live in dry, sound wood, usually near the surface. They get what moisture they require from the wood they feed on and from the water formed during digestion of that wood. Drywood swarmers generally enter your home at night through unscreened attic or foundation vents or through cracks and crevices between exposed wood. Drywood termites are most commonly recognized by their distinctive fecal pellets (piles) that are often the color of the wood they are feeding upon. The fecal pellets are kicked out of the wood by the nymphs (workers) through “kick holes” that are visible. Incisitermes minor is found in much of California where it is a major pest. It is also found in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. Incisitermes snyderi, Incisitermes schwarzi and Kalotermes approximatus are species found in the southeastern states that are of economic importance because of the damage they are capable of doing.
The best method of control from a professional is with XT-2000 Orange oil. If you live in north-central California, Planet Orange is the best termite control company in the area. If you have a localized infestation that you can reach, then you can inject some Greenbug for Indoors into the kickout holes in the wood. You can also do this with furniture infested by drywood termites.
Subterranean termites (Rhinotermitidae)
Subterranean termites are social insects with very large colonies. They consist of a queen, sexual reproductives, workers and soldiers. The workers are grayish or white and wingless. They are the ones in the colony that forage for food. They also groom the queens, eggs, nymphs and soldiers and build the nest. Workers are the ones who do the damage to the wood. The workers have a mass of unique genera and species of oxymonad, trichomonad, and hypermastigote flagellates (protozoa) in their lower digestive tract and it is these protozoans that enable the termites to digest wood. When the protozoans are killed, the termites will quickly starve and the entire colony will die off as the workers feed the other caste members in the colony through a process call trophallaxis. Trophallaxis is food sharing between members of the same colony and is what makes products such as anti-biotics and borates so effective. Tetracycline is an anti-biotic and effectively kills the protozoans in the termites digestive system and will reduce the colony or eliminate it if it isn’t too large.
Western subterranean termites (Reticulitermes hesperus)
This is the western subterranean termite. It is found from British Colombia south to western Mexico and is very common along the Pacific coastal areas. It occurs as far east as Idaho and Nevada. Their colonies can reach several hundred thousand individuals and the colony has to be about three years old before they can swarm. They do extensive damage and will attack fence posts, utility poles, any wood products on the ground and living plants and trees.
Eastern subterranean termites (Reticulitermes flavipes)
The eastern subterranean termite is the most destructive species in this group. It is found throughout the eastern United States and is found as far west as eastern New Mexico. It occurs in spotty areas of Utah and Arizona as well. It has very large colonies numbering ¼ million individuals. They go below the frost line during extreme cold weather. It builds earth-like shelter tubes over obstacles like the desert subterranean termite.
Arid land subterranean termites (Reticulitermes tibialis)
This is the arid land subterranean termite. It is found in arid desert areas and higher elevations and ranges from Oregon and Montana, south to Mexico and eastward to Missouri, Arkansas and Texas. This is the most common termite in New Mexico. It is the least destructive of the termites in this group, although it can cause considerable damage in some situations.
Desert subterranean termites (Heterotermes aureus)
This is the desert subterranean termite. It is found in desert regions of southern Arizona and California. It is common in the Phoenix area but not as common near Tucson. This termite is very destructive. It will attack sound dry wood, utility poles and posts. It will build earth-like tube shelters over obstacles to get to edible wood. The western subterranean and arid land termites do not build these tube-like shelters.
Formosan subterranean termites (Coptotermes formosanus)
Formosan termites are larger than our native subterranean termites. They were introduced from Asia on ships. They are very destructive and attack all kinds of wood and cellulose products. They will also attack living plants when moisture is not available anywhere else. They have been known to hollow a building wall in three months in Hawaii. They can also attack and become established on wooden ship hulls and in this way, be transported from port to port. Evidence of their presence are channels between pieces of wood. Passageways or dirt-colored tubes are usually built on foundations. They do not have to maintain ground contact if adequate moisture is available, so a normal subterranean treatment may not be effective. Colonies are large and contain several hundred thousand individuals.
Formosan termites are established in Hawaii and have been introduced in Texas, Louisiana and South Carolina and have had isolated cases found in California.
Subterranean Termite Control
Over a half million homes are treated every year with toxic pesticides to control these insects. In nature, they are beneficial insects as they break down dead wood and consume it. If it weren’t for termites there would be a lot of dead trees laying around. Unfortunately termites can’t differentiate a dead tree from the wood in your house. It is all edible to them.
There are several products to use when controlling termites. They are sodium borates (TimBor and BoraCare are two brand names), Tetracycline (Terramycin, Sumycin, Tetracyn, Panmycin and Duramycin are brand names) and food-grade diatomaceous earth. Colloidial silver, diluted boric acid or borax and aspartame can also be used.
