This article is crafted with the help of Breda Pest Management.

Termites are Mother Nature’s way of keeping the land clear from fallen trees and other cellulose debris. Subterranean termites build their colonies underground and create a labyrinth of pencil-width tubes in the mud through which they travel to gain access to their food sources. “To create a colony, termites need moisture and food,” explains Rodger Breda, the founder of Atlanta’s Breda Pest Management. “The workers, they are pure white; they can’t be exposed to normal air and sunlight. That’s why their mud tube expressways are so necessary. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, the worker termites use these to bring food back to their colony and feed their queen.” In the forest, these tiny insects are beneficial. It is only when they make their way to your home that they become a problem.

There are various ways homeowners can tell if they are harboring termites. “The biggest signs that homeowners see are in the springtime when they swarm. Termite colonies are divided into groups with different roles. Remember, worker termites are white, but swarming termites are little black bugs with wings—and they can come out by the thousands. You could be sitting in your den watching TV on a nice, spring afternoon, and all of the sudden you’ll see thousands of little bugs everywhere.” These swarms typically occur between 10:00 AM and 2:00 pm during the termites’ mating season. Termites that survive this swarm will retreat back into the ground and form new colonies. The obvious hope is that the bugs will be outside when they swarm, but according to Rodger, termites will swarm out of any opening they choose. And unfortunately for a homeowner with termites, that could be on the inside of the home.

Termite swarms don’t develop until the colony is well established. It usually takes three years to build up to this level of termite activity. Luckily, there are other signs of infestation that homeowners can search for before they find themselves burdened with a terrifying termite swarm: mud tunnels in basements and crawl spaces and termite damage in walls. Termites are not the only insect to munch on wood; carpenter ants are another culprit. To be sure that the damage you’re observing is termite damage, look for the telltale mud. Because termites travel through mud tubes, some mud is naturally transferred onto the wood the termites are eating. If the damaged wood is clean, it is likely you’re not looking at termite damage. However, if the board is dirty, you can be pretty sure you’ve got unwanted termite guests, and you should call your pest control technician promptly.

So what attracts termites to your house? “Termites follow moisture,” Rodger relates. “Moisture problems, leaky windows, anything like that will attract termites. Keep the area around your home dry to help hold termites at bay.” You can also make sure your grass and lawn are well maintained and that there’s no clutter in the yard. Also, don’t stack firewood around your house.

Prevention is not always enough, even if it includes professional pest control. Double-check that your pest control company offers to repair any termite damage you may incur if you experience an infestation. The bottom line is, unless there are no cellulose products in your home, you are at risk for termites.

This article was crafted with the help of Breda Pest Management, an Atlanta expert in Pest & Termite Control. While we strive to provide relevant information to all homeowners, some of the material we publish may not pertain to every area. Please contact your local Best Pick companies for any further area-specific advice.

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