Termites take region by swarm

TAMPA – The only evidence that they are crawling within the wood rafters and wall studs is the occasional clear, discarded wing or the coffee-grounds-like droppings on a window sill or in the corner of a room.

Occasionally, they can be seen flying around at night, maybe bumping into the flickering television screen or flitting around the reading lamp.
Dry wood termites have landed, and this time of year they are swarming. And around the Tampa Bay area, they are really swarming.

“More in your area than up here,” Phil Koehler, an entomologist and researcher with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, said from his Gainesville office.

“There have been tremendous problems with dry wood termites in Tampa,” he said. “They do a lot better in higher humidity along coastal areas.”

Dry wood termite populations tend to thin out inland and in areas north of the Bay area, he said, because the cold kills them off in the winter.

Typically, swarms can inhabit a home for up to five years before anybody notices, he said. Their numbers are not as prevalent as subterranean termites, which can swarm into a home by the thousands, even tens of thousands in the first year. Dry wood termites enter a dozen or so at a time but can multiply unseen for years, he said.

By the time you notice them, they’ve probably lived there longer than you.

“We are getting right into the swarming season for dry wood and Formosa termites,” Koehler said. He said Formosa termites, like subterranean termites, which swarmed earlier in the year, “can be the most destructive termites we have in their ability to cause damage.”
Formosa termites are difficult to detect because, like subterranean termites, they invade homes underground. Dry wood termites aren’t so sneaky.

“They swarm,” Koehler said. “You can see them in the home. They fly around the TV set or the light in the room, not in large numbers.”

The only way to treat a dry wood termite infestation: Wrap your house in canvas and gas them with enough toxic fumes to kill everything inside, he said.

The good news, Koehler said, is that dry wood termites work slowly. It could take years before they are noticed, and even longer to cause significant damage.

“They are not all that mobile,” he said. “They tunnel through wood.”

All kinds of termites cause an estimated $5 billion damage to homes in the United States each year, according to the National Pest Management Association’s website.

Keeping dry wood termites from munching on your rafters isn’t that complicated, the site said.

“Dry wood termites can be avoided by making sure firewood and scrap wood is stored at least 20 feet from the home,” the association suggested. “Because dry wood termites form new colonies by gaining access to wood through small holes, seal all cracks and crevices in a structure.”

Rick Ricker has been treating homes for termites and other pests for eight years, and calls about dry wood termite infestation this year have eclipsed previous years.

“Dry wood termites are bad every year,” said Ricker, owner of Rick Ricker Termite and Pest Control in Odessa, “but this year is an extremely swarmy season. It’s been a bizarre year. Even the subterraneans were swarming into May.” Subterranean termites typically swarm in February and March.

“There seems to be lot of swarms this year,” he said, “and, truthfully, I think that the economy is a little bit better than last year.”

Some callers confessed that they first spotted wings and droppings last year but couldn’t afford treatment.

Evidence of entomological invasion

Pest control experts say you may have termites if:

•A lot of bugs are flying inside or around your house. To differentiate between termites and flying ants, take a close look: Termites have straight abdomens and ants have a narrow “waist” between segments.

•Interior walls begin to sag or bow.

•You spot small, transparent wings that termites shed.

•Small drinking-straw-width tubes of mud form on exterior walls.

•Wet or deteriorated wood or sawdust-like droppings appear around windowsills.

Hiring a pest control company?

•Read the contract cover to cover. You may find disclaimers of liability and arbitration clauses, which can make it difficult if not impossible to sue the company for incompetence or fraud.

•Demand a repair guarantee. Even seemingly minor termite damage can cost thousands of dollars to repair. Extensive termite damage can require a house to be torn down and rebuilt.

•Make sure the contract spells out a mandatory routine inspection of your property – once a year – inside and out.

Reporter Keith Morelli can be reached at (813) 259-7760.

via http://www2.tbo.com/content/2010/jun/21/na-tiny-terrors-take-region-by-swarm/

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