For Release September 14, 1999

Talking About Termites

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

With all the recent talk going on, I thought it would be a good time to talk about termites. I receive a lot of phone calls and inquiries about termites every year in the spring when they are swarming. But then the swarms disappear, the panic subsides and out of sight, out of mind! But termites are active the year round. Even in the cold of winter they are still feeding right along. They may be feeding a lot slower, but they do not die or go dormant.

Termites are very common throughout most of Kansas. In the bigger scheme of things termites do play a very important role. If it weren’t for termites, the whole world would be about thirty feet deep in dead trees, shrubs and other organic matter. Termites convert wood and plant fibers into more termites. The termites eventually die, their bodies decompose, and become nutrients to grow more trees and other plants. Unfortunately we just happen to use their favorite food to build most of our buildings.

The termites that we have in Kansas (there are five species native to the state) are all members of the family of subterranean termites. The colonies are located in the soil one to ten feet below the surface of the soil. This soil nest is the "heart" of the colony. This is where the egg laying and rearing of young occurs. This is a very important fact to remember. The workers tunnel out in all directions looking for food. Termites require wood and moisture to live. The moisture they get from the soil, the wood they get anywhere they can find it.

Often, termites will find tree and shrub roots that have died. Sometimes they will even tunnel up into the dead center of a tree or shrub. They will seldom tunnel into living tree tissue. If they encounter a structure they will look for an entrance into wood. Termites always keep in the dark (they are very susceptible to dehydrating in the exposed air) by tunneling through wood or by making covered tubes of clay and chewed wood. If there is wood from the building that is touching dirt, it will become a termite expressway. If there is a crack in the foundation, termites will exploit this entrance to gain access to wood in the structure. The wood fibers are chewed up and then hauled back to the colony.

Traditional termite treatments establish a chemical barrier around the structure. The termites will not cross this barrier. Termites caught on the inside of a building will continue to feed until they die of old age. Termites on the outside will go elsewhere looking for food. The traditional chemical treatment does not kill the colony, it just isolates the structure from the colony. The newer baiting method goes after the Achilles Heel of the termite; its need for wood fiber. The bait stations are placed in the ground and filled with special processed wood fiber.

When periodic inspections of these bait stations turn up the presence of termites the wood fiber is replaced with an identical fiber which is treated with a growth regulator. The growth regulator prevents the termites from shedding their skin, an important part of their growth and life, and the entire colony eventually dies, usually in three to five months.

Termites are common in Kansas. They can enter homes in many ways and they can cause a lot of damage. Most often we have arranged for an easy way for them to enter a home through what we have or haven’t done. Fortunately though, they work slow and if they are found in your home you can take plenty of time to research the treatment options and get them treated. We have an excellent bulletin at the Extension Office on termites that is free for the asking.


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