Close-up of worker termites on the forest floor

How do Termites Spread: Causes and What You Can Do (2022)

By Sarah Horvath

If you’re a homeowner, termite damage might be one of the biggest fears on your mind. Termite activity causes more than $5 billion in property damage each year in North America alone. Knowing how termites spread is an essential skill that every homeowner should know in order to protect their properties from the potentially devastating effects of termites. Read on to learn everything you need to know about:

  • How termites spread and how you can prevent them from spreading to your property
  • How to identify a termite problem or infestation
  • How to get rid of termites and swarmers
  • When you’ll need to call a pest control company to deal with a termite issue

We’ll also introduce you to a few of our favorite nationwide pest control experts who can be on your property to eliminate spreading termites fast.

Termites Spreading Behavior and Travel

Termites can be complex insects to understand. Knowing how to recognize the type of termite you’re dealing with can help you determine how to track and manage termite spreading.

Termite Spreading Behavior by Type

Spreading behaviors can vary depending on the kind of termite that you’re dealing with. The following are the most common types of termites that homeowners deal with and how they usually spread.

How do Dampwood Termites Spread?

Dampwood termites are some of the largest termites in North America, measuring up to 5/8ths of an inch long. Dampwood termites usually do not infest homes, as they require an excessive amount of moisture in order to survive. Unlike subterranean termite species, dampwood termites do not need to create underground colonies, instead living directly in the wood that they are consuming.

Due to their high humidity needs, dampwood termites tend not to move colonies unless they run out of food. This means that the most common way dampwood termites spread is through connecting sources of food. If you have a number of wood items on your property and you allow dampwood termites to eat through them, they could eventually begin attempting to feed on your home’s structure.

How do Drywood Termites Spread?

Drywood termites typically only spread during swarming. During swarming, termites grow wings and pair up to mate and form additional colonies. We’ll go into more detail on swarming and how it works in later sections.

How do Subterranean Termites Spread?

Subterranean termites usually get into your home through foraging. Termites must forage in search of food, which is an especially essential skill for subterranean termites. As their name suggests, subterranean termites travel underground, creating mud tubes and tunnels in search of sources of cellulose. These tunnels may connect with your home if there are sources of wood on your property, you might find these pests in your home.

How Far Do Termites Live Underground?

Unlike most types of insects, termites do not simply prefer to live underground — they cannot survive without creating new colonies underground. Subterranean termites may build their mud tunnels only a few feet below the ground in the summer months, as they search for wooden structures in your home to feed on. In the winter months, subterranean termites are forced deeper underground, burrowing 18 to 20 feet below the ground. However, if you live in an area where many homeowners use central heating, the warmer surrounding soil might cause termites to burrow closer to the crust of the soil. This makes regular inspections especially important in suburban areas.

How Far Do Termites Travel From Their Nest

Termites typically don’t enjoy traveling very far away from their colonies, and they will usually only travel as far as they need to in order to locate food. However, most types of termites can travel up to 130 feet away from their colonies. Once they locate food, they will leave a chemical trail behind using pheromones, which allows other termites to locate the food source and cause an infestation.

The Main Ways That Termites Spread

Termites spread using a variety of methods. The method that termites may use when spreading on your property can vary depending on the time of year, the type of termites on your property, and additional factors.

Swarming

Termites mate using a process called “swarming.” When it’s time for termites to swarm, some worker termites sprout wings and develop into alates. When they are living as alates, termites may resemble carpenter ants with wings. Interestingly, even after sprouting wings, worker termites will only make one flight, called the “nuptial flight.” As the name suggests, the nuptial flight is when male and female worker termites exit the colony to pair up. After forming a pair, the male and female termites will bond, begin a new colony, and become the new king and queen termites of each respective new colony.

Swarmers fly and explore the area to pair up with a termite of the opposite sex. Many termite colonies swarm during the spring season when humidity is high, and scientists have observed multiple local colonies swarming at the same time. Swarming is important because most male and female termites who are part of the swarm never lay eggs — instead, they become a food source for birds and other insects. Swarming can be one of the first signs of termite activity on your property, so it’s important to know when and where to keep your eyes out for reproductive termites.

When Do Termites Swarm?

Termites swarm when the weather is suitable for mating. They cannot swarm without wings, and termite wings don’t sprout until the humidity of spring arrives. You’re likely to see termites swarming right after it rains, especially when the humidity in the area is still high. Early morning swarms are especially common throughout the United States.

How Far Do Termites Fly When They Swarm?

Termite colonies enter homes in search of food. Subterranean termites travel outside of their nest using a series of mud tubes, which may lead to your home if you have firewood, rotting baseboards, or other food sources that could attract termites. They then enter your house by eating through the exterior wood on your property or by tunneling beneath the earth to make their way to the interior of your home in search of food.

What to Do When Termites Swarm Outside

There isn’t much that you can do while termites are actively swarming. Killing the swarm will not stop the problem or prevent termites from mating. Swarms usually only last around 30 minutes, which means that a pest control company likely won’t be able to arrive in time to treat the termites as they swarm. Making a mixture of water with a dash of cayenne pepper can encourage swarming termites to move away from a specific area of your property.

