Are Termites Eating You Out of House and Home?

Termite season is on the horizon. These insects cause billions of dollars in damage every year, according to the University of Kentucky Entomology Department. Because termites generally do damage while inside of walls or other out-of-sight areas, homeowners often do not know they have an infestation until it's too late. Identifying signs of termites and getting situations under control early can save you money and structural damage.

Termites are insects with six legs and three segments to their bodies. They generally feed on wood, paper, insulation, and even filtration materials. Termites are voracious eaters and will take down a living tree relatively quickly.

Termites develop in different stages from larvae to winged creatures. Subterranean termites burrow in tunnels beneath the ground or create raised mud tunnels. Drywood termites spend their time tunneling and eating through wood.

February and March through June is typically termite season across the country. The South and Southwestern United States are collectively known as the "termite belt" and sees a fair share of termite infestations.

Termites generally modify their surroundings to suit their preferences in temperature and atmospheric conditions. They'll remain in burrows or in tunnels until the time is right. This is why many termite problems go unchecked -- termites are good at keeping themselves hidden. It's only during termite swarms, when the winged subset of the species take to the air, that they are discovered. In nature, termites swarm to disperse and start new colonies. Triggered by warmer temperatures and rainfall, the winged termites emerge from the colony and fly into the air. The termites then drop to the ground, shed their wings and attempt to mate.

Ants and termites are generally mistaken for one another because they swarm at the same time. Termites have straight antennae, straight waists and equal-length wings.

Apart from swarmers, there are other ways to identify termite problems. Mud tubes leading from the soil up the side of a foundation, raised mud mounds in the soil or hollowed-out wood along the grain are all signs. Termites can infest a building in several ways:

* wood-to-ground contact;

* foundation cracks;

* debris beneath the house;

* joints between porches and foundations; and

* pipes and the insulation around them.

It often takes the keen eye of a professional to identify termite infestation. Even so, because of their cryptic nature, termites can go undiscovered for year -- or until wood or drywall is uncovered.

Termite treatment often requires the help of a professional exterminator. A chemical termiticide is applied to the soil to create a continuous barrier. The best way to treat termites is to prevent them from arriving in the first place. Here are some ways to do so.

* Remove stumps, roots, rotten wood, and similar materials from a property promptly.

* Keep the building woodwork structure from touching the soil.

* Ventilation in foundations should keep the soil dry and unfavorable for termites.

* Any wood that does touch the soil, such as fencing or deck posts, should be pressure-treated lumber.

* Annual inspections can identify termite signs before they get out of hand.

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