Termites eat cellulose, a type of organic compound found in plant fibers, especially those made of wood. And while termites typically thrive off of tree stumps, fallen branches and dead tree roots in the forest, some termite species like Formosan termites and drywood termites, found in specific geographical areas, are not opposed to eating the wood fibers within your home or making their way into the tree trunk on your front lawn.
Related: How to check for termites
Termites in your house are typically found in the attic, the foundation and supportive posts under your home. If they're not found in time, these tiny insect invaders can lead to big problems for your home's structural integrity.
Regular inspections of your house and landscape are a must, but it's also important to check nearby trees for termite activity if you live in areas with Formosan termites, which can largely be found in the Gulf Coast states. While most termites only attack dead wood, when termites infest trees, they may consume the inside wood until the tree can no longer stand.
Do termites infest trees?
Live trees are a magnet for Formosan termites, while other termite species can infest dead trees, fallen trees, stumps or trees with dead spots. In fact, it's not uncommon for termites to follow the network of dead tree roots, making their way underground and into your home's foundation or wood deck.
And termites excel at staying hidden. But with a little careful probing, you can closely inspect the trees on your property for signs of termite damage.
Signs of termite damage in trees
1. Termites at the base of the tree
Termites will happily feed on both underground wood (such as dead tree roots) and above-ground wood.
Signs of termite damage in trees can start at the base of the tree. However, some termites, like drywood termites which are only found in Florida, California, Hawaii and some Gulf Coast locations, will infest dead trees, feeding upon dead wood. To look for signs of termite damage, check the surface of the bark near the base of the tree, and check for dead spots throughout the tree. Termite activity often leads to soil-colored mud tubes.
Using a screwdriver or a similar tool, probe the base of the tree for hollow spots or cavities just beneath the surface of the bark. If there are termites present, you'll find various hollow areas that are easy to break open to expose the termites inside.
2. Mud tubes along the bark
Termites don't like to be exposed to sunlight and air, which also makes them vulnerable to predators.
If the tree termites want to get to a specific area of a tree that's above ground, they'll often form mud tubes that run upwards from the base of the tree. Other times, these mud tubes appear higher up in a tree — such as a crevice in the tree where a tree branch attaches to the tree trunk.
These tunnels measure approximately the width of a pencil and typically are a rusty shade of brown. A visual inspection will usually suffice. If you do find unusual mud tunnels or tubes, leave these structures as-is and call a termite control professional right away to inspect your property for termite activity. If you're in an area where Formosan termites exist, then a termite control professional will want to inspect the unbroken mud tubes to determine the extent of the problem.
3. Swarmers or flying termites
One of the few times you'll see termites in the open will be when they're swarming. North Carolina State University reports that a termite colony swarms every year, typically on a warm day immediately after a rain shower. During this time, the termite colony is looking for a place to start a new colony.
When inspecting your trees, look for signs of swarming termites. If it's swarming season, they'll usually congregate on knobbed areas or open tree wounds where branches have been cut off, been pruned or have fallen off.
Related: Top 5 Signs of Termites in Your Home
Keep in mind that swarming termites often get confused with swarming ants. However, a closer inspection can pinpoint the key differences. On termites, the wings are all the same length, and the termite's antennae are straight. In contrast, ants tend to have longer front wings with angled antennae.
What to do if termites infest your trees
To help prevent Formosan termites from entering your home, search for termite damage in trees and other wood structures at least once a year. Regular landscaping maintenance can also help prevent trees from becoming a source of termite problems.
- When cutting down trees, remove the stump. Stump removal can be costly, but removing a stump is often cheaper than repairing a home that suffers from termite damage.
- Rake up and remove fallen tree branches regularly.
- Store firewood, plywood and scrap lumber off the ground and at least a few feet away from the structure and never against your home's foundation or under a deck.
Does my home need to be treated?
An infestation in your yard could also mean that termites have invaded your home, or can invade your home at some point. They can quickly spread their infestation without any noticeable trace. The only way to be certain is by having a termite control professional inspect your home for signs of termites.
Get a free termite inspection
Contact a trained Terminix® termite control professional today if you notice signs of a termite infestation:
- Hollow cavities in a dead tree
- Mud tubes or tunnels on the exterior of a tree
- Signs of termite activity at the base of a tree
- Visual swarming in and around your trees
Terminix offers free termite inspections by teams of trained termite experts. Our termite inspectors will inspect your home's structure for signs of termites. Only a professional inspection can give you the peace of mind that termites on your landscape haven't made their way into your home's foundation, walls or attic.