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By Alan Caruba
[Be sure to visit Mr. Caruba’s site at]  

© Alan Caruba, 2001

A longtime friend and noted consultant to the pest management industry, Dr. C. Douglass Mampe, jokingly says, "Termites were not created for the sole purpose of providing a livelihood for pest control operators." One figure cited by the National Pest Management Association estimates that Americans spend an estimated $1.5 billion annually to protect their homes and other structures from the damage they and other wood-destroying insects do.

The fact is termites alone do more damage annually than all the fires and storms combined. When you add in the damage from carpenter ants, carpenter bees, powder post beetles, old house borers, and ambrosia beetles, you're talking millions more, all courtesy of Mother Nature.

Termites have been around for an estimated 350 million years, a tad longer than the two million that humans have been wandering the earth. For anyone who owns a home or other property, the front line of protection is inspection, inspection, INSPECTION. Even that, however, has its problems. For example, in New Jersey, literally anyone can provide home inspection services, though legislation will probably correct this oversight.

It's such a problem that the New Jersey Pest Management Association spent five years putting together a program to instruct and certify those who want to become "Credentialed Inspectors." Their program has produced more than a hundred such inspectors since the program began. ( All must be licensed and certified by the state as commercial termite applicators and have a minimum of two year's experience performing termite and wood-destroying insect (WDI) inspections.

Springtime not only brings the flowers, it brings out all the insects, including swarming termites, emerging from colonies that have been happily nibbling the guts out of one's home for three to five years. When they show up in droves on the windowsills, drawn by the sunlight, every homeowner's nightmare has just come true. Termites may announce themselves in this fashion, but other wood-destroying insects (WDI) are less obvious, often working for years inside the void areas of homes and other structures offering evidence of their presence that can only be spotted by trained, experienced professionals.

Here are some tips about swarming.

The earlier the termites swarm, the more critical the condition is. Why? Because it means there's a really big colony. January and February are the start of the swarming season, but under most conditions, termites will begin to swarm around mid-May, usually just after a rain and when the temperature is around 80 degrees.

A March or April swarm usually indicates that the colony is located outside the structure and, therefore, not so severe. Swarming termites go through two stages. In the first they are attracted to light. After they meet their mate, they are repelled by light and seek darkness. Those winged termites are called "alates" and are reproductive termites intent on starting new colonies.

Drive down any street in suburban America and the odds are that a third to a half of the homes are infested. Cities with countless steel and concrete structures are no exception to an infestation because they represent an endless source of wood, not to mention tons of paper products.

Time was the main culprits were Subterranean or Drywood termites, but you can add the Formosan termite to the list. Introduced to the US several decades ago, they infest large portions of the Southern states. Until the late 1960s, one of the greatest termiticides ever invented, Chlordane, eliminated the problem and would protect a home for decades. When environmentalists targeted this chemical, it was soon banned. After that, the same environmentalists went after organophosphates and they too are, for the most part, history. Now, pest management professionals mostly rely on termite bait station systems and the industry is enthusiastic about them.

The other major insect responsible for as much, if not more damage is the carpenter ant. A colony of 50,000 to 75,000 of these creatures can literally move into a home overnight! Anywhere wood meets soil, carpenter ants find a highway to the entire structure; porch pillars, sills, girders, joists, studs, casings. Like termites, any cracks in a foundation are an invitation to a wholesale invasion. With the same timing as termites, carpenter ants

tend to show up anytime from May to July. The Queens over-winter in established colonies and then take flight to start new ones.

There's a good reason states require termite and WDI inspections when a home or other structure is for sale. They constitute a major threat to the integrity of a property. Fortunately, pest management professionals have lots of experience dealing with these creatures and have an amazing array of tools and chemicals to detect and exterminate them. The real challenge is identifying where they are and creating a barrier against a new infestation after the current infestation has been eliminated.

The best rule of thumb is to do business with a pest management firm that is a member of either the National Pest Management Association and/or its state's association. Joint membership is common among the best firms. These industry groups work hard to encourage professional standards. Most state associations will provide a list of their members in your area. After that, take the time to interview a few firms to get a sense of who can do the best inspection and/or the job to exterminate them. The termites and carpenter ants aren't going anywhere.

Then we get to the issue of cost. The lower the cost the higher the risk that the problem will not be eliminated. Neither pest management professionals, nor their customers, want to do a "re-treat." It is, however, often necessary because Nature produces billions of WDI every year.

Thus, the cost of a termite treatment must be measured in terms of the expertise of the firm. Part of this is not visible because termite and WDI technicians undergo extensive and on-going training, plus annual recertification. Training is a significant factor among the best PMPs. This is not a job for amateurs or the guy who shows up with his entire firm in the trunk of his van.

Finally, let it be said termites, carpenter ants, and other WDIs don't care the least that you're inconvenienced by their desire to eat your property or interfere with its purchase or sale. They are simply a force of Nature. Spend what it takes to eliminate and repel them. It's a good investment and a necessary one.


Alan Caruba ( is a veteran business and science writer who has been associated with the pest management industry since the 1970's, providing public relations services. He maintains an Internet site at

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