Last week, our office got a call from one who saw a cloud of flying insects coming out of an old stump. “It almost looked like rising smoke, but it was all bugs,” they said.
What they saw were termites and those termites were swarming.
Adult reproductive termites are dark-brown to blackish insects, about 3/8 inch-long. Commonly referred to as “swarmers”, the job of reproductive termites is to mate and start new colonies. Termite swarmers may or may not have wings, as their wings often are shed shortly after flight.
Swarming termites are often confused with ants but can be distinguished by two simple characters. Termites lack the “pinched” waist of ants. A termite’s body profile is shaped like a grain of rice. Ants always have some sort of pinched, narrow “waist”.
Also, termite wings are equal in length, compared to ants that have distinctly longer front wings. With an infested home, it is not uncommon to find insect wings inside on a window sill. Look carefully thru them to see if you can see a size difference. If they are all similar in size, those are termites.
Although termite swarmers can, occasionally, enter homes through open doors or windows, finding termite swarmers indoors is a reliable signal of infestation. Termite swarms can occur throughout the year, but are most commonly seen between the months of February and May in Texas.
But what about the termites you find outside in your mulch or in an old stump? In Texas, termites abound in the soil wherever wood is to be found. Most yards, especially those in older, established neighborhoods, support termites. While termites are more abundant in some locations, chances are good that your yard has termites. Finding termites in a fence or woodpile, or in landscape timbers, does not necessarily mean that your home needs to be treated, but it should alert you to the presence of termites around your home.
Should you find termites in your yard, a few simple steps can help reduce your risk of becoming infested. First, familiarize yourself with what termites look like so that if you notice swarms of any unusual indoor insects, you will know whether your house should be inspected.
Second, examine the foundation of your home to see whether mud shelter tubes are present that might indicate termite activity. Termite shelter tubes are hollow soil tunnels extending from the soil to your house and provide runways for termites to travel between their underground nest and their food supply (your home). If you do find any suspicious mud structures, leave at least part of the material in place for a professional termite inspector to examine.
Finally, keep soil and debris, such as stacked wood, away from the foundation of your home. This reduces the chance of termite entry and makes it easier to inspect your home for termite signs.
If you suspect termites, it’s a good idea to have a professional inspect your home. Because of the specialized equipment and chemicals needed to effectively and safely treat your home, it’s nearly always best to hire a professional. Do-it-yourself termite control chemicals are commonly sold through do-it-yourself stores.
For spot treatments, in a very limited area, these products might be as effective as some of the professional’s weaker products; however it takes a professional to thoroughly treat a home. I would only attempt to use a “Do-it-yourself” termite control product around low value structures such as sheds, fence post, decks and wood piles.
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.