We celebrated Workers’ Day this month with a public holiday (1st May) and in light of that, we thought we’d take a look at one of the hardest working (and most destructive) of pests; the mighty termite. I can assure you that they didn’t take a public holiday!
So, firstly, what are termites?
Termites are a species of wood-boring insect. They have symbiotic bacteria in their hindguts that enable them to break down plant cellulose to a digestible form, which means that they attack any wooden structure in your property. Even properties built mainly from brick or stone can still suffer from termite damage because structural supports are constructed of wood and cellulose-based materials, which are exactly the substances on which termites like to feed.
Where do you find them?
Termites species are found all over South Africa but they really thrive in warm, damp and humid climates like KZN. Like ants, they live in colonies with a highly structured caste system, comprising workers, soldiers and reproductives. Colonies can be either ground-based (in the soil) or surface-based (in wood). Whilst there are a number of different termite species in SA, it is the Drywood termite (Cryptotermes spp – found primarily in KZN) and the Subterranean termite (Coptotermes spp) that cause the most damage.
So what makes Termites so hardworking?
Termites are relentless; they can steadily eat away at the wooden structures of your home for years without any obvious signs to alert you to the damage they are causing. The reason you may not realise what’s going on is that termites live underground and eat away at wood from the inside. By the time you notice them, termites may have caused extensive damage, running into the hundreds of thousands of Rands.
Rentokil recently got a call from a client in Polokwane who had noticed signs of termite damage. The infestation had been present for a few months before she called us, but it had escalated quickly over the last 3 weeks. You can see the damage in these photographs:
Here our technicians provided a drill and inject treatment for inside the house, and the garden was soaked in termiticide. It’s always important to treat the garden areas as well, to prevent them from re-entering.
So how can you protect your home from a termite invasion?
The first step in protecting your property from these relentless pests is to know what to look for! Many people confuse termites with ants, with termites sometimes being called ‘white ants’ or ‘flying ants’. Ants, like wasps, have a constriction half way down their body, whereas a termite body is uniformly broad. The prominent mounds in the South African countryside are caused by termites, not ants, and termite workers can be both male and female.
Be on the lookout for the following signs of an infestation: termite swarms, mud tubes and piles of discarded wings. After termites swarm, which is typical during warm spring days, they can shed their wings and leave piles of them behind. Anywhere around your home where it is in contact with the soil can be a potential termite entrance. And if you do see any of the above, call a professional pest control company immediately; termites are not a pest on which one can afford to practice one’s DIY skills.
Eliminate the conditions in which they thrive:
Termites need two things to survive: wood and moisture, so minimising access to these is a good start in protecting your home. Whilst it is always best to get a professional pest control company in to do a survey for termites, our experts advise that there are a few practical tips that you can employ to protect your home. Wood that directly touches the soil gives termites easy access to your property, so regular inspection of the following may help to spot early signs of termites.
- Fence posts, trellises or landscaping ties
- Firewood stacked up against the house
- Mulch that touches the house
- Structural supports
- Wood debris (often from building) buried in the soil
- Even small leaks can create perfect moisture conditions for termites.
Whenever possible, try to fix the following, which may discourage termite activity around your property:
- Leaky taps
- Leaky gutters and downspouts that leave water near the foundation
- Ground sloping toward the foundation
- Insufficient ventilation in basements and crawl spaces
Remember that termites can work undetected for years and that because the warning signs can be subtle, they’ll often go unnoticed until structural damage has already occurred. When you consider that untreated termite damage can cause your house to become structurally unstable, it’s no wonder that termite damage is so costly, and that prevention and control is so important.
Do you think you may have a termite problem?
Contact the experts at Rentokil for a free survey.