Detect, Control and Prevent Termties
In almost every corner of Australia, termites live, thrive, and present a major problem to home owners. You will find a number of termite-species from all three major classes scattered across the continent, happily devouring wooden structures of all sorts. Finding the most effective ways to prevent or eliminate termite infestations is not optional, but essential. This guide is meant to do just that, educate you on the basic facts about termites and giving you solid advice on how to combat them and protect your home.
A Termite’s Life Cycle
Termites go by the scientific designation Isoptera Termitoidae. They are sometimes called “white ants,” but in fact, are more similar to cockroaches than ants and are a fully distinct insect with some 3,000 representative species living on every continent except Antarctica. They are also known as “silent destroyers” for their habit of feeding on cellulose, which is found in all wooden structures.
In appearance, termites look similar to many other insects in that they have three major body segments, each with a pair of legs attached to it. They are relatively small, most measuring between 5 and 15 mm (less than half an inch). The queens, however, are significantly larger. There are four main termite castes: kings, queens, soldiers, and workers. Each has its own look, but in general, we can say there are two long antennas, two large chewing mandibles, a long 10-ribbed abdomen, protective “plating,” and a white or dull coloration. You may also see termites with wings, but some of these are only temporary.
Termites are social insects that live in organized colonies that contain thousands or tens of thousands of individual termites. New colonies begin when winged “prince” and “princess” termites swarm during mating season. After successful mating, the king and queen land, lose their wings, and find a suitable spot to establish the new colony.
The queen then begins laying eggs, which hatch into larvae. Each larvae becomes either a worker, soldier, or “alate.” Alate are reproductive termites that can serve and secondary or tertiary queens or fly off and found new colonies. A queen can live, reign, and reproduce for as long as 10 years. However, other termites will live only a year or two.
For clarity’s sake, here are the termite castes and their functions in the life of the colony:
Termite Species of Australia
- King: Kings fertilize queens to begin new colonies, help care for the initial young, and live for years to assist in growing and ruling the colony.
- Queen: The sole duty of the queen is to lay eggs, though she will also care for initial young before workers are available to help. A queen can lay up to 2,000 eggs a day.
- Workers: The caste normally spotted when there is an infestation are the workers. They tunnel, feed other castes, and do all work besides reproduction and defense.
- Soldier: Soldiers have over-sized jaws and are usually yellowish-brown in appearance. They fend off ants, foreign termites, and other invaders.
- Alates: Alates or “reproductives” begin to take up reproductive duties of aging queens and eventually replace her. They also go out to found new colonies.
Australia has a particularly large and diverse population of termites, many of them residing in the coastal regions where human populations are also densest. The warm, far-northern region and the area around Perth has especially abundant termites. Only Tasmania and a narrow strip of land on the southern tip of Victoria have very few termites.
The three basic classes are:
- Dampwood, which build their colonies in damp or rotting trees and wood.
- Drywood, which use the wood they live in as their main source of water and avoid all contact with the soil.
- Subterranean, which as the name implies, live underground or at least with constant contact with the soil.
In the wild, termites play a pivotal role in ecosystems by recycling dead wood and other plant products. The render this service across a wide variety of habitats, but when they attempt to do the same with homes and other wooden structures, the damage can quite devastating.
There are six major species of termites that dominate the Australian landscape:
Each species has its own distinctive form of nest or “hill.” You will find termite nests on the ground and up in trees. The columnar mounds of the nasutitermes triodiae termite of North Australia can grow larger than a man and are quite impressive.
Detecting Termite Damage Before It’s Too Late
Becoming aware that you have a termite infestation is not always easy, but if you discover the fact too late, the damage may be extensive. Getting a professional to come do a termite-inspection will be the most effective method, but here is some initial “detective work” you can do on your own:
1. Inspect Damaged Wood
If there is a particular spot you’ve seen that you suspect may have been damaged by termites, do a self-inspection. Tunnels honeycombing and running with the grain of the wood, it could also be subterranean termite damage. If the tunneling goes against the grain of the wood, at least in some places, it is likely the work of drywood termites.
2. Look for “Shelter Tubes”
With subterranean termites, there will be tube-like encasements running from the soil to the wood they are consuming. These tubes are constructed from dirt and the insect’s feces and spit. Subterranean species will build these shelter tubes when they run out of cellulose and are seeking a new food source. This is a sure sign of an infestation.
3. Look for Frass
Drywood termites make their home inside the piece of wood they are consuming and generally keep themselves out of sight. But their feces, called “frass,” will drop to the ground from their tunnels and accumulate. However, subterranean termites will use their feces as a building material and, thus, not leave any frass for you to discover. Drywood species’ frass will be build up below the wooden structures they feed on. It will be a bout a millimeter long and consist of pellets with six concave sides and two rounded tips.
4. Tap the Wood and Listen
Another inspection method is to take a screwdriver or another suitable tool and tap on any wood you suspect may be hollow. Use a physician’s stethoscope to listen just after tapping. Carpenter ants will make an audible sound when disturbed, but termites remain silent.
