Several ways to vanquish a home's termite invaders

Spring brings swarms of the insects, which companies can eradicate

Pest control

June 13, 1999|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

If you are ever going to see a termite, now's the time. They swarm in the spring, at dusk, usually after a rain.

Often, termites are confused with flying ants. There are differences: Ants have a pinched or thin waist; termites have a thick waist. An ant's antennae are bent; a termite's are straight. Ants have eyes; termites don't. Both have two pairs of wings, but for ants, the pair closest to the head is longer than the second pair. The termites' two pairs of wings are equal in length.

Both ants and subterranean termites (the type of termite we have in this area) swarm at this time of year. The swarm is made up of reproductives, young insects mature enough to mate, seeking to start new colonies.

A subterranean termite swarmer is one-quarter to three-eighths of an inch long, black to pale yellow-brown, with pale to smoky-brown wings that cover the body when the insect is not in flight.

Let's say you missed the dramatic swarming moment. Here are the telltale signs that termites have arrived: Mud tunnels along the foundation of the house. Buckling paint or tiny holes in wood. Wings or sawdust near windows, doors or garage. (Termites lose their wings after swarming.)

The only way to eliminate the insect is to call a professional exterminator. No other way exists to safely rid your home of a termite infestation.

The professional pest-control company may suggest one eradication method or a combination of these applications:

Baiting systems: Monitoring stations are placed in strategic locations in the ground surrounding a home. If termite activity is detected, the monitoring devices are transferred into a bait tube that contains a pesticide called hexaflumuron.

Hexaflumuron does not contaminate the environment because it does not penetrate the surrounding earth. Termites feed on the bait and return to the colony to feed the colony members. This method may require several trips for installation and monitoring. Control may take from a few weeks to more than a year.

Sub-slab method: A tool or tube is inserted through holes drilled in the concrete slab. The pesticide is injected through the tube into the soil beneath the slab. Holes drilled in the slab should be no farther apart than 12 inches in order to form a chemical barrier.

Trenching: A 6- to 8-inch-wide strip, 10 inches deep, is excavated in the soil adjacent to the outside foundation wall on slab homes. Homes on pier and beam foundations are trenched by excavating soil in an area 6 to 8 inches wide around all piers and pipes and along foundation walls. All the soil that is returned to the trench has been treated with termiticide.

Rodding: This involves the use of a long rod with a tip to penetrate the soil. The rod of pesticide is usually inserted about every 12 inches. Rodding alone is not recommended, because gaps in the treatment zone will occur. Rodding combined with trenching is the conventional technique. Orkin uses a combination of rodding, trenching and baiting, says company spokeswoman Susan Kirkpatrick.

Foam: This is used to apply termiticide to hard-to-reach places such as chimney bases, dirt-filled porches and sub-slab areas. It is a relatively new technology.

Tenting: This method is used to treat dry wood termites. Your house is covered with what looks like a giant circus tent, the corners are laced up tight and the interior of the house is fumigated. This effectively kills the termites in the house but does nothing to control subsequent infestations. Once the tarp is removed it can take a few hours for the fumigant to dissipate. The extermination company uses a monitoring device to check that all pockets have dissipated.

Heat: This method is for dry wood termites as well. Heaters are used to raise the interior wall temperature to 140 degrees. It takes several hours, but the heat kills the termites.

According to John Chapman, an entomologist with Terminix, termite damage usually is not covered by homeowner insurance policies.

Those who live in brick or stone houses are not spared either. A great deal of wood is in all houses, and termites will penetrate through hairline cracks in concrete and mortar to reach the wood.

If you learn that termites are attacking your home, do not panic. Do not let any company rush you into termite-control services. A delay of a few weeks will not make any difference.

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