Every year, tropical storms and hurricanes hit the state of Florida. It happens so regularly, hurricanes have been given their own season. The Atlantic hurricane season runs from Friday, June 1st to Friday, November 30th, according to the National Weather Service. But tropical and subtropical storms can form outside this window.
This year, we saw the formation of subtropical storm Alberto on May 25th. This is the fourth year in a row that a tropical storm has formed before the official start of the season. Alberto ran from roughly May 25 to May 31 with peak, sustained winds of 40 km/h and spikes of 100 km/h winds. But what makes this storm important in terms of termite populations is not the high winds; it is the impressive amount of moisture it brought with it. Let's take a look at this connection.
As Alberto made its way up through the United States, all the way to Canada, it caused flash flooding in southeast, northeast, and central states. There were news reports all the way up the east coast. You may have seen some of those reports--videos of flood waters running through downtown Biltmore and Ellicott City like white water rapids, carrying cars and debris.
The rain was so bad in North Carolina, the state put out a warning of a possible dam failure that led to a mandatory evacuation. It takes a lot of water to do that! Fortunately, the threat passed and personnel were able to return after the evacuation order was rescinded. But North Carolina got soaked.
This is the story of Alberto. While it wasn't devastating in terms of high winds, it caused millions of dollars of flood damage across several states and left a lot of moisture in its wake.
What happens when we get a lot of water all at once? Well, a few things, actually. Heavy rainfall creates vernal pools and gives insects a location to breed. The ground becomes saturated and allows water from the rain to keep the ground damp for a longer period of time. Trees, stumps, logs, and wood on our properties become soaked and creates the conditions for wood rot. And the overall humidity increases. All of these inspire termites to increase their populations and spread more quickly.
Moisture for Survival
Worker termites are soft-bodied insects and are easily dried out by the sun. For this reason, they prefer soil that is moistened by water and rarely come out of the ground (or the wood they are feeding on) unless there is 100% humidity. When storms like Alberto dump a ton of rainwater, termites have all the humidity they need to be as active as they can possibly be. This can have many effects. One in particular, is the availability of food options. Termites have a hard time feeding on the wood of a home if it has dry ground abutting it. Worker termites must create shelter tubes up the side of a structure to go from the soil to the wood (assuming the wood doesn't touch the ground). This process is made easier when there is high humidity and moist soil. Thus, food sources that were previously difficult for termites to get to are now available. And the increased availability does not go unnoticed by the queen. She will work quickly to meet the demand of acquiring the food that is now available. This can cause the population of her colony to explode. One queen can produce as many as 30,000 offspring in a single day. That is a lot of termites!
Heavy rains aren't the only way soil gets moistened. Yards that have sprinklers can give subterranean termites the moisture they need and inspire greater termite worker activity. And standing water created by leaking spigots, hoses, and other water sources can do this as well.
Rainwater not only dampens the ground, it dampens wood. This can cause wood to rot. Why? Because microscopic fungus spores floating in the air around us attach to damp wood and find the environment needed to cause the wood to rot. As long as wood remains damp, the rot will continue. With constant rain, standing water, and high humidity, it is hard to control the fungus that leads to rotting wood. This is good news for termites. Termites prefer soft, rotting wood. They will select soft wood first. And, once they begin to feed, they freely pass from softwood to hardwood. And this transition from soft (springwood) to hard (summerwood) is made easier by the availability of moisture from the soil which worker termites bring into their tunnels by ingesting and storing soil moisture in water sacs within their bodies. They also carry soil into their gallery system and deposit feces on tunnel walls to keep humidity levels high. Moisture in and outside of a home can have a big impact on subterranean termite activity. Here are some tips for reducing moisture and resisting termites.
Exterior Moisture Control
If you have rainwater accumulation in shaded areas, trim limbs on trees, bushes, and shrubs to allow the sunlight into these locations. The sun is a powerful tool for drying the ground.
Rake leaves off the ground to prevent water from collecting on top and from moisture developing underneath.
Inspect your gutter system for obstructions or breaks. When water pools up in your gutters and runs down the side of your home, it can cause wood rot and also vernal pools next to your foundation walls where shade can let that water stand for days. It is important to make sure rainwater is channeled away from your home. Also, consider installing a gutter protection system to prevent obstructions from occurring in the first place.
If water collects near your home, it may be necessary to create a slope or to add gravel in locations that are collecting water.
If you have objects around your home that collect water, those items should be stored away from your walls.
Address any areas where the wood of your home, garage, shed, or outbuilding touches the soil, especially if it is not pressure-treated wood.
Damp, compacted mulch will lure many insects in close to your home, including subterranean termites.
Be aware that wood piles, construction materials, and other wood objects near your home will attract termites, especially when they have been dampened by rainfall.
Interior Moisture Control
In your basement and other moist locations of your house, consider putting dehumidifiers to dry things out.
Strategically-placed fans can help to keep things dry in your basement as well.
If you have a crawl space, consider having it sealed by a professional. A sealed afterward comes with many benefits, not the least of which is moisture control.
If any flooding occurs, a dry/wet vac and multiple fans will get you out of "deep water" fast.
Test with a moisture meter to locate areas of moisture in your walls and address the moisture issues. Not only will you help to prevent subterranean termites, you'll also prevent mold, fungus, mildew, and other critical issues. Keep in mind that the presence of moisture does not mean there are active termites in your wall. This is just a guide of reducing moisture and making walls less suitable for subterranean termite infestation.
