Fall termite swarms indicate a good season


February 21, 2014

In mid-November, the temperature was warmer than normal. Then, all of a sudden, on Nov. 13, 14 and 15, it became unseasonably cold. On Nov. 16, 2013, about midday, the temperature and humidity sprang back up to about 70°, resulting in an outside termite swarm, which was found by Termite Specialist Adam Fontaine in Mobile, Ala. This is great news for the industry because based on past history, such conditions in the fall have led to termite activity for spring and the following fall.

To understand subterranean termite swarming, return to the basics on termites. I’m not referring to any books, just what I’ve observed throughout my career. After a new colony is about 3 years old — considering they’ve been an area with plenty of requirements for survival, such as food, moisture, shelter and favorable temperatures — they start to produce swarmers. Most of these queens stay in the mother ship and start assisting the primary queen to develop the colony. In about the fifth year, they deploy swarmers from the colony. Remember, swarming to protect termite survival is their first responsibility; second is protecting their own.

Subterranean termites start their increased egg production around July, when the colony is most active. If the colony is at the correct size, construction of swarm castles starts. Castles are placed at the end of tunnels generally close to the outside atmosphere. Indoors, they’re typically located high on first-floor walls, above windows and doors, or coming out through the wallboard at the studs or joints. Many times, they appear to be just a spot of dirt, so they’re easy to miss, even if you’re looking for them. A castle generally is built from September to February, depending on the region of the country. Florida, for example, can have swarmers year-round.

Implications for PMPs

This means pest management professionals (PMPs) have to inspect for termites better and year-round. Instead of waiting for termites in the form of a swarm, become termite castle hunters. For the past 10 years, our climatic conditions have been perfect in many regions of the country for insect development of almost all species. In fact, the only exceptions I can think of are Alaska and a few of the upper West and Midwest states. During the past few years, I’ve noticed — mostly from phone calls and images sent to me — more outside swarms, which are even happening in areas where swarms are uncommon, such as middle and upper Michigan.

With that in mind, here are a few inspection tips:

  • Start the inspection before you get out of the vehicle. Look at the roof line. You can quickly spot whether there have been any structural changes. These are ideal spots to note on the inspection diagram because they mean entry points for termites.
  • Consider situations such as a recent addition to the structure because such a project (i.e., tree removal) could have changed the property. When trees are removed, the roots and wood scraps are often left behind.
  • Look for water problems — not standing water, but where the soil stays moist. With the exception of drywoods, termites need additional moisture. Standing water will make them move to drier areas.
  • Note what’s outside the house: storage sheds, fences, playhouses, doghouses and landscape timbers can provide excellent termite harborage. So can mulch, tree stumps, roots, wood in contact with the ground, stepping-stones and splash blocks.
  • Don’t forget the attic because it’s the No. 3 area in which to find termite castles. That’s because it offers high, undisturbed areas and moisture from vent pipes.
  • At many accounts, you might be watched or recorded, so treat every job as though it’s being recorded, and thoroughly inspect. pmp

Paul Hardy, PMP Hall of Famer and contributor is a retired senior technical director for Atlanta-based Orkin with 52 years of industry experience.


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