Emergence of termite swarmers is often the first indication for many homeowners that they have an infestation. Winged reproductives often leave the ground on a sunny spring day following a rain. This mating and dispersal activity is the way new colonies become established. Some ant species swarm now, too, so correct identification is very important. Figure1 shows the major differences between ant and termite swarmers.
Mud tubes (Figure 2) are one of the less common signs that termites are active. Termite workers build those using pieces of soil and wood. Mud tubes provide protection from predators and dry air as the termites move from their colony in the soil to a food source.
Discovery of a termite infestation is unsettling. However, termites work slowly, so there is time to make a reasoned decision about control. There are two general categories of termite treatment: liquids and baits.
Soil-applied liquid termiticides provide a long-lasting chemical barrier that excludes termites in the ground from entering buildings. In most cases, termites in the structure die off as well, since they cannot return to the soil. Most former products were repellent rather than lethal to termites foraging in the soil. Newer materials, such as Premise® (imidacloprid), Termidor® (fipronil), and Phantom® (chlorfenapyr), are non-repellent and termites tunneling into the treatment zone are killed.
The other broad treatment category is baiting. Termite baits consist of paper, cardboard, or other palatable food, combined with a slow-acting substance lethal to termites. The baits are installed below ground out in the yard in cylindrical plastic stations. Other baits are sometimes placed indoors over active mud tubes. Foraging termites consume the bait and share it with their nestmates, resulting in a gradual decline in termite numbers.
Information on termites and the decision-making process is available in Termite Control: Answers for Homeowners (ENTFACT-604)
Learn about termite baits in Termite Baits: A Guide for Homeowners (ENTFACT-639)
By Lee Townsend, Extension Entomologist