Termites occur in every state of the United States and parts of Canada. Subterranean termites are the most common type of termites found in the United States. To date, they have not been reported in Alaska. They cause varying degrees of trouble, depending on the geographical location. The presence and abundance of termites in an area is determined by several factors, including temperature, humidity, soil type and soil moisture. Because subterranean termites rely on soil moisture, they are affected by soil types. In clay soils, moisture is not as readily available because it is tightly bound to the soil particles. Sandy soils have more available moisture. Consequently, subterranean termites are generally more prevalent and more able to survive in sandy soils. Fungi in wood are another source of moisture.
Subterranean termites are native, soil-inhabiting insects that feed on wood, paper and similar materials containing cellulose. They nest primarily underground. They excavate extensive networks of galleries or tunnels in the soil that allow them to travel far distances to locate food. Subterranean termites readily transport soil and water to above-ground sites. Soil provides an environment that satisfies the high moisture requirements of subterranean termites. In order for these soft-bodied insects to keep from drying out, they must be surrounded by relatively high humidity not only when they are in the soil, but also when they are foraging above ground.
The economic importance of subterranean termite attacks on buildings is related to the fact that wood members of a building closest to the soil, such as sills, joists, studs, girders and other important load-bearing elements of construction, are most likely to be severely damaged by termites. Failure to stop termite attacks can cause loss of support. Other forms of building deterioration, such as sagging walls, leaking surfaces and wood decay, can follow. Heated buildings whose wood is in direct contact with or in close proximity to the soil offer termites the ideal environment, a favorable year-round climate, and an abundant sheltered food source.
Subterranean termites are social insects that live in colonies. The social exchange of food, called trophallaxis, and mutual grooming are important aspects of colony life. Termite colonies are comprised of various types of individuals or castes that have distinct physical and behavioral characteristics. The proportion of each caste is regulated by a variety of environmental factors, as well as the presence or absence of caste-regulating chemicals or pheromones produced by the termites themselves.
"Powderpost beetle" is a term used to describe several species of wood-boring insects. Powderpost beetles damage wood slowly; thus, homeowners should not feel as though they must act immediately in order to preserve the structural integrity of their home. A "wait and see" approach is often desirable, especially when there is doubt as to whether the infestation is currently active.
Most powderpost beetles are introduced into homes in lumber or finished wood products, such as furniture and flooring. Lumber that has been improperly dried or stored should not be used, particularly if beetle exit holes are present. Many of the most serious infestations arise from old lumber from a barn or old woodpile that is repurposed to panel a room or build an addition.
Powderpost beetles will only lay their eggs on bare, unfinished wood. Wood that is painted, varnished, waxed or similarly sealed is generally safe from attack, provided no unfinished surfaces are exposed. Bare wood can be protected from attack by painting or finishing exposed surfaces. Beetles emerging from finished articles, such as furniture, were probably in the wood before the finish was applied. However, note that beetles emerging from finished wood can re-infest the wood by laying eggs in their own exit holes. Sealing the holes prevents this possibility.
Powderpost beetles can be found in dead as well as dried and cured lumber. Damage can occur to many wooden components in a home, such as the rafters, joists, flooring, moldings and paneling, as well as crating, furniture, antiques, tool handles, gunstocks, fishing poles and baskets. Homeowners are much more likely to see the damage caused by these beetles than the beetles themselves. Sometimes, homeowners may hear rasping or ticking in the wood at night, notice a blistering appearance on the wood, see powdery frass piles below holes in the wood, or find numerous round or oval exit holes at the wood's surface. They may even see powderpost beetles collect around windows or lights.
Termite activity in the U.S.
Carpenter bees, of the genus Xylocopa, are large, heavy-bodied insects, typically 3/4- to 1 inch long. Their blue-black metallic bodies usually have some yellow or orange hair on the thorax. The upper side of the abdomen is shiny, black and hairless. The female has a black head, and the male has white markings on its head. Carpenter bees have a dense area of hairs on their hind legs. They resemble bumblebees but can be distinguished by their abdomens. The abdomen of the bumblebee is, by contrast, yellow and hairy. Bumblebees also have large pollen baskets on their hind legs.
Carpenter bees do not consume wood, but they excavate galleries in wood and make nests inside. They are basically a nuisance pest, but sometimes they cause damage to wood over time.
Carpenter bees are beneficial insects because they are important pollinators of flowers and trees.
Wood-destroying insects include termites, powderpost beetles, carpenter ants, carpenter bees
Carpenter ants often establish a number of interconnected nests; the parent nest houses the queen and small larvae, and the satellite nests contain larger larvae and pupae. The parent nest of the black carpenter ant is typically established in a cavity of hardwoods but sometimes in softwoods. The nest is associated with wood that has a moisture content greater than 15% that is often the result of rain, leaks and/or condensation in structures. The satellite nests are usually located in drier areas with higher temperatures that enhance larval and pupal development. The workers can move the brood among the satellite nests. There may be several satellite nests in different locations in or around a structure.
Carpenter ant nests can be found outside or inside a building. They have been found in water-damaged wood around skylights, in chimneys, rain gutters, window and door frames, and wood shingles, as well as inside hollow porch posts and columns, window boxes, crawlspaces, and damp attic spaces, and even inside dishwashers. Sometimes, nests are found in dry areas, such as hollow veneer doors, curtain rods, small voids between the door casing and ceiling, false beams, and under insulation in attics and crawlspaces.
An active colony may produce a distinct, dry rustling or crinkling sound. Sounds of their chewing activity in wood are often loud enough to hear. The worker ants may respond to a disturbance by striking their mandibles and abdomen against the gallery walls so as to warn other colony members. Carpenter ants are most active at night. Large numbers of foragers emerge very soon after sunset to search for food. Foraging ants bring food back to the nest to feed the larvae. Carpenter ants are omnivorous, and they feed on a great variety of both plant and animal materials, including insects (living and dead), plant juices, fresh fruits, honey, jelly, sugar, syrup, meats, grease and fat.
Carbohydrates are the primary energy source for adults (or workers). One of their most common, readily available foods is honeydew, which is a sugary substance excreted by aphids and scale insects that feed on plants. Landscape plants infested with these plant-sucking insects are a good place to inspect for carpenter ants. Carpenter ants are particularly fond of sweets.
Workers may search for food as far as 100 feet away from their nests. Ants may be found outdoors traveling from a tree cavity or stump to the building. They may travel over tree branches or vines touching the roof, electrical and phone wires, fences next to the house, piles of firewood, logs, or debris. They may be seen walking on plants, tree trunks and rotten wood stumps. They frequently travel along well-established trails between nest sites and feeding sites.
Carpenter ants seek soft, damp wood in which to establish their nests; they prefer wood that has weathered and has begun to decay. Although the nest is most often built in the softwood, later excavations are often made into perfectly sound, dry lumber. Carpenter ants can be found in porch columns and roofs, windowsills, hollow-core doors, wood scraps in dirt-filled slab porches, and wood that's in contact with soil.
Capital Area Home Inspections, LLC offers Wood Destroying Organism Inspections
Powderpost beetle adult and larva