Termites are wood-eating insects. Although they like to eat things like trees and shrubs, they're also extremely fond of residential structures, as well as anything made of wood, including a wood product that's inside a structure they've already infested. Unfortunately for homeowners, their passion for cellulose -- the fiber in wood -- comes with a huge price tag. Every year, termites cause billions of dollars in damage to wood structures.
There are three main types of termites in the United States: subterranean, drywood,and dampwood.
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Formosan termites are believed to have entered the United States through port cities on the Gulf of Mexico and southeast Atlantic coast by ships returning from the Pacific Ocean after World War II. The first record of Formosan termites dates to 1957 in Charleston, South Carolina.
As the name suggests, these termites live in the ground, where they build large nests and long tubes, called mud or shelter tubes, through which they travel. They're the most common type in the United States, making up about 90 percent of all termite populations.
Subterranean termites need a good deal of moisture, which is why they like to nest in or near the ground. The mud or shelter tubes that they build helps them stay connected to their moisture source. Foundations and structural wood are where you'll find the majority of subterranean termite damage. Because they like moisture, they're also common in rotten wood.
A type of termite called the Formosan subterranean termite is a fairly new species in the United States, but is rapidly becoming a real problem due to its aggressive foraging behavior and living habits. These "super termites" have much larger colonies than other subterranean termites and will attack more than 50 species of plants. As such,they can cause widespread property damage that is costly to treat and repair.
Formosan termites typically live in the ground, but above ground colonies are common where there's enough moisture to sustain them. Currently, Formosan termites are found in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, Hawaii, North and South Carolina, and Tennessee.
Subterranean termites typically favor warmish temperatures and the humidity that typically comes along with them. As such, they're more widespread in parts of the United States where these conditions are common, but they're not unknown in other parts of the country where temperatures are cooler and humidity is low.
Give these termites the right conditions, such as allowing structural wood to come into direct contact with soil, or allowing moisture to puddle or accumulate along foundation walls, and you're opening up your house to a termite infestation even if you live in a low-risk area.
These termites typically enter homes through foundations, which is one reason it's essential to repair cracks in basements and concrete slabs when they appear. For more information on this, see Patching Cracks in the Foundation.