How to Stop Termites From Swarming

While you cannot eliminate a colony during the swarming process, there are steps that you can take before spring to discourage termites from swarming on your property:

  • Keep firewood at least 20 feet away from the perimeter of your home
  • Remove standing pools of water from your yard
  • Receive regular pest inspections to check for termites and potential entry points
  • Make sure wood siding is at least six feet above the ground
  • Fix leaky gutters and plumbing

Remain vigilant for signs of termites on your property and contact a pest control company before spring in order to avoid swarming altogether.

Mating

After termites pair up when swarming, they land, lose their wings, and become dealates. The dealates look for a place to begin their nest, typically a loose piece of firewood or small burrow. After creating a nest using surrounding materials and saliva, the termites lay their eggs and create a new colony. If this colony is located close to your home, these mating termites can spell major future problems for your house.

When is Termite Mating Season?

Termite mating season is dependent upon temperature, as the temperature must rise to a certain overall level in order for termites’ wings to sprout. This usually occurs in spring, oftentimes right after it rains and humidity in the air is still high. Drywood termites tend to swarm in the later summer months, typically around July and August. Scientists have observed multiple species of termite swarming at the same time, even if their colonies are separated by long distances.

How Long is the Termite Mating Season?

The length of the mating season can vary from year to year because it depends largely on favorable weather conditions. Mating season could end early if a cold snap arrives and kills off the termite swarms before they can finish creating new colonies. However, if warmer weather extends into fall, you could see termite swarms as late as October.

How to Get Rid of Reproductive Termites

Termite swarming only happens once per year, and most colonies swarm for only 30 to 40 minutes. While termites can cause severe structural damage to your home, they will not bite you while swarming, so a swarm does not provide immediate danger to you. Use the tips listed in the section above to prevent worker termites before they have a chance to mate and create a new colony on your property.

Budding

Termites are complex creatures that live under a strict hierarchy, with each caste in the hierarchy working to sustain the overall longevity of the colony as a whole. Sometimes, when a colony of termites detects that it’s getting too large to sustain or is in danger, the colony may split off through a process called “budding.” During the budding process, a group of worker, mating, and soldier termites break off from the original colony in order to form a secondary, lesser colony.

Causes of Termite Budding

Termites are exceptionally intelligent insects, and they bud in order to protect their colonies — even if it means sacrificing a portion of the original colony. Termite budding occurs for three common reasons.

  • Danger to the colony: Over time, a termite colony may run out of food or otherwise become unsustainable. In this situation, termites may bud in order to search for a new area to set up a more viable colony.
  • Rapid growth: Growing too fast can also be bad for a termite colony, as it may exhaust resources for every termite living in the colony. If a termite colony is too successful, it might begin the budding process in order to keep resources balanced.
  • Beginning of the mating process: Termites with wings take up more room than premature termites. During the mating season, some termites that do not grow wings may spread by budding.

How to Prevent Termite Budding

The best way to stop budding is to eliminate any termite colonies currently on your property. If there are no termite colonies on your property, there can be no budding. Ironically, because termites bud when they feel threatened, some termite treatments can actually increase budding activity. This is why it’s important to contact a professional pest control company as soon as you notice termite activity near your home.

Foraging

Foraging is incredibly important for the sustainability of the termite colony. This is especially true for subterranean termites, which eat through a higher volume of food when compared to other species. When foraging, termites look for new sources of food. If they locate food, they will leave a scent trail of pheromones, which attract other termites from the colony to the food.

How Far Do Termites Forage From Their Colony?

Termites can travel up to 100 feet from their colonies in search of food. However, termites do not prefer to travel long-distance, and will usually stop foraging once they locate food. Removing potential sources of termite food from your property will discourage foraging behavior.

Major Warning Signs of Termites

As you can see, termite control is an absolute must for any homeowner. If you aren’t getting an annual termite inspection, you should be regularly inspecting your own property for these destructive pests.

What are the Signs of Termite Activity?

Knowing the early signs of termite activity can save you from hundreds or even thousands of dollars in termite treatment costs. If you notice any of the following signs of termites, don’t wait — call a local pet control service as soon as possible.

  • Buckling floors: Termites feed on cellulose, which is a fibrous protein found in wood and wooden structures. This means that flooring can be one of the most vulnerable areas of the home. If you notice that your flooring buckles under your feet or feels “squishy,” it could be because termites are breaking it down by chewing.
  • Swollen ceilings and walls: As termites feed, they release saliva to dissolve the wood, making it easier to chew. Over time, this moisture has an effect on your drywall and ceiling. If you notice peeling wallpaper, swelling on your walls or in your ceiling, or a hollow noise when you knock on the wall, termites could be the culprit.
  • Banging sounds: Soldier termites communicate throughout the colony by banging their heads on the walls of their colony tunnels. The vibrations from this head banging tell the worker termites to retreat deeper into the tunnels where it’s safe. If you have termites in your walls, you may be able to notice vibrating banging noises during the night. While this is usually only seen with severe termite infestations, you may still be able to hear noise with a mild termite problem if you listen closely.

