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Subterranean Termites

Termites are a group of insect that, along with ants and certain bees and wasps, divide labor among gender lines and take care of young collectively. Termites mostly feed on dead plant material, generally in the form of wood, leaf litter, soil, or animal dung, and about 10% of the estimated 4,000 termite species are economically significant as pests that can cause major and often very expensive structural damage to buildings, crops or plantation forests.

Termites are generally grouped according to their feeding behaviour. Thus, the commonly used general groupings are subterranean, soil-feeding, drywood, dampwood, and grass-eating. Of these, subterraneans and drywoods are primarily responsible for damage to human-built structures, particularly residential homes.


Due to their wood-eating habits, many termite species can do incredible damage to unprotected buildings and other wooden structures. Their habit of remaining concealed often results in their presence being undetected until wood is severely damaged and the structure exhibits surface changes, which is often too late for some.

Unbeknownst to most, once termites have entered a building, they do not limit themselves to wood. They can also damage paper, cloth, carpets, and other cellulosic materials, such as silicone rubber and acrylics, which are often employed in construction.

When termites have already penetrated a building, the first action is generally to destroy the colony with insecticides before eliminating the termites’ entrance point and fixing the problems that encouraged them in the first place. Termite baits (feeder stations) with small quantities of disruptive insect hormones or other very slow acting toxins have become the preferred least-toxic management tool in most countries.

termitessent2No other group of land animals has more members than the class Insects. More than 900,000 species exist, and additional species are identified every day. The following are several facts about the most commonly found insects in the home. When the temperature is below freezing, insects and other cold-blooded animals cannot be active. Some, like monarchs, migrate to escape the cold temperatures. But even in the dead of winter in the far north, many insects are still alive. Some are very active!


Many are hiding and even eating a little bit in microhabitats that aren’t as cold as the open air. They can be in such places as:


termitessent3Wood Piles (Termites and Ants) Around Dumpsters (mice and Rats) Garage (Mud Tubes, Mouse Droppings, Swarmers)


Under Sinks (mouse droppings) Along Wall baseboards (termite Damage)Closets (small brown moths) Cracks around sinks (black spots = roaches)

What about Termites?

Some warning signs that you may have a termite problem include:

 Exterior Examination

  • Mud tubes connecting soil to wood
  • Hollowed wood beneath a finished surface
  • Discoloration behind paint or wallpaper
  • Swarming termites, live workers or discarded wings
  • Examine the foundation of the structure, garage for shelter tubes coming from the soil.
  • Pay particular attention to attached porches, connecting patios, sidewalks, areas near kitchens or bathrooms and narrowly confined or hard-to-see places.
  • Check the soil moisture around or under the foundation to determine if faulty grade construction creates moist areas next to the structure.
  • Check window and door frames and where utilities (air conditioning pipes, gas and electric services) enter the structure for termite infestation or wood decay.
  • Observe roof eaves and guttering closely for defects that might cause leakage and eventual wood rot. Inspect behind closely planted, dense shrubbery or foliage.
  • Note particularly any earth-to-wood contact such as fences, stair carriages or trellises.
  • Open and examine any exterior electrical meter or fuse boxes set into the walls, a common point for infestation.
  • Carefully inspect wood next to swimming pools that may be splashed frequently by water.


Interior Examination


  • Probe or carefully sound exterior porches, doors and window facings, baseboards, and hardwood flooring. Be careful not to deface finished wood when probing.
  • Carefully examine any attached earth-filled porches.
  • Examine all known or suspected joints, cracks or expansion joints in the foundation and unusual blistering in paint or wallboard surfaces. Discoloration or staining on walls or ceilings may indicate water leaks that can decay wood and aid termite infestation. Especially inspect where plumbing or utility pipes enter the foundation or flooring.
  • Check the floor covering for raised or split areas.
  • Carefully examine the plumbing, particularly in bathrooms on slab construction. There should be access to the bath trap area. If none exists, build a removable plumbing hatch for periodic inspection.
  • The floor and the underlying soil (crawl space) (Fig. 5). Examine the inside of the beams, chimney bases, hearths or piers for shelter tubes. Crawl-space construction should have a minimum of 18-inch clearance between floor joists and the underlying soil, and a least 12 inches between floor beams and the soil.
  • Examine areas underneath or close to earth-filled porches, patios, planters and bathrooms for water leakage and termite damage. Remedial action may be required to control moisture if water stands underneath the house.
  • Look carefully at the top of the foundation wall where the floor and the wall intersect.
  • Closely examine plumbing and utility lines passing through the floor of foundation walls.

