Wood-destroying Pests: Termites, Carpenter Bees and Carpenter Ants

As winter fades, spring sunshine begins to warm up interest in home construction projects. But this can also be a time of home destruction as termite swarms arrive in the Southeast United States. Once temperatures are consistently above freezing, these wood-destroying pests swarm inside homes before moving outdoors in search of food and water, leaving dangerous damage in their wake.

Other wood-destroying pests like carpenter ants and carpenter bees are also strapping on their tool belts this season, ready to tear your home apart. Knowing the signs of a swarm and what attracts these insects can keep you clear of their wrecking crews, and protect your property against damage and unsafe structural conditions.

Termites are the most ancient of pests, having been around for over 250 million years. According to the National Pest Management Association, they cause more than $5 billion in damage in the U.S. each year. Termites are most active when temperatures are above 60 degrees, but cold weather doesn’t mean the end of them. They burrow deeper into the soil during winter, and if they’re able to get indoors, the temperature is adequate for them to survive year-round.

Wood-Destroying Pests: TermitesRegardless of construction type, most homes are vulnerable to termite attack. These silent invaders can enter a structure through cracks as tiny as 1/32 of an inch. Depending on the species and location, the average lot surrounding a home can support three to four termite colonies, which vary in size from thousands to millions. Termites will travel up to 100 feet from a colony in search of food, and they’re attracted to areas featuring the nourishment, water and moisture they need.

Native subterranean termites cause the majority of termite damage in North America, living in colonies in the ground and building tunnels that look like mud tubes above ground to keep them moist as they search for food. Formosan termites are an extremely aggressive species of subterranean termite found in tropical and subtropical climates, causing damage at an accelerated rate and forming colonies ten times larger than other types of termites. Asian subterranean termites can be found in South Florida as well. Meanwhile, drywood termites are not as widespread as subterranean types, but they can still cause serious structural damage. They commonly target the wood in a home’s structural timbers, framing, furniture and hardwood flooring, and form colonies a few thousand strong.

It can be difficult to determine if you have a termite problem, but some of the more common warning signs include a temporary swarm of winged insects (usually in spring), discarded wings from swarmers, cracked or bubbling paint, wood that sounds hollow when tapped, and mud tubes on exterior walls. To prevent a termite infestation, avoid piling mulch or allowing soil to accumulate against your home’s siding, as both can give termites a means to access your home. You should also keep an eye on dirt-filled porches and crawlspaces, where cracks in foundation walls or soil-touching wood may be present, and keep gutters clear and downspouts directed well away from your home. Firewood should also be moved away from any structures on your property.

Annual inspection of your home by a licensed professional is also important to your termite prevention strategy. If a problem does develop, though, more professional attention is needed to provide a truly integrated service to control termites and prevent their return. A professional will locate and monitor the four most common conditions attractive to termites, including disturbed soil, moisture, temperature, and objects that provide a warm and moist environment, such as roots, twigs and pipes.

Carpenter bees
Carpenter bees also become wood-destroying threats by burrowing into the exposed dry wood of buildings, decks, telephone poles, fence posts and bridges. Exposed raw wood is their preference, but they can and will attack painted and stained wood as well. Carpenter bees chew round holes about a half-inch in diameter, hollowing out wood to a depth of ten to twelve inches, with multiple bees joining forces to create “galleries” up to ten feet in height.

Wood-Destroying Pests: Carpenter BeesUnlike honeybees, carpenter bees are solitary insects. Seven species are present in the United States, and they’re large in size with a blue-black, green or purple metallic sheen on their abdomens. Male carpenter bees are sometimes perceived as menacing, as they are territorial and hover near female galleries. However, they’re completely harmless and don’t have the ability to sting, while females possess a potent sting that they rarely use.

A carpenter bee infestation is often detected through the discovery of large amounts of sawdust and pollen on the ground below infested wood, and/or stains on adjacent walls or windows. Treatment can be challenging, and depending on the infestation, may require professional application of dusts, sprays and liquids. After treatment, homeowners should fill holes with wood putty and then paint, stain or seal any wood that could be attractive to carpenter bees.

Carpenter ants
The third member of the insect world’s wrecking crew is the carpenter ant. It’s the most common type of ant seen in the home, and can be red, brown, black or even a combination of these colors.

Wood-Destroying Pests: Carpenter AntsCarpenter ants can be difficult to locate and treat because they excavate and often build their nests within decaying, moist wood, sometimes creating multiple satellite nests in one area. They are commonly found in such places as porch pillars, roofs, windowsills, telephone poles, dead trees, and dead parts of living trees. Signs of infestation may include seeing several sizes of worker ants crawling along a countertop, or small piles of sawdust mixed with dirt particles, fragments of insulation and insect body parts. In spring, you may see a group of ants with wings emerging, which can sometimes be confused with termites. However, a trained professional can distinguish carpenter ants from termites by their elbowed antennae, pinched waists and different wing length.

Carpenter ants are very resourceful, which can make them hard to control. They enter buildings through cracks around doors and windows, and through exterior holes for electrical wires, power and telephone lines. Wood that has been damaged by moisture can also be a draw. Identification should be left to a trained professional, and treatments include baits, sprays, dusts and/or injectable foams, depending on the ants’ location and the needs and concerns of the homeowner.

Protect your home against destructive pests
If you’d like to learn more about how to prevent wood-destroying pests from settling in your home, visit Orkin.com. You’ll find a range of useful information to help identify and eliminate issues, including a pest library where you can look up any species you’ve spotted in or near your home. You can also look up a local Orkin pest control pro to help eliminate termites, carpenter bees and carpenter ants, and may arrange for a free pest control estimate.

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