Frequently Asked Questions - Subterranean & Formosan

The most common pests

Should we demolish part of the house that's got termites in it?

First up, the answer depends on what type of termites are creating the problem. If they are drywoods, then maybe knocking things down will kill them, but if these are subterranean termites then definitely not. Drywoods live in small colonies, usually in individual pieces of timber, so a thoughtful demolition may effectively remove active colonies. Subterraneans, don't, they like to spread out through the structure and will have paths to ground (for water).  They will just go to ground at the first vibrations and come back up later to resume the attack somewhere else.

Sorry, but you've probably done the wrong thing. The termites can switch to another path into the house that you can't find. Trouble is, you exterminator may not find it either. It is almost always better not to disturb them until you have a proper inspection done and decided on the right response strategy. Instead of slowing them down, you have likely slowed yourself and it may end up costing you a bit more to be rid of them.  Sometimes the termites will quickly repair a damaged tube but some species will stay away for a long ime and a few may not ever come back. 

The really odd thing about a termite swarm is that it is the one time when cooperation goes out the window.  It is every termite for his- or herself.

Not long after planting, they're nearly dead from termites eating the roots.

In some parts of the world, particularly parts of Africa and Asia, termites will quickly attack and kill transplanted trees and plants.  They attack the roots.  In the past, some very heavy doses of scary pesticides have been used to help the plants get established.  The attacks seem to drop off once the plants have been in for a few months. Keeping the plants well-watered all the time can make a big difference as water-stressed plants are more readily attacked.

Around the world, ants are the main predators of termites.  When you see termite soldiers, most of the funny-shaped jaws or pointy or blocky heads are effective adaptations against ants.  When termites fly, lots get eaten before they can create a safe nest.  This makes life very hard for termites, but usually not so hard as to kill them all off.

I saw them in Home Depot but they look very small.

I've seen these sorts of baits too.  Way back, there was a court case where various groups once claimed that a retail bait system was not working properly.  They kept selling them, but put a little warning on the box about how they weren't the same as a professional treatment.  The ones I bought said "Not recommended for sole protection against termites, and for active infestations get a professional inspection".  Companies don't put things like that on their products unless they are forced to or need to so as to avoid liability.  Even if the bait system w

Keeping termites in the garden largely means leaving them alone.  Keeping those termites out of you house can be harder.  For the subterranean pest forms, particularly some species of Coptotermes and Reticulitermes, it is probably better not to take the risk.  To be sure, you need to know what species you have and how much of a risk they are in your area. 

Most species of termites have soldiers.  This is a special caste within the colony that takes on certain roles. Soldiers tend to have large heads.  It is very common for their mandibles to be greatly enlarged.

No.  In general termites prefer timber that is a bit soft, decayed or weathered but they will eat many types of hardwood (wood from trees with flowers not cones).  There are also many types of tree that produce timber which is generally termite resistant and quite a few of these trees are hardwoods.

The homeowners' dilemma

Lets say you live in a known risk area for termites (count the advertisements in the telephone directory).  It is normal for an inspection to be recommended to be done not less than once a year.  Some people tend to stretch that out a bit.  If you do go for less-frequent inspections it will almost certainly impact on any insurance or warranty you may have covering the termite risks.  Read the contracts.

OK, so the termites are after moisture. What can I do to make life hard for them?

Here's some pointers to get you started.

You can do things that reduce the amount of water getting in to the soil near your perimeter walls:

  1. Make sure that rainwater on the roof does not drain into the soil.
  2. Grade the soil around the house so that water drains away, not towards the walls
  3. Don't have gardens, ponds, sprinklers, ferneries or pools near walls.
  4. Make sure that overflow drains from hot water services and air conditioners don't soak into the soil near the wall.

You can do things to help the water get away: 

. . to my home?

Mostly they are looking for food, which is usually some sort of wood.  Sometimes they've come to your house chasing water to drink and then look around for closer food.

. . . when she says she's not a plumber?

All pests, like us essentially seek the same basic things: food, shelter and water to drink.  Without good supplies of these they can't thrive.

The process of baiting for termites is highly variable. 

Sometimes much of the time is spent getting them into the baits.  Sometimes they're in by day two.

Some bait toxins take several weeks or months to noticeably affect the colony.  This is especially true of the hormonal approaches.  Some toxins will usually kill off a colony within two to three weeks of the first feeding.

Baiting for termites has a long history.  I first used it in 1979 to survey a park, but others had used baiting way before then.  Basically, a bait is something that termites will happily eat.  Often it is placed in a fancy (=expensive) container.  When the termites are feeding on the bait you (i) know they are there, (ii) can identify them and (iii)  you can exploit them.  The original bait box method had the termites collected and dusted with toxin before being allowed to sulk home.  Other methods

Very few termites are likely to be interested in eating the straw bales themselves.  Lots of subterranean termites will happily travel through the bales to reach unprotected framing timbers (such as door frames and window lintels). 

You won't sit the bales right on the soil anyway (moisture hazard) so all it takes is some attention to design to put a termite barrier in the foundation, just as you would with any other block house design.

If you've already built without barriers, find a well-skilled termite manager to inspect and advise.

This will depend on the size and complexity of the structure, the location and the type of inspection required.  Say you are getting a typical house checked out before you buy it.  I would normally expect that to take around two to three hours for the pre-purchase inspection.  Obviously, an old or heavily renovated house will take more effort than a brand new one.  If you have a contracted service or have a barrier system installed (subterreanean termites), then the regular inspection can be a lot faster, maybe even 45 minutes to one hour.  If you have reported an i

Orange oil is the name given to extracts from the peel of citrus.  Mostly this is near pure d-limonene.  It is a general solvent.  You have probably used it in bathroom or hand cleaners.  It kills insects.  I used it as the recommended cleanup solvent for the Blockaid non-toxic termite barrier as it was much less of an OH&S risk than mineral turpentine.

Tanks to catch rainwater from your roof are a great idea but if thoughtlessly placed, can massively increase the risk of subterrranean termite attack. 

They might.  Subterranean termites, of most types, [A house in the woods]will travel at lest 50 metres through the soil to exploit good food.  Termites flying from colonies can sometimes spread a thousand metres.  If your house is well maintained and has a termite management plan, the risk can be reduced to something quite acceptable (but never totally removed).  Apart from known colonies of major pests very close to a building, there is usually little to

It might, but don't count on it. Baits are good at grabbing termites' attention and can be used to slowly poison their colony BUT baits are not barriers and it is possible for termites to ignore them and eat your home anyway. The termites mightn't find them, the baits might be poorly placed, they mightn't suit your termites, they might be too often disturbed or left too long, too wet or too dry. Baits are great at cutting populations and even killing colonies, but it is probably best that you add other ways to keep termites out of your home, just to be sure.

A few times each year the sky seems to fill with fluttering termites, but not all of the termites get to fly. some alatesThe colony lets a few grow wings and strike out into the world. A rare time when termites act as individuals. These fliers (called alates) are just for colony reproduction. They seek to find a mate and start a new nest of their own. Just like most of we do.