Subterranean termites live mostly in the ground. That is why they were given their name. But, when the walls of a home become moist from flood waters or heavy rains that find an entry into the home, it creates moisture conditions inside wall voids that are favorable for these moisture pests to create an above-ground nest. Colonies established in walls grow quickly because termites don't have to run yards to get from their colony to their food source. And, as mentioned above, the queen of the colony responds to the availability of food by making more offspring.
Subterranean termites that find ground level moisture at high enough levels can survive and multiply indefinitely without any contact with the soil. This can make detection more difficult since workers don't have to create and maintain shelter tubes.
What moisture levels are high enough to support a termite colony within your walls? You'd think that this would be an easy question to answer with the massive amount of information we have about subterranean termites, but not quite yet. Many researchers, however, would agree that readings above 15 percent could be sufficient to support subterranean termite activity.
It is important to note that termites don't like it when it rains for long periods of time. While they can survive underwater for quite awhile, by entering into a low energy state to conserve oxygen, they can, and do, drown. This usually happens when rainwater enters into termite tunnels. So, heavy and sustained rains can lead to a reduction of subterranean termites.
There is more good news. These insects do not flee rising flood waters. This is good because they are not driven into homes by floods, the way many other pests are. So you don't have to worry about subterranean termites being driven into your home by floods.
While heavy, sustained rains are good at killing subterranean termites, floods aren't. The problem is that the dampness, humidity, and damage that can result from flooding, gives surviving termites the perfect conditions to thrive and grow populations. And survive they will. Most of the time flood waters do not get down deep enough to affect termites. Subterranean termite nests can be as far as 20 feet below the surface. It all depends on the ground saturation levels. Steady and sustained rains have a better chance of reducing termites.
Over all, a region hit by flash floods is probably going to end up with more termites when it is all said and done. As long as rains are not sustained for too long, the moisture of a tropical storm is a catalyst for termite population growth.
So, as you can see, there is a significant link between moisture and termite populations. All the rainfall we've been getting has the potential to lead to a longer termite season, higher termite populations, and an increase in the cost of termite infestations.
Subterranean termites are a multi-billion dollar problem. Each year, property owners in the U.S., both residential and commercial, dish out billions to take care of the damage caused by these insects. With four years of wetness in a row, the number is climbing. Now, more than ever, it is vital that home and businesses owners protect their investments.
The Role Heat Plays
According to Michigan State University, moisture plays a role in soil temperature. They say bare soils are warmer than loose soils but wet soils are the warmest of all. That means that all of the moisture in the ground can add to soil temperatures under the right conditions. Subterranean termites are affected by this. Termites are cold-blooded creatures that are strongly influenced by temperature. Studies have shown that subterranean termites do not tunnel in areas where the soil temperatures on the surface are too hot or too cold. The ideal temperature for these insects is between 75°F and 95°F. If temperatures are above 100°F or below 25°F, termites can die in a short period of time. So, ground temperature plays a part in how active termites will be. This, in turn, has an effect on termite populations.
Another way temperature plays a part in termite activity is by helping termites find above-ground food sources. Researchers have discovered that subterranean termites are able to sense temperature gradients and are prone to moving to shaded areas when the temperature of the soil surface gets too hot for them. This will bring them into locations where a thermal shadow is cast, such as in the shade of vegetation or the shadow created by a home. This will alert termites to the possibility of food above.
The Termite Problem
Termite damage is a unique problem for property owners. While termite damage costs U.S. property owners more than earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, and fires combined, it is rarely covered by an insurance company. Why? Because insurance companies consider termite protection to be part of a property owner's reasonable maintenance--even though most property owners don't know how to adequately protect their property from termites. That means you'll be left holding the bill if subterranean termites come to feed. So termite control service is like "insurance" for termites that your insurance company won't cover.
How Termite Control Works
When it comes to protecting a home or business from termite damage, all termite treatments are not created equal. It isn't enough to spray control products around your foundation perimeter to prevent termites from going from the soil to the wood of your walls. Rainwater will easily wash that product away or dilute it. And termite workers can come up from deep underground and find holes, cracks, and crannies to get into your crawl spaces or basement.
When selecting a termite control company, it is important to understand that not all companies are created equal. Many companies are turning to bait solutions, and most of these are not solutions at all. While you're waiting for your termite technician to return and check those bait stations, not only are termites feeding on your home, the bait in those stations are encouraging worker termites to recruit other termites to come in near to your foundation perimeter. Even bait stations that have an active ingredient and claim to immediately work to eliminate colonies take months to get the job done. During that time, your property is going to be damaged.
For decades, the number-one termite control product in the United States has been Termidor. And Termidor has matured through the years. The product used by professional today not only kills termite workers, it uses termites workers to bring the active ingredient deep into their own colony to eliminate reproductive termites and eventually the queen. When the queen dies, the colony dies.
The application of Termidor should be done by a professional. A Certified Termidor Installer knows exactly what is required to create a complete barrier all the way around a structure. They know how deep to dig, how far to space out injections, and how much product to use. A certified installer also knows how to apply this product in a way that will not leave a mess afterward. Most important of all, a Certified Termidor Installer knows what is necessary to ensure long-lasting success. This isn't a one-and-done treatment. It is best to have annual termite inspections and a reapplication of product at routine intervals.
2018 is looking to be a busy year for subterranean termites. Don't let your home or business fall victim to these sneaky, wood-destroying insects. If you own property in New Jersey, take a look at our termite control page and click the "get started" button to request a free estimate.
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