How To Look At A House
McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of
site-built, mobile/manufactured and modular homes
I think I have termites. What does a termite look like?
Friday, October 19, 2018
Termites look like tiny, but plump, white ants. “Teeny tiny white gummi-bears” is another description, and they are about 3/8” long. Considering how much damage they do, termites are much smaller than you would expect. Two termites will fit side-by-side on the head of a match.
Because most photos of termites are taken under high-magnification, like the one above, you would expect them to be the size of household ants. Which is why people often think they have observed termites in a home. But they are much smaller. Also, note that the termite in the magnified photo above does not have the tight waist between segments like the swarming ants in the photo below.
Unfortunately, it is not likely that you will see a termite, even in a home with a large infestation. They are susceptible to death in dry open air, and stay within wood or construct mud-tube tunnels as passageways to maintain the moist, humid environment they need to survive.
Even termite inspectors only see “live” termites occasionally, and then just when probing areas of damaged wood. Instead, we look for “evidence and damage” to confirm their presence: wood with galleries (eaten-away tunnels in wood), mud tubes (which look like sandy varicose-veins running up a wall, like in the photo below), fecal pellets (with a distinct, identifiable shape under a magnifying glass), kick-out holes (through which they discard fecal pellets) and discarded wings from swarming termites in the spring.
If you suspect a termite infestation in a house you are looking at, it is more productive to look for evidence of their presence rather than trying to locate a live termite. For more information about subterranean termites, we suggest reading a fact sheet by the University of Florida’s IFAS Extension Service at: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ig097. An IFAS fact sheet about drywood termites is at: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ig098. However, the signs of termite infestation in the structure of a home are often too subtle to recognize for the untrained eye, so it’s best to have a Florida-licensed pest control operator, like us, examine the home for you if you are worried about a termite problem.
Also, see our blog post What do termites eat?
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