As spring approaches, homeowners sometimes notice a rise in insects that make their way indoors. While most of these pests are harmless, the most common threats to your home during this season are termites and carpenter ants, both of which can be difficult to eliminate. Though extermination services may be necessary no matter the type of pest, knowing the differences between these two insects may help to alleviate some concerns over the safety of your home, and help you to make an informed decision regarding the proper course of action.
Once termites infest a home they can quickly cause significant damage by chewing through wood floors and beams, which may lead to serious structural issues if not properly treated. Unfortunately, as termite colonies consume wood from the inside out, it is often difficult to identify affected areas. However, there are several warning signs that homeowners should be aware of:
- Mud Tubes – People tend to believe that termites live inside their homes while they are feeding on the wood. However, termites actually live underground; their bodies need constant moisture to survive, which is provided by the soil in which they live. When they travel above ground to forage for food, they have to take some of the soil with them in order to keep their bodies moist. Mud tubes are built by termites to allow them to travel between the wood they are consuming and their nests. These tubes are often visible extending over the foundation and into the house, but can be more difficult to spot if built inside existing cracks in the foundation or under siding.
- Swarming – During a swarm, thousands of termites emerge either from the soil where they live or inside the walls where they have been feeding to mate and form new colonies. If they end up swarming inside your home, they will head toward your windows or a source of light in an attempt to get outside to mate. After a few minutes in the swarm, the termites begin to lose their wings, and they eventually die as their bodies dry out from lack of moisture.
- Wood Damage – Wood that has become thin or hollow-sounding is a good indication that termites are present. Also keep an eye out for a multitude of small holes in plaster or drywall, as this too can be a sign of termite damage.
In order to rid your home completely of termites, a professional exterminator will be required. One option is liquid chemical treatments applied to the soil surrounding the home. While proven to be effective in the short term, these chemicals lose their efficacy once the treated soil has been saturated by rain or watering. Instead, a proven long-term treatment is bait systems. Termite bait systems are installed by an exterminator, and are inserted into the soil surrounding the infested structure. Healthy wood is placed inside, and then monitored for any termite damage. Once the termites have begun to eat the bait, the piece of wood is replaced with one treated with a slow-acting toxin that is shared among the colony, eventually eliminating the population. This is often the preferred method, as it has proven to have lasting effects and uses significantly less harmful chemicals than the liquid chemical treatment.
Carpenter ants and termites may look similar and behave in some of the same ways, but they are actually quite different. While carpenter ants have been known to cause damage to healthy wood, they tend to prefer wood that is moist or rotting. They burrow in, creating tunnels and small rooms in which to live and breed, instead of eating the wood. And often, wood damaged by carpenter ants appears smooth and is free of the mud and wood particles usually left behind by termites. Aside from wood damage and swarming, homeowners should also be aware of the following indications of a carpenter ant nest:
- Noises in the Walls – Wood that has become thin or hollow-sounding may also indicate the presence of carpenter ants. However, tapping lightly on the affected wood will cause the ants to make clicking sounds that are audible to humans.
- Leaks – If you have recently had a leak, whether from clogged gutters, improper roofing, or dripping underneath a sink, you may be more susceptible to an infestation. Carpenter ants prefer to burrow into wood that is wet or damp, and having an untreated leak could put your house at risk.
There are several do-it-yourself treatments available on the market to help rid your home of carpenter ants. Boric acid (or baby powder) and ant killer have proven to be effective at killing small populations. In cases of larger infestations, a professional should be contacted to make sure the entire colony is eradicated. To help prevent infestations of these and other insects, keep firewood and lumber stacked away from your home; be sure to divert water away through proper grading and gutter and downspout maintenance; talk with a professional exterminator about a prevention program; and immediately fix any internal leaks to avoid the saturation of wood. By carefully monitoring for warning signs and following these simple prevention tips, you can usually minimize the damage caused by these pesky insects.