Formosan Subterranean Termites

formosan-termite The Formosan subterranean termite (Coptotermes formosanus) is an extremely invasive species of termite which has been transported across the world from China to Formosa, Taiwan (hence how it got its name) and Japan. In the 20th century they established themselves in the continental United States.

The Formosan subterranean termite is sometimes called the "super termite" because of its rather destructive habits., as a result from them forming huge colonies who have the ability to consume wood at a very fast rate. A single colony may contain several million members (compared with several hundred thousand termites for other subterranean termite species) that forage up to 300 feet down into soil. A mature colony of Formosan termites can consume as much as 13 ounces of wood a day which allows them to severely damage a structure in as little as three months. Because of its population size and foraging range, the presence of a colony poses serious threats to any nearby structures.

Formosan subterranean termites infest a wide variety of structures (from boats to condominiums) and have been known to cause damage to trees. In the United States, they are responsible for incredible damage to property resulting in very expensive treatment and repair costs.

The Formosan subterranean termite acquired its name because it was first described in Taiwan in the early 20th century. In the U.S., they have been reported from eleven states including Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. Their distribution will probably continue to be restricted to southern areas of the United States because their eggs are unable to hatch at temperatures below 68 °F.

Formosan termite workers are similar in appearance to other subterranean species. The soldiers differ because they have an orangeish-brown head that is oval in shape and has a black mandible. Swarmers are brownish yellow and have two pairs of equal-length wings. They are approximately a  half- inch in length from their head to the tips of their wings which are covered in tiny hair.

The Formosan termite has been carried worldwide from Southern China to Formosa, Taiwan and Japan. Within the past century, they have established themselves in South Africa and United States.

Formosan subterranean termites are often called "Super Termites" because they have the ability to create extremely vast colonies.  Sometimes a single colony can cover an area of over three-hundred feet and they tend to infest an immensely varied type of structures from skyscrapers to boats.

Termite swarms generally occur between April and July when the temperatures and the humidity is high  Formosan termites consume less wood than subterranean termites but because of their huge colony sizes, Formosans cause more overall damage in a quicker amount of time.

Formosan termite nests being rather small, with only a single batch of eggs, and it can take anywhere from 3-5 years before the colony gains significant size.  But once they do, look out, as the colonies can ultimately contain several million termites.

These termites generally invade structures from the ground floor up, usually entering through joints or cracks in basement slabs. Any wood that is in contact with dirt/soil can lead to a termite infestation.  With that said, termites also have the ability to form aerial colonies that have absolutely no connection with the ground whatsoever. Structure with flat roofs are ideal because they generally have pools of standing rain water. In general, termite colonies can be formed almost anywhere that has an adequate supply food and moisture.

Formosan termite can be characterized by underground tunnels in the soil that are endlessly interconnected. Another characteristic of the Formosan termite is their carton nest material that consists of termite excrement, chewed-up wood, dirt and soil. Carton nests can usually be located between walls and beneath sinks.

Formosan termites are known to attack lumber in building structures and living plants because of their rich sources of cellulose, but they also feed on non-cellulose materials like  plaster, plastic, asphalt, and even thin sheets softer metal (like lead or copper) in their never-ending quest for food and moisture. The Formosan termite is also known for its persistence in locating tiny cracks in concrete that they grow in size and use as routes for the colony.

