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Make Termites Stay Where They Belong
By Allison Powe
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Although termites are not welcome house guests, they are actually helpful when they aren't in our homes.
Termites are one of the few animals with the ability to digest cellulose, or wood, and they are valuable contributors of nitrogen to the air we breath. However, when termites invade personal homes, they cross the line between being helpful and being harmful.
"Termites are beneficial when they are out in the woods. It's only when they come inside houses that they become a problem," said Dr. James Jarratt, extension entomologist at Mississippi State University.
Jarratt said termites are primarily tropical insects. There are several hundred species of termites throughout the world, but only a few of those are found in Mississippi.
"This time of year through about the middle of June is the swarming season, which means termites are mating and the ones that survive predators will eventually establish new colonies," Jarratt said.
"Southeastern states like Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida and up to the Carolinas are kind of a hot bed for termite activity," Jarratt said.
"One of the most common species that causes problems in Mississippi is the Eastern subterranean termite, which is one of at least four different subterranean species in the state," Jarratt said.
"Another species is the Formosan subterranean termite. These have been in the state for only about 10 years, and they are seen mostly in areas south of Hattiesburg and Natchez," he said.
"The Formosan termites generally have larger colonies and may be more tolerant of pesticides. Over time the Formosan subterranean termites have spread over the southeastern states. People who live in the southern part of the Mississippi around Gulfport and Biloxi have the greatest probability of having to deal with these termites," Jarratt said.
The entomologist said dry wood termites are a very different species because, unlike the Eastern and Formosan subterranean termites, they do not require contact with soil.
"Dry wood termites can remain in a house without having to go back and forth to the soil for moisture. These termites are also more of a problem around the coast than in other areas of the state," Jarratt said.
Once termites have infested a house, there are a few ways to get rid of them. However, the best way to prevent termites from doing much damage is to protect your home and catch termites when they first try to invade.
Most houses are built with an insecticide barrier than can prevent termites for several years. Homeowners still should inspect their homes for termites periodically.
"If your house is built on a conventional foundation, crawl under the house with a flashlight and a hammer about once a year. Tap on joists to see if they sound strong and solid. Also look for mud tubes, which are little tunnels covered with dirt that the termites use to crawl back and forth from the soil to wood," Jarratt said.
"If your house is not built on a conventional foundation, you may have a little harder time checking for termites, but look for any mud tubes around the house. Tap on any exposed wood to make sure it is strong, and also tap on some wood inside the house," he said.
"If you don't see any mud tubes and the wood sounds solid, that's a pretty good indication that nothing has been chewing on it," Jarratt said.
Jarratt also suggested maintaining good drainage around a house to make sure water stays away from the foundation. Don't allow any wood-to-soil contact. Stack firewood away from the foundation of a house, or stack it on something to keep it up off of the ground. Anything outdoors built out of wood, such as a deck, should be made out of pressure-treated lumber.
"Another way to prevent termites is to be careful with your landscaping. Do not till up too close to the house because you will destroy the insecticide barrier that has been placed there," Jarratt said.
"When you plant bushes and shrubs set them back from the house a little ways. Keep them pruned to allow good air flow next to the foundation. Leave six to eight inches of undisturbed soil adjacent to the foundation," Jarratt said.