Sodium borates are registered termiticides / insecticides that are safe to use. They will permanently penetrate wood and make it totally inedible for any wood-eating insect. In New Zealand they have required all wood that is put into homes to be treated with a sodium borate before being installed. They did this in 1953 and they do not have a termite industry in that country as termites are never found in homes. Sodium borates are also effective in preventing wood decay fungi and is a good fire retardant.
It should be applied to all exposed wood, especially in a crawl space. It is safe as it easily washes off and it is not a skin irritant and there is no risk of absorption through unbroken skin.
Termites will not only die if they feed on wood treated with sodium borates, but they will be killed if they just crawl over it. If adult beetles emerge from wood treated with a sodium borate, they will not die, but they will be prevented from re-infesting the wood. BoraCare is a liquid sodium borate and TimBor is a wettable powder. BoraCare would probably be easier for the homeowner to use. BoraCare and TimBor are not available in stores. You can get them online. One supplier is www.pestcontrolsupplies.com. Tetracyclines are often given to livestock to control and treat bacterial infections. You can buy tetracycline at most feed stores.
While a professional termite treatment by a reputable company is a good thing, particularly if you are buying or selling a home, it is entirely possible, in some cases, to treat your home yourself without using a pest control company or toxic pesticides. Termidor is a very good termiticide and relatively “safe” as pesticides go. It is also a General Use pesticide so can be used by anyone. Restricted Use pesticides can only be used by certified professionals. You can get Termidor online if you want to use it. It is available at www.pestcontrolsupplies.com. This method works best if you live in an area where you have arid land subterranean termites as they are not as voracious and you can eliminate them with a spot treatment. If you are dealing with any of the other species, you are probably better off using a professional. When doing it yourself, you will need to drill a couple of holes in the slab near where the infestation is. Then mix some Termidor according to the label and inject it into the holes. Then you should use some Termidor foam and foam the wall where you see the evidence. Termidor foam is also available from the same supplier. As mentioned, this method will work on arid land termites and they are common in New Mexico, parts of Arizona, Utah and Nevada and some other areas. Make sure this is the species in your home before starting this.
If you have eastern, western or desert subs, you can monitor them around your home and possibly wipe out a colony, using tetracycline. Tetracyclines are often given to livestock to control and treat bacterial infections. You can buy tetracycline at most feed stores. Termite workers have intestinal microorganisms containing protozoans in their lower digestive system and these microorganisms contain enzymes that help them digest cellulose. The Tetracycline will kill the protozoans and prevent the termites from being able to digest the cellulose which will eventually, and usually quickly, starve and kill the entire termite colony. I recommend adding boric acid or borax to the solution to make it work even faster. Here is what you need to get started. You need a shovel as you will need to dig several shallow holes (about 4 – 6 “) in the ground about a foot from your foundation. If you have rocks or mulch around the house you will have to move some of it so you can dig. If you have concrete sidewalks all around your house, you will have to dig next to them, although that may slow the termite eradication process down a little.
You will need some flat pieces of cardboard or some paper towels or even a few paper plates. I have used all three and they work well. I dilute a packet of tetracycline, mixed with three tablespoons of boric acid in a half gallon of water. I soak the paper towels / paper plates or the cardboard and then put them in the holes and cover them. Place these tetracycline bait stations around the house. Place one in each corner and one in between each corner about a foot from the foundation.
You will want to check the bait stations about 10 days after putting them in the ground. If you find over 100 worker termites and a dozen or so soldiers, it means the entire colony is involved and will soon be eliminated. This would be a good time to put fresh cardboard / paper towels soaked with tetracycline and boric acid or borax in the ground. Then check the stations bi-weekly and replace if there is activity.
If you have a crawl space under your home, place the cardboard / paper towel / paper plates bait stations in several areas under the house where it is accessible to you. Then, to prevent any termite activity in the future, you can treat along the bottom of the inside foundation wall with diatomaceous earth, borax or salt. Termites will avoid all of these products. They may live in the soil but they won’t climb the foundation to get to the wooden sub-floor. Make sure you treat around any support piers as well. Then treat all the exposed wood with a sodium borate (TimBor or BoraCare). That will not only protect the sub-floor from termites but will also prevent wood-boring beetles from infesting the wood. Finally, get a power duster and blow several pounds of food-grade diatomaceous earth under the house on the bare soil. This will prevent termites from building mud tubes out of the ground and into the wood. It will also deter other insects and spiders from living in the crawl space.
If you are building a home and want to treat the soil without using pesticides, you can do it with natural products. You can apply a generous amount of food-grade diatomaceous earth on the ground before the vapor barrier is put down. Put a lot around the outside of the footing and around where the pipes will penetrate the slab. Termites will not travel through soil treated with diatomaceous earth.