Nothing quite throws a wrench in your home improvement plans like termites.
Seriously–termite damage can cost over $1,000 if the termites are allowed to run unchecked.
That’s why we’re breaking down seven common signs of termites so that when the little buggers come knocking, you know how to spot your uninvited houseguests and get on the phone with an exterminator ASAP.
1. Head Banging
No, not head banging like in a mosh pit. Head banging from the termite soldiers is a little sound that will help you identify creepy-crawlies that are living in your house rent-free.
If you hear a clicking sound from the walls, that’s the sound of mosh pit-loving termite soldiers. In all seriousness, though, if you hear clicking in the walls, that’s the sound of termite soldiers banging their heads against the wood to tell other termites that the colony has been disturbed or danger is on the way.
There’s also the fact that termites are loud eaters. Worker termites, the kind that eat your house slowly from the inside out, can be heard munching away if you put your ear close to a wall they’re eating.
You probably didn’t want to know that termites could fly, did you?
Well, certain termites can fly, and these guys are the first red flag of a termite infestation. These swarmers are males and females that have left the nest to find a mate and establish a new colony. Nature at work, kids!
The bad news is that nature is at work nearby–chances are, their original colony is in or near your home, which is why they chose your home to establish a new one. Apparently, termites like familiar spaces as much as the next species.
Different species of termites swarm at different times–some swarm at night and go towards light sources (i.e. your house) while others swarm in daylight. All dry wood termites swarm after rain during specific times of the year.
3. Hollow-Sounding Timber
Now, let’s take a moment to talk about dry wood termites.
The classic cartoon image of termites is a swarm of bugs eating your home from the inside out, and for dry wood termites, that’s actually a spot-on description.
In fact, they prefer to consume wood from the inside out. This leaves a thin outer veneer of wood (or, worse, just the paint). If you knock on wood that has been consumed this way, it will sound hollow and papery because all of the internal wood has been eaten.
All those stories you heard about a hand going through a doorframe or a foot going through the floor? When it comes to severe dry wood termite damage, those stories aren’t actually inaccurate.
4. White Ants (That Aren’t White Ants)
If you see white ants wandering around your house, we have some terrible news: those may not be white ants at all.
In fact, people commonly confuse termites with white ants, which is how many a termite infestation can run unimpeded for far too long.
Here are a few key differences:
- Termites are quite light in color and can look translucent
- Termites have a completely straight antenna, while ants have bent ones
- The waist section of a termite is much thicker than an ant
- Flying ants and termites both have two sets of wings, but termites have wings of equal size
Not sure if you have white ants or termites? Here’s a foolproof way to tell: white ants don’t actually exist.
Repeat: there is no such thing as a white ant.
If you see white ants, you don’t have a white ant problem. You have a termite problem.
5. Termite Shelter Tubes
Fun fact (if you haven’t had enough of those yet today): termite shelter tubes can tell you how much trouble you’re in from termites.
Termites construct these shelter tubes as protection from predators. Also, termites need a dark and humid environment to survive (and store food and develop), so they construct these tubes to allow workers and soldiers to safely move from the colony.
The size of the tube will tell you how bad your infestation is. A narrow tube (think 10 mm or so), will contain workers and soldiers who are still simply foraging for food. A wider tube (about 50mm) means that the workers and soldiers are using the tunnel to transport food back to the colony.
6. Tree Nests and Blowholes
There are two main species of termites: dry wood termites and subterranean termites (read more here for information on that front).
This is important because the species have a few different defining tics.
Both species (but mostly subterranean) will create what’s called blowholes in trees. Since subterranean termites tend to form colonies in the trunks and root crowns of trees, they use this blowhole for escape if a predator infests a colony.
Once the colony is out, they seal the hole behind them to keep the predator from following.
If you see a blowhole (or an operational nest, distinguished by a large chunk of mud outside the tree that doesn’t seem to go away) then you’re looking at a termite problem.
Side note: if you see termites in your trees, it’s just as important to call an exterminator as it would be if the termites are in your house.
Remember our flying friends? If they’re in a tree near your house, take a wild guess where a new colony might decide to set up shop (hint: you’re not going to like it very much).
7. Termite Frass and Wings
Finally, if you see termite frass or discarded wings, that’s a sign of a termite problem.
Remember how we said termites only fly sometimes? Remember that termites need a dark and damp area to survive, so they don’t like to be out in the open air very long. The only termites that use wings are reproductive males and females looking to establish new colonies.
However, once they’ve established a new colony, they don’t need their wings anymore, since they spend all their time in tunnels. So, they shed their wings.
Wait, you might be asking, what’s termite frass? Simple, really: it’s termite poop.
Fun fact: subterranean termites use their feces to build their tunnels (which is remarkably disgusting if you think about it too long), but dry wood termites don’t. Instead, they push it out of small holes near the nest entrance.
So if you see what looks like black marks or a black powdery substance, congratulations, you found termite frass.
House Tips Beyond Signs of Termites
Long story short: if you see any signs of termites, call an exterminator on the double.
And if you see any other signs of pest infestations, don’t waste time getting those under control either.