Short of actually spotting termites on or near the wooden structures of your home, the four strategies given above will give you a good idea on whether or not you have an infestation. The next step is to eliminate these “hungry little pests” before they eat you out of house and home.
Termite Control Strategies
When you are sure your home is under attack by termites, there is not time to waste in taking action to eliminate the colonies before large portions of wood are destroyed. Wood that is too badly hollowed will have to be taken out and replaced. Otherwise, you can repair the damage with wood filler or hardener. Subterranean termites will do more damage than drywood, but neither is to be taken lightly, and both can cost you thousands of dollars in damage if the threat is undetected or ignored.
As for attempting to get ride of an infestation yourself, here are a few suggestions:
- Make a spot trap: You can make a simple trap out of cardboard. Just cut up several strips and wet it. Then stack it or partially bury it somewhere you suspect your unwelcome guests may be hiding. Once the cardboard is full of the pests, dispose of it. Repeat the operation as many times as possible in as many places as make sense. This will not fully solve the problem, but it can help in the short-term at least.
- Buy nematodes: You can be “beneficial nematodes” at a local garden-supply store. These are tiny worms that will seek out and feed on termite-larvae, among other pests. They will actually dig right into the larvae, kill it within two days’ time, and use the carcass to feed the next generation of worms.
- Sun out your furniture: If the wood under attack is portable, move it to a nice, sunny spot to dry and heat up. Termites will die without the moisture and relative cool temperatures they require. Sun out your furniture for two or three days to be sure the problem is solved, and inspect to make sure of the results.
- Apply Boric Acid: Boric acid is the main ingredient in a lot of commercial insecticides, and it works well when applied directly by itself as well. The acid will “turn off” the termites’ nervous systems and dehydrate them to death. It is quite effective, especially when used in bait stations. Just apply boric acid to wood and use it like you would the cardboard traps mentioned above.
- Use professional products: You select from a wide array of termite-control products at local hardware stores, garden supply stores, and other locations. You can also buy effective products online. These may consist of baits or sprays to apply to wood where an infestation exists.
Termite Control Products
If you buy termite-control products, you can often get products the same or similar to what the professionals would use. Here is a rundown of the best brands to look for in Australia:
- Termidor: Termidor uses a non-repellent active ingredient, called Fipronil, that allows termites to enter treated soil without suspecting anything is amiss. Repellent products, by contrast, encourage pests to search along the perimeter of the building until they find a gap.
- Premise: Bayer Premise is another non-repellent option. In high concentrations, it simply kills the pests on contact. In areas with lower concentrations, it causes them to be consumed by fungi and microbes already in the soil. Those termites who move through low-concentration areas will die with a few days. In the meantime, they will likely bring the chemicals back to the colony and spread it to other victims.
- Exterra: The Exterra system, developed by Ensystex, uses non-repellent baits that spread “growth regulator” chemicals, which then prevents new workers from growing and developing. Without new workers, the colony declines to the point of unsustainability as existing workers die off.
- Sentricon: Dow AgroSciences’ Sentricon system is essentially the same as the Exterra approach. Both systems require ongoing monitoring to be most effective. The baits should be inspected, replenished, and repositioned monthly. This is labor intensive and somewhat costly. It may require a professional to be done effectively.
- Kordon: The Kordon Termite Barrier is also put out by Bayer and is a well tested system that can last up to 50 years, for the full lifespan of many buildings. It consists of a polyester webbing of deltamethrin sandwiched between to layers of polyethylene. Kordon is a made-in-Australia product and is already installed in over 100,000 Australian homes.
In many cases, termite control can cost from $2,000 to $5,000 for a full-sized home. It depends on the methods and products used, the location of the structure, and how intensive the labor is if done by professionals. A warranty or home insurance coverage can also significantly lower the cost.
Getting rid of an infestation is costly enough that it is well worth taking serious preventative measures. You can do this after dealing with an infestation, but better to do it before if possible and avoid one altogether.
Here are some key ways to prevent a termite problem:
- Remove all stumps and dead wood from anywhere near you home.
- If you must keep firewood or spare lumber, keep it as far from the building as possible.
- Always treat your lumber for decks, fences, outdoor furniture, and everything else.
- Check common pest entry points, which is anywhere that wood contacts the ground.
- Eliminate all standing water and prevent wood and soil near the house from being constantly damp.
- Don’t position mulch so that it contacts the foundation or siding. Mulch holds in moisture and potentially invites termites.
- Don’t allow bushes or shrubs planted near the house to touch the building.
- Clean out gutters filled with damp leaves and sticks.
- Eliminate any pipe leaks in your home.
- Seal any cracks with caulk to deny entry.
- Use screens on your doors, windows, and porches.
- Install metal shields along your home’s foundation.
The dangers of infestataions in Australia are high. Protecting your home, sheds, outdoor furniture, and other wooden structures from termites should be a major priority. Understanding the life cycle and habits of termites will give you perspective to help win the “battle.” Learning the best ways to eliminate and prevent an infestation and knowing when it’s time to call in the professionals will put you in a good position to protect the investment you have made in your home.
If you would like to learn more about preventing and controlling termites in your home contact Pro Pest Control Sydney to get all your questions answered.
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