Springtime brings warmer temperatures and more abundant rainfall, and it’s typically when many winged termites emerge inside homes and other structures. Termites swarm from their colony to disburse, fall to the ground, find mates and start new colonies in the soil.
Through May, you might see swarms of winged termites, called swarmers, inside your home, signaling an infestation that can cause extensive and costly damage. Since swarmers are attracted to light, you often see them, or their shed wings, around windows, doors and light fixtures.
Winged ants may also swarm this time of year. By examining the insect you can determine whether it’s a termite or an ant. Termites have straight antennae; ants have elbowed antennae. Also, termites have uniform waists; ants have constricted waists between body regions. Termites have two pairs of wings of equal size. Ants also have two pairs of wings, but the forewings are longer than the hindwings.
Since termites are attracted to moisture, it is important to reduce consistent wetness in soil around the foundation as well as humidity in crawl spaces.
Use properly functioning gutters, downspouts and splash blocks to divert water away from the foundation. Also, repair leaking faucets, water pipes and air-conditioning units. Be sure the soil grade next to the foundation directs surface water away from the structure, and adjust lawn irrigation systems and sprinklers to minimize water puddles near the foundation.
Providing adequate ventilation reduces the humidity in crawl spaces. Prune shrubbery and other vegetation growing over vents to improve cross-ventilation. To reduce moisture, install four- to six-milliliter polyethylene over about 75 percent of the soil surface.
Many termite infestations result from direct structural wood-soil contact that gives termites access to food, moisture, shelter and a hidden entry into the home. To avoid this situation, be sure there are at least six inches between ground level and wooden elements such as siding, porch steps, latticework, door and window frames and posts.
Termites are especially attracted to moisture retained below cellulose-containing materials like mulch and wood chips. Use mulch sparingly, especially if other conditions are conducive to termite problems. Two to three inches is usually plenty of mulch. Do not let it come into contact with wood siding and door or window frames.
Submitted by Amanda Sears, Agent for Horticulture, Madison County Cooperative Extension Service