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Integrated Pest Management Program

Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, Department of Extension

Fact Sheets > Used in two program areas, only need one page

Termites

Termites. The most important and costly structural insect pest in Connecticut is the Eastern Subterranean Termite, Reticulitermes flavipes (Kollar). They range from 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch in length. The cream-colored workers are wingless and usually enter structures through wood that is in direct contact with the soil.

Description

Subterranean termites are social insects that live in colonies within the ground and have specialized castes to perform specific colony functions. The termite colony has three primary castes: workers, soldiers, and the reproductives (kings, queens, and secondaries). The creamy-white workers are seldom seen unless a termite tube or infested wood is broken open. It is the workers that feed on the wood and cause damage. Individual workers are believed to survive for up to five years. Soldiers have elongated yellowish heads with large jaws and are about the same size as the adult worker-a quarter-inch. There are fewer soldiers than their associated workers, and must rely on the workers to feed them. Whenever the colony is invaded or a hole is made in a tube or piece of infested wood, the soldiers will use their jaws to defend the breach. The secondaries are supplementary reproductive females that occur in mature colonies under favorable conditions. The kings and queens are dark-brown or black and about 3/8 to 1/2 inch long. They have two pairs of translucent wings of equal length, which break off shortly after swarming. Very often the shed wings are the only evidence that termites are in a building. Swarms of winged termites usually emerge between February and June.

The presence of winged reproductives, or swarmers, in a building is a good indicator that a colony of at least five years of age is present. Swarmers are black and are most frequently mistaken for "flying ants." Swarming generally occurs during early spring.

Habit

Termites feed upon old roots, tree stumps, fallen tree limbs and branches on the ground, and similar materials. They are beneficial when they aid in reduction of wood and similar cellulose products into compounds that can be used again by other living organisms. Occasionally termites attack living plants, including the roots of shrubs and trees. In buildings, they feed on cellulose materials, such as structural wood, wood fixtures, paper, books, cotton, and related products.

Management

In some cases, termites may build mud tubes across surfaces such as concrete to allow them to reach the wood from the soil. The workers are very susceptible to desiccation. By moving through mud tubes they remain in contact with high humidity from the soil and avoid the drying effects of sunlight and air currents. If the tan mud tubes are found, they should be broken and the adjacent wood should be examined for termite damage.

Structural Modifications:

  • To help prevent termite problems, direct contact of wood with soil should be eliminated.
  • Remove all wooden debris (stacks of lumber or firewood) from the vicinity of the building.
  • Replace any wooden posts, steps, trellises, etc., that are in contact with the soil with non-cellulose materials or pressure-treated lumber.
  • Replace badly damaged timbers with sound materials. Use pressure-treated wood at places where wood must be in contact with soil. Where possible, do not permit any wood within 18 inches of the soil.
  • Provide adequate drainage for basements, cellars, and crawl spaces. Be certain that the grade level will drain away from the building.
  • Fill all visible cracks and voids in the foundation with concrete or suitable caulking compound.
  • Reduce soil moisture near the structure by directing runoff away from the foundation. Gutters, downspouts, and French drains should be correctly installed and operational; surface drainage should flow away from the structure.

Soil treatment/barrier control

The principle of soil treatment control for termites is to establish a treated barrier of soil between the wood in the building and the termite colony in the soil. Such a chemical barrier will kill or repel any termites attempting to move through it. Treatments may involve the trenching of soil adjacent to the exterior foundation wall down to the footers, and replacement of the soil after it is mixed with the termiticide; soil injection of a liquid termiticide, under pressure, through a hollow rod to saturate the soil adjacent to the foundation; and the drilling of concrete slabs, porches, and patios to reach the soil adjacent to the foundation beneath these structures.

We strongly recommend hiring a licensed professional exterminator when termite control is needed.

Termite Baits - In recent years, termite baits have gained in popularity. This alternative to liquid barrier treatments is a welcome addition and will assist in the battle against termite infestations. Baiting involves the use of an attractant (wood stakes, cardboard, or other cellulose-based material) to establish termite feeding. The active ingredient (insecticide) is either added after feeding begins, or may be included in the initial baiting. Termites feeding on the treated material will carry the toxicant back to the colony where it adversely affects the colony, possibly eliminating the entire colony.

Baits are especially important in treating structures with wells or springs close to the foundation; drainage tiles around the foundation; air ducts under or imbedded in the slab; or in situations where a perennial high water table makes conventional soil treatment ill advised. Although data suggest they may be valuable as a stand-alone treatment, many of the factors that affect baiting efficacy are poorly understood. As with soil application of termiticides, it is recommended that licensed, experienced pest control companies be hired to provide a baiting service. Baiting, in conjunction with a partial (or complete) soil treatment may be advisable. The USDA-FS does not perform efficacy tests on termite baits.

Termites or Ants?

The differences between termites and ants are shown in the diagram. Note that termites do not have the narrow or constricted waist that ants possess. Termites also have straight rather than "elbowed" antennae.

Finding termites in a structure does not constitute an immediate emergency because the rate at which damage occurs is relatively slow.

Description: termant.gif
Termite vs. Ant

Additional information reprinted from  Eastern Subterranean Termites by Steve Jacobs, 2008. Penn State University, State College, PA

Prepared by: Richard Packauskas, Entomologist, and Roger G. Adams, Integrated Pest Management Program Leader, July 1990

Updated by: Mary Concklin, IPM, University of Connecticut. 2011

Information on our site was developed for conditions in the Northeast. Use in other geographical areas may be inappropriate.

The information in this document is for educational purposes only.  The recommendations contained are based on the best available knowledge at the time of publication.  Any reference to commercial products, trade or brand names is for information only, and no endorsement or approval is intended. The Cooperative Extension System does not guarantee or warrant the standard of any product referenced or imply approval of the product to the exclusion of others which also may be available.  The University of Connecticut, Cooperative Extension System, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources is an equal opportunity program provider and employer.