Termites swarm. Ants swarm. Can you, the homeowner, tell the difference? The graphic on the left illustrates a winged swarming ant, (A.) and a winged swarming termite (B.).
Examine Ant Swarmer (A.) -
The ant has hind wings that are smaller than the forewings.
The ant has a pinched "waist".
The ant has bent antennae.
Examine Termite Swarmer (B.) -
The termite has wings that are the same size and shape.
The termite is oval shaped with no "waist" to speak of.
The termite has antennae that are straight and have no bend.
These characteristics are easily seen either with the naked eye, or with a magnifing glass. Also, if the swarm in question is termites, their wings will fall off very shortly after the swarm begins.
The Graphic to your right illustrates the level of termite activity in the United States. Red indicates the highest level of termite activity. Notice that we, here in Lower Alabama, are smack in the middle of all that red-ness. What that means for you, the homeowner, is not to take chances. Termites are not an "if" down here - it is "when" and "how much damage" do the termites do once the get into your home.
Let's play a game now. We'll play "Let's Pretend". Let's pretend that you have bought a brand new home, a metal frame building in fact. Let's pretend that you have no termite protection on your home. Let's pretend that somewhere down the line, 2-5 years, you call our office because of a termite swarm inside your home. But what are ther termites eating? Your home is a metal frame building.
The termites are eating the sheetrock (made of cellulose materials), the hardwood flooring (made of cellulose materials), even your furniture (again, made of cellulose materials)! The point here is that where there is wood, and wood derived products, so you will also find termites.
Termites have a very important job to perform in the environment. They return fallen trees, and stumps, piles of bracken, even trees that have rotted where they stand, into soil. Termites use a tree so completely, that when you find the remains of termite activity, the wood just crumbles away in your hand.
Reticulitermes species are found in every state in the U.S. except Alaska, but are most common in the warm and humid southeastern region (hello, Lower Alabama!).
Subterranean termites form a network of interconnected feeding sites beneath or above the soil surface. A single colony of subterranean termites, may contain 100,000 - 1,000,000 termites and forage up to 150 feet in search of food. When subterranean termites search for food aboveground, they may enter a house through small cracks or joints in the foundation, or by building shelter tubes along the foundation wall. These tubes are highways connecting the underground termite population with aboveground food sources.
Because termites consume cellulose, the main structural components of plant cells, any wood material in a house is a potential food source, but they may also damage non-wood material in search of food. Because termites rarely show themselves in the open, infestations can be difficult to detect until damage becomes severe. In addition to the presence of alates and shelter tubes, wood material can be probed with a screw driver or ice pick to locate infested wood. The surface of severely damaged wood may appear blistered or peeling, as termites hollow out the wood leaving a paper-thin surface.
Coptotermes formosanus, is the most widely distributed and most economically important termite. The Formosan subterranean termite (FST) acquired its name in Taiwan in the early 1900s, but C. formosanus is probably endemic to southern China. As of 2010, the distribution of FST in the United States includes Alabama, California (an isolated infestation in San Diego County), Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.
A single individual of the FST does not consume more wood than a single native subterranean termite, however, because of its large population size, a FST colony can cause more structural damage in a shorter time. The FST generally invades structures from the ground. They commonly enter through expansion joints, cracks and utility conduits in slabs. Any wood-to-ground contact is an inviting entrance for FST infestations. In some occasions, however, FST can form colonies that are not connected to ground, called aerial colonies. If a pair of alates successfully finds suitable conditions, i.e. adequate food and moisture sources in a building, they can initiate a colony with no ground connection. The flat roofs of high rise buildings, because they always pool rain water, are ideal places for the FST to initiate aerial infestations if portals of entry are found.