Many homeowners don’t think about termites until they start swarming in spring, but here at Vulcan Termite and Pest Control Inc. we’re on the look out all year long. The southeast region of the U.S. is a hotbed for termite activity, even in the fall and winter.
Controlling and eliminating termites in Alabama is so serious that the state government has run numerous awareness programs. They’ve also asked pest control companies and homeowners to submit termites to Auburn University for identification whenever they’re discovered. That way they can track which termites are getting worse.
So far four termite species have been found in Alabama.
Formosan Subterranean Termites
Formosan subterranean termites made their first appearance in Alabama during the 1980s. Since that time they have continued to spread county-by-county.
Colonies of Formosan termites tend to be very large. It’s not unheard of to see colonies with as many as 15 million termites. That means they can do a lot of damage.
Even though they live together in huge groups you may not notice this species at first. Formosan termites tend to come out and swarm at night once things have cooled off. They can also forage for up to 300 feet in the soil. Formosan termites will create interconnected galleries in the ground, which helps their colony reach epic proportions.
The colonies have three castes: reproductive termites, soldiers, and workers. The reproducers are the termites you see swarming whereas the workers are the ones that eat away at wood structures. Reproducers are up to 15mm long and are a yellowish brown color. The soldiers have a dark orange head with large mandibles and a yellowish body.
Formosan subterranean termites reproduce in the spring. Females and males will pair up to lay anywhere between 15-30 eggs. In less than a month the eggs hatch and the mature reproductive termites will care for them. Within a month or two the queen will lay more eggs, which the young termites will take care of.
The swarms are a common indicator that Formosan termites are around. One of the other obvious signs of a structural infestation is the presence of foraging tubes up to a half-inch wide. They are an extension of the soil tubes outside.
A few years ago there was an outbreak of Formosan termites in Alabama, largely because people were using railroad cross ties as landscaping timber. It was a perfect example of how any type of decaying wood will attract Formosan termites.
Eastern Subterranean Termites
Eastern subterranean termites are easier to spot because they are larger than most other species. At 10mm long, they are also the most common type of termite in the U.S.
This termite species will mate as early as February if it’s a warm winter. You’ll see them start to swarm during the day when the temperatures start to rise. Like other termite species they have reproducers, soldiers and workers that build mud tubes around their cellulose source. The workers are an off-white color, and the soldiers are yellowish with large jaws. Both workers and soldiers at about a quarter inch long. The reproducers are dark brown to black and up to a half-inch in size.
Fortunately, it takes eastern subterranean termites years to do significant damage to wood structures. When they do increase in number it’s usually the reproducers and the wings they shed during swarming that’s noticed first.
Dark Southeastern Subterranean Termites
This type of termite is generally found in the east and south, although they’re less common than Formosan and eastern subterranean termites. Not surprisingly, dark southeastern subterranean termites are commonly mistaken for the latter.
Dark southeastern subterranean termites are smaller, but they can still do serious structural damage. Unlike other species, this termite usually swarms during the day in the early summer. Colonies of dark southeastern subterranean termites are small comparatively, however, if multiple colonies are in the same area, swarms can get into the millions.
As the name suggests, dark southeastern subterranean termites are dark in color, but they are fairly small at just 7-8mm in length. If there’s moisture around that’s when you’ll see dark subterranean termites come out of the ground and start feasting. Typically they chew on wood with 20% or more moisture.