Yesterday I had privilege to speak with that intellegent pest expert, Dovid Davis, a Baltimore pest control specialist. Dovid and I had never talked about termites, so I asked him to tell me about them. And, I was glad I did, because this proved to be the most interesting discussion I have had with Dovid.
David let me know that we were for most of the interview going to talk about subterranean termites. They naturally live in the ground, like earthworms, and they feast on cellular and wood byproducts such as paper. Dovid told me there are essentially three stages of the termite life cycle, which are identified. One of these is the nymph stage. As a nymph, termites look alot like a maggot, meaning a small white worm perhaps a fifth of an inch or even less in size. They live in colonies. The heart of the colony is the queen, whose only purpose is to create the workers; and, there can be many of them in a colony. They are all her offspring, and while they work, she just produces babies. The workers, in turn, provide nourtriment for their queen, and they all eat together, below the surface.
Here, Dovid told me an interesting fact about termites, if the workers are exposed to open air they die within 20-30 seconds. They can’t be exposed to the open air. A humidity level of 15-18% will dry them out. This fact reminds me somewhat of man living on the moon.
So the workers live inside these termite tunnels. When the queen wishes to enlarge her colony, she will then procreate another type of termite termed a swarmer, which is a flying termite protected by exoskeleton. This outer shell allows this termite to live in the open air.
According to Dovid, the swarmers are generally seen in the middle of March and April. They’re birth is triggered by warm weather. There can be hundreds or thousands in one swarm. swarmers do not eat wood. Their sole purpose is to fly around, select a mate, (the swarmers come in male and female.), and find another underground area where they can form a new colony. And all of this must occur in less than 20 hours, which is the average life span of the swarmer. And that, Dovid stated, ends the description of the life cycle of the swarmer.
Now Dovid told me some more incredible fact about the underground insect. Should they want to expand their colony without using swarmers, they are forced to create new termite tunnels. To accomplish this, they take a bit of the soil, and a bit of their waste, and they make a tunnel from point A to point
B. Now here’s the incredible fact. When you go into someone’s basement, and see mud tunnels going up and down the walls, these tunnels are termite turnpikes for the workers going from the soil up to ceiling beams, and back down the wall again. Like vampires, they must return to the soil every 24 hours or they will die. And this actioncvg goes on continually 24 hours a day.
Should you open a hole in the tunnel to examine it, workers will immediately begin to either repair the tunnel or shut it off. They will shut off the hole of the tunnel and then build another tunnel connected to it. They will employ these tunnels to climb up cinderblock walls, up through the middle of the brick or even around it. They will go up even 10 feet from the floor, allowing the termites to feast on roof studs, while enlarging the tunnel as they go.
Amazingly, the termites can live like this for 60-90 days or even for 10 years. While we think of termites as lowly creatures, their lifestyle is not unlike the life man will have when he colonizes the Moon or Mars, and have to dwell in plastic bubbles to survive.
Now Dovid got to the heart the conversation. Now that we know their lifestyle, how does a pest specialist kill the termites. Dovid informed me there are two phases. First the pest specialist has to prevent termites from entering the house from the outside soil, and he has to destroy the ones that have already penetrated the home.
While treatment for termite extermination varies, the most common technique is to go on the outside of the house around the perimeter, this is the first stage. What Dovid does is to create a 6-8 inch deep trench and put in a long rod into the soil so that it goes down to the footers, and inject with a termiticide. This will kill the termites who are seeking to get in. As they contact the termiticide, it will kill them. Internal walls are treated by drilling into whatever substrate, the wall is made of and injecting with a termiticide.
According to Dovid, the efficacy of the treatment will range anywhere from 5-10 years if left undisturbed. However, if there is an gap in the chemical barrier or if you miss a spot of as little as 6 inches because of piping or a tree stump, if there is a gap of even a single inch, termites will locate it and enter the home. So an average home uses between 75 gallons and 125 gallons of termiticide for a single treatment.
Dovid closed with one more amazing fact. The new generation of termiticides is unique among insecticides. Whereas the old generation termiticides were repellants, with a smell that drove the termites away, the new generation are attack viruses, which specifically target termites. When the termite crawls through the termiticide he will pick up the infection and then bring it back to the queen. It takes 2-3 three weeks to knock out a colony. And the virus doesn’t attack humans.
Well, that wraps up another episode of “Day in the Life of Dovid Davis Pest Specialist,” and I wish you all a pest free day!