Here in Oklahoma, termites are an all too common pest. These pests are known for damaging structures and initiating havoc. Any home owner will tell you that these pests are some of the most feared around. But how would you know if you had them? You would have to start by knowing what termites look like. Termites alates are darker in color, usually dark brown, about 1/4” to 1/2” in length with straight antenna. Their bodies are straight with 2 pair of equal length wings.
Termites differ in their looks based on their function. Alates, or reproductives, are the only ones with wings. They can often be confused with ant alates. Ants have different length wings, and their bodies have waists, or narrow sections, between body segments. Workers and soldiers are a light yellow in color with straight antenna. Soldiers have much larger heads with large mandibles used for fighting off attacking predators.
SIGNS OF TERMITE INFESTATION
There are many signs of a termite infestation. Often, people will find a winged termite in their home, or dead on a window sill. They may also see the detached wings on the same window sill. This can be an indicator, but it is not definitive. It is entirely possible that a termite reproductive just happen to make its way through an open door or window. If there is a termite colony infesting the structure, you can be certain that the colony has been there for a while. Termite colonies usually are four to five years old before they start producing alates.
Another indicator of termite infestation are mud tubes. Subterranean termites, which are the ones we find here in Oklahoma, will build these tubes to climb up structures in search of wood to consume. These tubes are a tell tail sign that you have an infestation. Sinking drywall can also be a clue. Termites will eat the paper off of gypsum board causing this kind of damage. Small holes in wood can be created by termites to remove waste. These are called frass holes. Pin holes are caused when a termite accidentally breaks through the surface of wood or drywall and then repair it will small amounts of mud. All of these can be signs of infestation. If you are seeing any of these, it is time to call an exterminator for an inspection.
It can be helpful to understand the lifecycle of the termite in order to understand what termites look like. The life of termites starts with the queen. She lays all the eggs, up to thousands a year and can live up to 25 years. After an egg is laid, workers will tend to it or the two weeks required for incubation. When the egg hatches, a nymph will emerge. A nymph looks much like the adult version of the insect, but is much smaller and undeveloped. The workers will continue to feed it regurgitated food for two more weeks, until it molts and starts becoming a productive termite.
Its at this point that the termite will start to conform to which ever caste it belongs to. The reproductive will develop sexual organs, wings and functioning eyes. They will become darker in color and the body will lengthen. These termites will either become swarmers, creating a new colony elsewhere, or they will be available if the queen dies. Worker termites have no functioning eyes, are lighter in color, and are sterile. They do the work of foraging for wood and caring for the young. These are the termites that do the damage to homes and businesses. Finally, the soldier termite will develop a much larger head, complete with large mandibles. These termites will protect the colony if ants or other predators attack. They use their mandibles to crush and glands on their bodies to excrete chemicals designed to thwart attackers.
WHERE TERMITES LIVE
In Oklahoma you will mostly find the eastern subterranean termite. As the name implies, these termites create their colonies under the ground. Their bodies are actually very fragile and susceptible to temperature and humidity changes. Without the higher humidities found under ground, they will dry out and die. For this reason, these insects travel by creating mud tubes. This allows them to extend their environment above ground to find food.
Alates are better prepared to deal with exterior environments. Their thicker exoskeleton and elongated bodies help them deal with this. It also results in the darker color found on these insects. But they are not immune to the effects of the dryer outside air. Alates are poor fliers, and their reproductive flight lasts a very short time, often seconds to minutes. They will land, and after finding a mate, their wings will fall off. The queen will walk, the king following, to find a good place to build a nuptial chamber and begin a new colony. If they are above ground too long, they will dry out and expire. They are better equipped to deal with the outside environment then the other two castes, but they still can dry out and die if they don’t complete their mission in a timely manner.
WHAT TERMITES EAT
The obvious answer is that these insects eat wood. But the process is a little more complicated than that. These insects actually consume cellulose, which is found within the wood that they eat. Termites have enzymes and microorganisms in their gut that break down the cellulose for them. As the workers forage for food, they will eventually find what they are looking for. When they do, they eat the wood and begin the process of breaking down the cellulose.
At this point, they return to the colony and regurgitate the food that they ate. They do this in order to feed the soldiers, reproductives and immature termites. This process is called trophallaxis. This keeps the colony fed and productive. The immature termites will go through a number of molts, or removal of their exoskeletons. They do this because, as they grow, the exoskeleton can only expand so much. They remove it and start fresh with a new one in order to continue growing. When they molt, the lining of their hind gut is also removed, removing the microorganisms required to break down the wood as well. In order to replenish these probiotics, they will feed from the anus of workers. This process is called proctodeal feeding.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT TERMITES IN YOUR HOME
If you are seeing any of the signs of termite infestations, it is time to call in a professional. An experienced exterminator will be able to identify what issues you are having and what the next course of action should be taken. Treatment is usually one of two different options: liquid or bait control. In the case of a liquid treatment, a barrier is created around the home using a trench filled with dirt that is treated with a liquid termidicide, or pesticide for termites. These treatments usually also include drilling into any cement to apply there. Bait stations are installed in the ground at regular intervals around the building.
The most common question is which is better, liquid or bait station? The answer is, it depends. When financing a new home, many banks will require a liquid treatment. These treatments are also continuous around a home, and can protect better in many situations. But bait stations are also very effective. Termites usually will use a network of tunnels to forage for food, and once found, will focus on the source of food. This means that it is possible for termites to miss a station, but not probable. Bait stations usually avoid the need for drilling into cement. Some systems also have above ground stations for when a mud tube is found.
Hopefully, now you know what termites look like. If you are in search of an experienced exterminator in the Tulsa, Broken Arrow, Jenks, Sapulpa, Bixby, Sand Springs or Owasso area, contact us at TermMax Pest Control. We are here to help!