Eastern subterranean termites are present throughout Pennsylvania and often damage structural timbers in buildings. When this damage becomes evident. It is usually the result of years of infestation. Damage by termites is not a sudden onslaught that will cause a building to collapse in a few days.
Termites feed upon old roots, tree stumps, fallen tree limbs and branches on the ground, and similar materials. They are beneficial when they aid in reduction of wood and similar cellulose products into compounds that can be used again by other living organisms. Occasionally termites attack living plants, including the roots of shrubs and trees. In buildings, they feed on cellulose materials, such as structural wood, wood fixtures, paper, books, cotton, and related products.
Subterranean termites are social insects that live in colonies within the ground and have specialized castes to perform specific colony functions. The termite colony has three primary castes: workers, soldiers, and the reproductives (kings, queens, and secondary’s). The creamy-white workers are seldom seen unless a termite tube or infested wood is broken open. It is the workers that feed on the wood and cause damage. Individual workers are believed to survive for up to five years. Soldiers have elongated yellowish heads with large jaws and are about the same size as the adult worker-a quarter-inch. There are fewer soldiers than their associated workers, and must rely on the workers to feed them. Whenever the colony is invaded or a hole is made in a tube or piece of infested wood, the soldiers will use their jaws to defend the breach. The secondaries are supplementary reproductive females that occur in mature colonies under favorable conditions. The kings and queens are dark-brown or black and about 3/8 to 1/2 inch long. They have two pairs of translucent wings of equal length, which break off shortly after swarming. Very often the shed wings are the only evidence that termites are in a building. In Pennsylvania, swarms of winged termites usually emerge between February and June
The presence of swarming termites or their wings alone is a sure sign that termites are working in a building. Winged termites are often confused with winged ants. Most species of ants in the house are only nuisances and, except for carpenter ants, do not damage wood. For this reason it is necessary to know the differences between winged termites and winged ants. The easiest way to distinguish the two groups is to look at their waists. An ant has a narrow, wasp-like waist; a termite has a broad waist. The antennae or feelers of ants are L-shaped, whereas those of termites are straight. Furthermore, the four wings of termites are of equal length and nearly twice as long as the termite body, while ant wings are approximately equal to the length of the ant, and the fore and hind wings are of unequal length.
Wood attacked by termites has runways or passages that are coated with an earth-like material glued to the wood. Where the wood has been infested for some time, it may be largely hollowed out with passages and may be rotten in appearance. Upon probing such wood with a screwdriver or similar tool, many of the hidden worker termites may spill out.
Another sign of termites in the house is the presence of termite tubes. Termites make these earth-colored tubes for a number of reasons, primarily as a protected runway from the earth to the wood they feed on. Moreover, these tubes may serve as swarming exits for the winged termites. Look for these tubes on the cellar walls, on wooden posts, wall studs, mudsills, and door and window trim. Wood embedded in earth or in concrete cellar floors is especially susceptible to termites.