Termites

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

We've all heard the old Vermonter say " there ain't no termites in Vermont". Any one who has told you this was almost right. In the case of the Vermonter who grew up in a farmhouse heated by a wood stove he/she used to be correct. Termites are rare in Vermont, but, cases of termite infestation have been documented as far north as Montreal, Canada. I have personal knowledge of termites in Hardwick, Brattleboro, Pomfret, and Reading Vt. There are numerous other reports throughout the state. The advent of central heat in homes throughout the North East's rural areas, is the major contributing factor assisting the termites in their slow migration north. Termites are insects. Insects are members of the phylum Arthropoda, class Insecta according to the NPCA, one of the largest and most diverse classes in the animal kingdom. The number of described insect species is estimated to be 750,000, and the actual number of living species is perhaps 3 million. Even at 750,000 species, however, insects outnumber all other plant and animal groups. Insects obtain food by a variety of methods, including biting, lapping, and sucking. Carnivorous insects such as the praying mantis catch and chew their prey. Some wasps paralyze their prey with venomous stings, lay their eggs in the bodies, and provide a living food supply for their young. Termites are able to digest wood because tiny protozoans within their digestive system "predigest" the cellulose in the wood. Termites which infest Vermont are the EASTERN SUBTERRANEAN TERMITE . This is the most common and widely distributed termite in North America. It occurs south of the line where the average annual minimum temperature is -22-F (-30-C). This includes Ontario, Canada, and southward through the eastern United States and into Mexico and west to Arizona and Utah. There are several different members with distinct roles in each termite colony. The swarmer is about 3/8 (10 mm) long including wings. Body dark brown to almost black. It has dark, heavily veined wings attached at the front portion of there bodies. The wings appear translucent (slightly milky) to slightly smoky, with a few barely visible hairs. The soldier has a rectangular shaped head about 1.5 longer than it is wide with greast pichers (mandibles) almost as wide as the head . Specialization abounds in the colonynymphs and workers are small and white looking almost like albino ants. The queen lays eggs. Swammmers fly and propogate. Subterranean termites eat only the spring wood and leave the lien in containing summer wood which they cannot effectively digest. Hence, damaged wood appears to be layered. Also, soil is typically found in the galleries. A typical mature colony may consist of 60,000 to several hundred thousand workers. Sixty thousand workers can/may eat 5 grams or 1/5 ounce of wood each day. At this rate, such a colony could completely consume several board feet in 1 year. However, there may be several colonies associated with a single building. Colony founding is carried out by swarmers associating in pairs, breaking off their wings, and burrowing into the soil. Here they mate and only a few eggs are produced the first year. When the queen is mature she will produce about 5,000-10,000 eggs a year. The queen may live up to 30 years and workers may live up to 5 years. Several years are required before the colony reaches the typical mature size of 60,000 or more workers. Under ideal conditions a few swarmers may be produced after 3 or 4 years. Swarming typically occurs during the spring but it may possibly be followed by one or more smaller swarms until winter. Swarming occurs during the daytime, typically during the morning of the day following a warm rain. In the extreme northern states and Canada, swarmers are rarely seen. Colony distribution is patchy, because they are usually spread in infested wood and wood products such as lumber and firewood. Eastern subterranean termite colonies are usually located in the ground. Location is usually below the frost line, but above the water table and rock formations. Mud tubes are built to cross areas of adverse conditions between the colony and food sources. They can enter structures through cracks less than 1/16" (1-2 mm) wide. However, if a constant source of moisture is available (like leaky pipes), colonies (called secondary colonies) can exist above ground and without ground contact. Also, true aerial colonies (no ground contact ever existed) are known to exist. Control of termites involves placing a chemical barrier between the termite colony and the wood of the structure. In addition, all wood-to-soil contact must be eliminated, any wood debris must be removed, and the wood moisture content should be reduced to below 20%. Secondary and aerial colonies are controlled by correcting the moisture problem to dry out the moisture-source area. To rapidly reduce the secondary infestation treat the galleries with either an appropriate aerosol or dust formulation. The other more common woodboring insects which effect Vermont homes are the Powder Post Beetle and the Carpenter Ant. I strongly suggest subscribing to a service contract with a local qualified extermination company. Under most service contracts the company will inspect a home annually for a fee of about $100 to $175. In the event insect activity is detected the service company will (normally at no extra charge) exterminate the little terrors.

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