Throughout the years I have had plenty of problems with termites. They have eaten the wooden beams of my farm in Pedasi and the majority of my rental house in Diablo. During quarantine I was stranded in Panama City, so I moved into one of my Airbnbs in Casco Viejo. To my surprise, I saw termite poop by the wooden beams in the balcony and I knew I had to deal with this problem ASAP.
What are Termites?
Termites evolved from cockroaches, which explains why people hate them. Although they look like white ants, they are not related. Like ants and some bees and wasps, they live in colonies with one or more fertile females called queens (that can live between 10-50 years) and fertile males called kings. Swarmers are winged termites that are the ones that reproduce. If you see them inside your house (or their wings that fall quickly) then you know you are dealing with an established colony.
Workers are sterile and their job is to feed the colony. These colonies are hungry, eating 24 hours a day, every day. There are over 3,000 species currently described. Most are quite small, between ¼ – ½ inch in length. There are so many of them, that the total weight of termites is more than the total weight of humans on Earth!
Most species are not considered pests, only 83 species cause significant damage to wooden structures. While they can be beneficial to agriculture, by boosting crop yields and enriching soil with nitrogen, termites are also considered agricultural pests because they attack leaves, roots and other woody tissues. They are known to carry pollen and visit flowers, which makes them a type of pollinator. We actually need termites because they are important decomposers.
Termites are actually eaten by humans and other animals including birds, cockroaches, crickets, dragonflies, scorpions, spiders, lizards, frogs, anteaters, bats, bears, foxes, mice, chimpanzees and more. However, ants are the main predator since they preform raids, as well as wasps.
What are the 3 Types of Termites?
Subterranean: need contact with soil and reach man-made structures through the foundations. To prevent this type of problem, it is best to use pressure treated wood and reinforced concrete foundations that are at least six inches above the ground separating contact with any outside wood. This particular type of termite lives in widely diverse areas.
There are three types of subterranean termites, workers, soldiers and swarmers. They are all different colors and sizes. Only swarmers have eyes, since their job is to reproduce and they leave the dark nests and mud tunnels. Workers spend their entire lives in tunnels, above and below ground. Even though they don’t have eyes, they can still tell when there is light which is a sign of danger.
Dry-wood: this type thrives in warmer climates. They also have a caste system. Soldiers protect the colony, swarmers reproduce and workers find food. Dry-wood particularly likes wooden structures, eating both softer and harder wood. They do not need moist soil or water to thrive like subterranean species. Dry-wood are the easiest to spot, but the hardest to control because they are within the structure.
Damp-wood: generally tend to live in areas that are heavily forested. They do not make mud tunnels or have contact with soil. Usually they cover up entry holes with their own feces. Most colonies are small, unless they find the ideal conditions. They do not have workers, only swarmers that reproduce, soldiers that defend and immatures that do the work.
In houses, they usually hollow out support beams leading to costly repairs. Since they are silent and secretive, it is hard to notice this type until it becomes a severe problem. Damp-wood termites like eating wood with very high moisture content, which means it might already be damaged by fungus and decay.
How to Know if you Have a Termite Infestation?
All homeowners (and renters) should be on the lookout for possible termite problems. Most people realize they have problems when they see wood damage. Since these insects eat the wood from the inside out, it might take people a while to realize the damage. An easy tell is when the wood sounds hollow when tapped. Also, be on the lookout for uneven or bubbling paint, which can also mean water damage.
Drywood termites produce wood colored droppings, which accumulate in small piles. Make sure to check the foundations of your home, since subterranean termites (which are the most destructive) build mud tubes to provide moisture when traveling between the colony and food sources. The most ignored way is seeing the discarded wings of swarmers.
How to Control Termites in a Natural Way?
While it is possible to control termite infestations in a natural way, it is best to do so at the start of the problem. Sometimes people do not notice until it is too late, and it is best to call professionals since they can cause structural damages to your home.
As preventative measurements make sure to keep wood, cardboard and other cellulose material away from your home. Allow sunlight to come through by cutting any trees that cause shade by your home. Your lawn should be mowed and cleaned. Be careful with mulch if you have termite problems. It is always possible to hire a professional to come do routine inspections to look for evidence of termites.
Orange oil contains d-limonene that gives oranges and lemons their smell. Many cleaning products used this solvent that can be distilled without breaking it down. However, do not use d-limonene directly since it is combustible, so it can be dangerous when applied. Orange oil does not maintain the combustion element. Use gloves and a rag to apply the oil generously on surfaces where termites are seen. You will need to apply for several days until they go through the applied oil. If the infestation is very intense, you can drill a small hole in the wall and inject the orange oil into the hole.
Boric acid is an in between solution, since it is not natural, but it is a lot less toxic than any other chemical insecticide. Borax, as it is commonly called, can be put into a power duster to be applied into the cracks or crevices. It can be used both indoors and outdoors. If you find the colony, simply apply directly.
You can also dissolve one teaspoon of boric acid with eight fluid ounces of warm water and spray the solution into the soil or wooden surfaces. This method to treat termite problems is cheap and easy, but it does not last long and can be ineffective if it rains. This is toxic for pets, so make sure not to use it around them.
This is a great way to prevent termites! Beneficial nematodes are microscopic roundworms that feed on harmful insects. They are completely safe and have no effects on humans, pets or plants. This particular species (Steinernema Feltia) does not attack earthworms or ladybugs. What they do is invade the body of harmful insects and feed on them, while releasing gut bacteria that causes blood poisoning and death.
This method is recommended for houses with gardens that could have subterranean termites. One box of Dr. Pye’s Scanmask Live Beneficial Nematodes comes with 10 million beneficial nematodes that can treat an area of 200 square feet (18.5 square meters). Do not apply fertilizer to applied area for at least two weeks.
Diatomaceous Earth is a great pest killer and it is not toxic to humans or animals. It breaks the outer shell of termites and other bugs, drying them out, leading the pest to die from dehydration. All you need to do is sprinkle it where there are problems or around the foundation of the home. Repeat with small coatings daily for a week. Rain reduces its effectiveness, so it would need to be reapplied after it rains. This method is not effective towards subterranean termites and it doesn’t kill entire colonies.
Neem oil is non-toxic and save to use around humans and pets, since they are repelled by its smell. Neem oil can be added to shampoos for dogs with tick problems. It is similar to orange oil, but even more effective since it is a natural growth regulator. This oil will not allow termites to molt, so they cannot progress to adults, causing them to stop eating and laying eggs. They simply have to come in contact with the oil that an be applied regularly with a cotton ball. You can also make a mixture of eight drops of garlic oil, two drops of neem oil and one cup of water for more effectiveness.
This soil fungus is very effective at keeping certain insects away. The fungus will feed on termites once they comes into contact with it, killing them. This method can exterminate whole colonies in a week. It is best to use it during the evening since the fungus is sensitive to light.
Mix six drops of clove oil in one cup of water in a spray bottle and apply every few days.
Many people use vinegar to clean their homes, but you can also mix half a cup of vinegar with the juice of two lemons to kill termites. You can also mix vinegar and baking soda powder. Simply add the solution to a spray bottle and spray where you see activity.
Dish soap is a very effective way to kill insects. Just mix six tablespoons of liquid dish soap with eight cups of water in a spray bottle. Reapply daily or every few days. If you have pets it is best to use a more natural dish washing soap.
Apply canola oil to affected areas and watch these pests die. It covers the termite’s body making it impossible for them to breath, so they suffocate and die. Canola oil can stain, so it is best to apply it to a wet cardboard or paper trap rather than to the floor, walls or furniture.