How Termites Work

Termite Infestations

Termite treatments and good building methods can't completely prevent a termite infestation. Homeowners in termite-prone areas have to keep an eye out for signs of the wood-eating insects. Often, the first sign of infestation is the emergence of a swarm. If you find alates inside your home, they probably came in through your walls. This is a sure sign that there are termites in your home. However, if you find a swarm outside, particularly if it's coming from a stump or a tree, the infestation may not have reached the building. Alates can look a lot like ants -- here's how to tell the difference:

  • Ants have a narrow waist. Termites do not.
  • Ants' front wings are significantly longer than their back wings. Termites' wings are the same length, and they can fold straight back down the length of the termite's body.
  • Ants' antennae are bent. Termites' antennae do not bend, and they look like a very fine string of pearls.

Here are some other common signs of home termite infestation:


  • Wings: Alates shed their wings just after swarming. When the alates are inside your home, they typically shed their wings on windowsills or near lights.
  • Decayed wood: Termite damage generally follows the grain of the wood. Termites also line the damaged wood with soil. Damage from other sources, like water or fungus, doesn't follow this pattern.
  • Shelter tubes: Termites will dig tubes up cinderblocks, concrete, brick and other surfaces in order to get to wood. Sometimes, if you break the tubes open, you will see live termite workers inside.
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Termite damage happens from the inside out, so it can be hard to detect an infestation. If the wood in your house sounds dull when hit with a hammer, there may be termite activity inside. You can also use a screwdriver or ice pick to carefully probe anywhere you believe termites might be hiding. This can reveal damaged wood and the termites themselves.

Treating a termite infestation requires a professional exterminator. Next, we'll take a look at the most common methods used to get rid of termites.