Formosan termites are the most aggressive and destructive wood pests in the United States. Their massively sized colonies relentlessly seek and destroy structural timbers and even utility poles. They can even infest living trees and have been known to cause power failures by chewing through electrical cables. Once they infest a home, they can usually cause significant damage to the structure within 6 months.
You can reduce the chance of your home being infested by termites by removing any wood or cellulose-containing material that is in direct contact with the ground/soil. For example, it is a bad idea to leave stacks of firewood directly on the ground. It should be propped up at least a foot above the soil.

You should pressure-treat structural wood at or near ground level with a wood preservative to protect against wood-decaying fungus that can attract termites. You also should eliminate mulch and wood chips around the foundation of your home. This cuts down on the cool and moist soil conditions that Formosan termites live for.

Maintain rain gutters around the perimeter of your home to prevent water from dripping near your home.  Make sure gutter downspouts and A/C condensation to empty out at least two feet from your house. Don’t allow sprinklers to reach the sides of your home and wherever water does gather, make sure the ground in that area slopes away from the walls of your home, to prevent the water from pooling and potentially making its way into your house.

Drywood Termites

drywoodtermite Drywood termites (Cryptotermes cavifrons) are primitive termites whose damage usually goes unnoticed by homeowners. Drywood termites belong to the family Kalotermitidae are distinctly different from the subterranean termites. As a result, their monitoring and control procedures from those methods used for subterranean termites.

Drywood termites form colonies in a similar manner to other termites and will flutter in search of dead wood in which to start their colony. Unlike the subterranean termites, the drywood termites form colonies within the wood itself rather than in the soil.

Overall, drywood termites are less destructive than their subterranean cousins. This is mostly due to their small colony size and relatively slow rate of feeding. Control of drywood termites is easier than control for subterranean termites because a drywood termite colony is limited to a single piece of wood or wooden item. This makes it easier to treat or remove the entire population. However, this does not mean that an infestation of dry wood termites should be ignored. Given enough time, a drywood colony can seriously damage furniture or the structural integrity of a home or building.

Drywood termites are very socialized insects as evidenced by their preference for living in large, extremely organized colonies that consist of reproductive, workers and soldiers. Small swarms of “swarmers” usually occur between the months of April and July, often after rain has just fallen.

Drywood termites are usually yellowish or pale brown and the primary reproductive have bodies that can range anywhere from coal black to yellow, including gray wings that extend past their bodies.  Soldiers of this termite variety are light or dark yellow and have large jaws (i.e. mandibles).  Generally speaking, they range in size from 3/8 to ½ inch in length.

Unlike subterranean termites, drywood termites do not require contact with the soil in order to sustain.  These insects derive the moisture they need from humid air or also by eating the cellulose in wood.  Not suprisingly, drywood termites are often found along coastal regions with high humidity.

An indoor infestation of drywood termites can usually be detected by wings that have been shed from their bodies.  Similarly, small pellets of fecal matter known as “frass” can be seen on the outside of infested wood.  As a result of being able to live in wood without direct contact with soil, drywood termites will attack all kinds of wood products and can infest any dry wood portion of a house from as low as the foundation to as high as the roof.

Drywood termites setup colonies in wood that generally has low moisture content and is in no way connected to the soil.  They cut across the grain of the wood to excavate large, smooth chambers that are interconnected by tunnels called “galleries”.  These pests will infest woodwork in buildings, furniture and really any other type of wooden object.

Drywood termites cause extensive damage to structures, often long before they are discovered. Termites are responsible for more than $700,000,000 in costs to consumers in Florida each year for damage and control.

To protect your home from these incredibly destructive pests, you should move wood piles away from your home and raise them off the ground. You should also seal exposed wood that has cracks in it with a coating of sealant or paint to prevent easy access by the termites.

If an infestation of drywood termites is detected, you should clean up the fecal pellets around an entrance hole and check a few days later to see if new pellets show. This can help determine if an infestation remains active.