According to the National Pest Management Association, Termites cause over 5 billion dollars in damage per year in the United States.
If you’ve ever seen a single termite, it might seem improbable that they could cause that amount of damage. They’re small, after all, normally only about a quarter of an inch to a half inch in length. But termites are not usually on their own, instead, surrounded by thousands of other termites within their colony. So while the damage that one termite can cause may be small, altogether termites can wreak havoc on building structures, floors, and other wood-based items such as furniture. At this point, you’re probably wondering how long does it take for termites to cause damage?
To understand termite damage, it’s first important to understand how termite colonies work. Termites, like some other insects, live in well-organized colonies. Depending on the species, the number of termites in a colony can range from a few thousand to in the millions. Believe it or not, a Formosan colony of up to 15 million termites can live for several years. In a termite colony, there are different castes: the queen, in charge of reproduction; the soldiers who guard the colony and the workers, which do the majority of the colony’s labor along with nymphs, the younger termites.
What do termites eat and why?
This probably seems like a trick question. Everybody knows that termites eat wood. But in fact, termites have also been known to chew their way through plaster, insulation, and some soft metals. Termites eat wood because they seek the cellulose and other nutrients within it to live. They have a special kind of bacteria in their gut that allows them to break down cellulose within wood, which is why it’s no problem for them to munch through floors. What they eat and how they feed will also vary slightly based on the species of termite. In the United States, there are three types of termites, all found in different locations with different feeding habits:
- Subterranean termites: These are the most destructive termites. They form the largest colonies, eat rapidly through wood, and live in the ground. They typically only come in the home to feed.
- Drywood termites: These termites can form multiple colonies within one home. They most commonly go for wooden structures including frames, flooring, and furniture.
- Dampwood termites: As their name might suggest, this type of termite likes wood with high moisture content, including decaying wood and woodpiles.
How long does it take for termites to cause damage?
The termites’ large colonies paired with their voracious appetites make for a formidable pest. The specific timeframe that termites need in order to cause damage can vary based on several factors. According to the NC State Extension website, a colony of about 60,000 termites could eat a 2x4 piece of wood in about 5 months. Again, this doesn’t seem like a huge amount—and it’s not when you think about how many pounds of wood make up a house. Termite damage happens slowly and over time, and that’s where the problem lies. Once a termite colony makes themselves at home in your home, they can stay there for years. While termite damage is rarely irreparable, it can be extensive and very expensive to repair—especially when termites damage the structural integrity of a home. And sometimes in the cases of furniture, you might lose a lot of the original piece. That’s why it’s important to know the signs of various termite species.
Signs termite damage
Now that you know a bit about termite colonies and their appetites, you should know the signs of termites to look out for so you can avoid termite damage as much as possible. It’s worth noting that certain signs of damage only apply to certain types of termites.
- Mud tubes: Termite mud tubes are the small, narrow tunnels near termite nests that they use to travel. They’re normally on the exterior of buildings and about the width of a pencil. These are built by subterranean termites.
- Floor damage: This damage can look like blisters in the wood or similar to water damage. Blistering damage is normally a sign of subterranean termites.
- Swelling or hollow-sounding wood: One way to know if you have termites tunneling in your walls is if your door frames or window frames seem to have swelled and are harder to close. Similarly, hollowed wood is also caused by the tunneling and will usually have a honeycomb interior and hollow sound. This is typically caused by subterranean and drywood termites. Drywood termites are mostly found in California, Florida, Hawaii, and states along the Gulf Coast.
- Droppings: Drywood and Dampwood termite droppings look similar to coffee grounds or piles of sawdust. Dampwood termites are mostly found along the Pacific Coast and occasionally in Florida.
- Evidence of swarms: When termites swarm, leaving their dwelling to find somewhere to start a new colony, they’ll leave behind silvery wings - all species of termites swarm.
If you’re interested in learning more about termites, check out Terminix’s Ultimate Termite Guide. It’s full of helpful information including details about the different types of termites, frequently asked questions, and prevention tips.
Termite damage is very expensive to repair, so it’s always better to stop it before it happens. If you suspect you’re dealing with termites in your home, don’t wait to contact Terminix. With termite damage, it all comes down to the timing. The sooner you can get them out of your home, the better.