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The eastern subterranean termite causes more than one billion dollars in structural damages and control efforts each year in the United States alone, and their colonies are well established in the northeast. Workers of this species can forage long distances from their home colony, and researchers believe that a series of interconnected colonies can cover several miles of land. Unfortunately, determining how abundant subterranean termites are within a particular area is difficult given their cryptic below-ground habitat. The only time subterranean termites move above ground is when reproductive swarmers (alates) emerge from existing colonies in order to establish new colonies, or when workers infest an above-ground wood source.

Most of the food eaten by these termites consists of twigs, sticks and other forms of cellulose-rich plant matter located below the ground’s surface. In some cases, eastern subterranean termites move above ground to feed on dead trees and logs, but their above ground activity is most notable for occurring within timber-framed structures. Even when subterranean termites move above ground to feed on a home or building’s structural wood, the insects remain almost entirely out of sight. The mud tubes constructed by subterranean termites serve as the most telling sign of a structural infestation, but finding the precise location of all termite-infested areas of a home is also difficult, and in some cases, impossible without partially deconstructing a home.

Subterranean termites can find their way into just about any home, as the termites are the only wood-boring insects in the northeast that require nothing more than a single crack the size of 1/32 of an inch in width to squeeze into a home’s mortar or concrete foundation. Such foundation cracks are typically located a few to several inches above the ground surface, and research shows that subterranean termites can build mud tubes at the rate of 2 inches per hour in order to access these cracks. Mud tubes allow termites to retain moisture, as exposure to winds could cause the insects to rapidly dessicate and parish. Mud tubes are often found connecting soil to structural wood within crawl spaces, allowing termites easy access to areas of a home that are difficult, or even impossible to be access by inspectors. Some of these areas include wall voids and wood floors that are covered by tile, vinyl or carpeting. However, subterranean termite infestations can often be pinpointed due to their necessary habit of infesting structural wood that has become saturated with moisture. Therefore, locating plumbing leaks and other areas of a home where moisture retention is detected is usually sufficient for identifying all compromised areas of structural wood. Also, many states require new homes to be built in a manner that allows inspectors convenient access to all nooks and crannies of a house where termite infestations can occur.

Do you worry about subterranean termite infestations in areas of your home that inspectors may have a difficult time accessing?