November 2011 — With some 9,000 to 10,000 known ant species and literally millions of members in every colony, ants have reached the top of the list of pest concerns for American homeowners and the Greater Houston area is no exception. In recent years, a study by the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) showed that more than half of all homeowners experienced problems with various varieties of ants, making them the most prevalent pest nationwide.

Carpenter ants can destroy wood, which is found throughout a home, but are usually found in framework, subfloors, and foundation areas where the ants’ boring activity is hidden and their nests are located. Unlike termites, they don’t feed on wood, but will tunnel into it to make their nests. Over time, this tunneling can weaken wood to the point of collapse. Carpenter ants also target rigid foam insulation for tunneling. This destructive activity, plus their unpleasant presence make these ants a formidable pest. Even though their colonies develop slowly, damage to wood and foam can be quite extensive over time. So, when you notice carpenter ants around or in your home, you have cause for concern. Most commonly, these ants will be traveling from a parent nest elsewhere in order to establish nests indoors, especially where wood and moisture are present together in a house. Unfortunately, locating and eradicating nests can be difficult or seemingly impossible. Indoors, these nests can be well hidden, hard to reach, and not easily traced. Ants may travel in winding and obscure paths. These paths become more spread out the farther from the nest they travel. Outdoors, nests can be buried underground, found in tree stumps, or tree sections.

Fire Ants — The impact of fire ants in Texas is estimated to be $1.2 billion annually, and they can pose a serious health threat to plants and animals. They are medium-sized red and black colored ants that build mounds of soft soil, usually no larger than 18″ in diameter. When disturbed, fire ants are extremely aggressively, crawling up vertical surfaces, biting and stinging simultaneously. Their sting can be quite painful and usually leaves a white pustule on the skin, often leaving a permanent scar. Worker fire ants vary in size from small (1/16 inch) to large (almost ¼ inch) in length. Many native ant species build small nests in soil and often have central nest openings for the ants to come and go, but fire ants mounds have no central openings, making it harder to eliminate them.

Leaf Cutting Ants live in large colonies of up to two million. They will bite people, but are a pest because they can be extremely destructive to landscape plants, gardens and some agricultural crops in Texas, completely stripping leaves from plants in large areas, often over an acre. They are usually found in deep, well drained sandy or loamy soils; large colonies can excavate soil from underneath roadways, potentially causing a structural threat.

Any consistent sighting of ants in or around your home should be dealt with by a professional pest control service. Other clues of an infestation include small accumulations of saw dust near wall cracks or falling from ceiling areas, sounds of crunching in your walls, or seeing ants indoors. Although normal ant activity begins in spring and goes dormant as the weather becomes cold in the winter, they are still around. If nests are found inside your home, they are best treated directly by a licensed pest control service.

Termites, active all across Texas, from Amarillo to Midland, across the Dallas/Fort Worth area and down to San Antonio, Houston and Corpus Christi, cause billions of dollars in damage each year. They primarily feed on wood, but also damage paper, books, insulation, and even swimming pool liners and filtration systems. They can injure living trees and shrubs, but more often are a secondary invader of woody plants already in decline. Besides the monetary impact, thousands of winged termites emerging inside one’s home, coupled with the thought of termites silently eating on your largest financial investment, are an emotionally trying experience.

Spring is when large numbers of winged termites, known as “swarmers,” typically emerge inside homes. In nature, termites swarm to disperse and start new colonies. Triggered by warmer temperatures and rainfall, the winged termites emerge from the colony and fly into the air. Of course, the discovery of winged termites indoors almost always indicates an infestation requiring professional treatment.

Subterranean and Drywood termites are the most prevalent termites known to damage homes in Texas; however, Formosan termites also have been identified in Texas. In fact, Formosan termite infestations have been confirmed in 30 counties in the eastern half of Texas, including Harris County.

Termites usually swarm on warm days following a rainfall, but swarms also may occur during the winter in heated buildings. The Eastern Subterranean Termite typically swarms from February to May. This species typically swarms in the morning hours, while the Formosan Termite swarms at night during the late spring. Southeastern Drywood Termites also swarm at night in the spring. The Dark Southeastern Subterranean Termite swarms during the day in March and June. The Arid-land Subterranean Termite swarms in daylight in the spring and fall. The Tropical Rough-Headed Drywood Termite swarms at night from April to July, and the Western Drywood Termite swarms during the day in summer. Unfortunately, there is almost no time during the year that termites don’t swarm, as the Light Southeastern Subterranean Termite swarms during the day in the fall.

Often there is no visible indication that a home is infested, as infestations can go undetected for years, hidden behind walls, floor coverings, insulation, and other obstructions. Termite feeding and damage can even progress undetected in wood that is exposed because the outer surface is usually left intact.

Termite-damaged wood is usually hollowed out along the grain, with bits of dried mud or soil lining the feeding galleries. Wood damaged by moisture or other types of insects (e.g., carpenter ants) will not have this appearance. Occasionally termites bore tiny holes through plaster or drywall, accompanied by bits of soil around the margin. Rippled or sunken traces behind wall coverings can also be indicative of termites tunneling underneath.

Ridding a home of termites requires special skills. A knowledge of building construction is needed to identify the critical areas where termites are likely to enter. Many of these potential points of entry are hidden and difficult to access. Experts estimate that termites damage more than 600,000 homes in the United States annually. In fact, termites cause more damage to U.S. homes each tornadoes, hurricanes, wind and hail storms combined. Unlike weather-related damage, termite damage is not covered by homeowners insurance.

According to Termite Infestation Probability Zones (TIP Zones), eastern Texas is located in TIP Zone #1 (heavy to moderate), which means the potential for termite damage is considered significant. Areas with higher probabilities for termite activity require more termite control measures to meet International Residential Code building standards for new homes than areas with less frequent activity.

In Texas where termites are very active and widespread, it is essential to maintain an effective termite prevention and control program. If you own a home, talk to your Scott at AMS Pest Control … your professional termite control expert … about methods to help protect your home from termite infestations and damage. Termite treatment is a job for professionals.