Termites, also known as white ants, get a pretty bad rap. However, they can be very destructive when the paths between humans and termites cross; costing millions of dollars each year in damage to housing and other wooden structures.
Termites – the good
Like most creatures, termites play a very important role in the environment.
Termites assist in soil construction and enrichment and are an important food source for many animals. Even humans are known to eat certain species rich in fats and proteins. Termite mounds and hollowed wood also provide habitats for other creatures.
Termites may even be a source of power in the future as they can produce up to two litres of hydrogen from digesting a single sheet of paper. According to the US Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute, termites are one of the planet’s most efficient bioreactors.
Termites – the bad
Termites don’t only munch on wood in houses; they’ll also chew away at paper and cloth – anything with a cellulose base. Plastics and rubber may also be used by termites, not as food but as materials for their own construction projects.
Preventing termite damage
It was interesting to learn that most termite barriers only discourage termites and won’t always stop them. However, if termites are having problems accessing the object of their desire, they will construct tunnels/tubes over a guard. The tunnels are necessary so that the termites don’t dry out when exposed to dryer air and sunlight. These tubes can be easily spotted and the invasion intercepted before they do too much damage.
The best way to avoid a termite infestation is to ensure you keep wood well away from your home – for example logs used as garden borders, firewood, wooden stairs and decks. If you do intend to construct with wood outside your home and don’t wish to use chemically treated wood, there are some naturally termite-resistant species of trees you can use. The availability of these types of lumber will vary between countries, so it’s best to check with a local expert.
In the case of non-termite resistant lumber, all wood-to-soil and wood-to-concrete contacts should be eliminated where possible and all wood that is exposed to moisture should be properly sealed.
As termites require moisture and warmth to go about their destructive business, it’s also a good idea not to store lumber or cellulose based materials such as newspapers under your house and ensure there’s adequate ventilation.
Another preventative measure is the use of bait blocks. These are wedge shaped pieces of termiticide treated wood you drive into the ground around your home. As termites always send out scouts first, these scouts are attracted to the bait and send for the troops. Termites feeding on the bait also distribute the poison to the nest on their return. Some of these baits have been designed not to interfere with ants or earthworms; however they are toxic to aquatic organisms.
Dealing with termite infestations
How you deal with an infestation is probably something best left to professionals as the continued stability and safety of your house might be at stake. Look for pest control companies with a distinctive green flair, it’s something they’ll flaunt and there are plenty of them popping up around the place now. However, be wary of greenwashing, read about their processes and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Non-toxic treatments employed by environmentally-minded pest control companies include, freezing, electrocution and use of parasites that will feed on the termites. Borax is also sometimes used in bait blocks, or as a dust that results in termite dehydration and death.