What are the Symptoms of a Termite Infestation?

Termite infestations can cause serious, permanent damage to your property. If you notice any of the following symptoms of a termite infestation, don’t wait — call a pest control company as soon as possible.

  • Hollowed out wood: The most damaging type of termites, subterranean termites, do not even live in your wood — they eat it. You can notice hollowed out wood by knocking on it. If you hear a resonant or echoing sound, chances are that termites have created this space by building tunnels. If you apply pressure to the wood, you might even notice a sound similar to that of crumpling paper.
  • Frass: Termite droppings are referred to by pest control professionals as “frass.” You can identify frass by looking for piles of small, brown pellets. Depending on the type of termite you’re infested with, frass might also look a little like a pile of sawdust. If you have a termite infestation, you’re likely to see frass near the areas where termites feed.
  • Insects themselves: Termites are largely nocturnal, and they prefer to stay out of sight. Nearly every animal that feeds on insects can easily consume termites, which means that it’s evolutionarily advantageous for termites to stay as hidden as possible. If you see termites crawling around at all, you probably have a severe termite infestation.

How Do Termites Appear Out of Nowhere?

When termites appear out of nowhere, it’s usually due to swarming. Swarming season typically occurs in the spring when the humidity is high. Termites don’t ever truly “appear out of nowhere —” if you notice a swarm of termites or you see a stray worker termite on your property, you already had termites. In fact, termites prefer to spend most of their time hidden in the dark, and they are most active during the evening hours. If you’re seeing multiple termites at all, chances are high that you have a much larger problem than how quickly the termites arrived.

What to Do if You Have Termites

When you find termites on your property, it’s important to call a local pest control company as soon as possible. We recommend first getting a quote from nationwide termite control professional Terminix. Terminix has nearly 100 years of experience within the pest control industry, and their team has the tools to effectively eliminate even the most severe termite infestation. After your problem is corrected, they can even set up an annual pest control plan that keeps termites away year-round.

If it turns out that you don’t have termites, there are still steps that you can take to prevent these pests from taking over your property in the future. Orkin Pest Control is another trusted name in termite removal, and they have preventive treatment plans available as well. Get a quote from Orkin even if you don’t have termites right now to rest with a better sense of peace-of-mind.

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Everything to Know About Termite Spreading (FAQ)

Do Termites Spread From House to House?

Termites usually do not move from house to house because they usually do not move or begin new colonies until they run out of food. If the home next to yours has termites, you’re not necessarily in danger due to proximity. However, if you have common things that might attract termites to your property (like firewood, stumps, or rotting wood on door frames) your neighbor’s termites might be encouraged to make your property their new home. So long as you maintain a property that isn’t likely to attract termites, your neighbor’s termite swarm shouldn’t be cause for concern. To be extra careful, you might want to call and request a termite inspection from a local pest control professional following a major local termite outbreak.

How Do Termites Get Into Homes?

If you’re dealing with subterranean termites, chances are that they entered your home from the exterior. Subterranean termites look for cracks in your home’s foundation or wood on your baseboards that they can use to locate food. They might also enter your home using compromised siding, door frames, and firewood placed too close to an entry point of your home.

Drywood termites primarily enter homes through swarming. During swarming, a mated pair may land on a piece of cracked wood, dig tunnels to build a nest, and lay eggs. The most destructive type of termites are subterranean termites, so you might not notice that you have a problem with drywood termites for years until the damage becomes evident.

How Fast Do Termites Spread?

Termites can spread more quickly than other insects. A queen termite might lay up to 30,000 eggs every day, which can result in hundreds of thousands of termites in your home within a matter of months. This fast reproductive cycle is part of the reason why it’s so important to seek professional pest control as soon as you know that you have termites.

Can Termites Spread From Furniture?

Some types of termites can spread through furniture. Drywood termites create colonies inside wooden structures, and they do not require the high level of humidity that other termites do to survive. This means that wooden pieces of furniture can host termites, which may then spread to the interior of your home. If you live in a home with wooden flooring or a number of antiques, you could be at a particularly high risk for termite activity.

Can Termites Spread Through Clothes?

While it’s theoretically possible for a termite to spread on an article of clothing, it’s highly unlikely. Termites prefer to spend their time in dark, hidden areas — which is why they travel using mud tunnels buried beneath the ground. Clothing does not contain the type of fibers that termites look for when deciding where they want to create a new colony, which means that you won’t find many termites hanging around your clothing.

Can Termites Spread From Firewood?

Absolutely. Termites only leave their colonies in search of cellulose to consume, a fibrous product found in food. When combined with its many nooks and crannies, firewood is a perfect feast for termites. If you keep firewood close to your property, termites could be attracted to it — and eventually, enter your property looking for additional areas for the colony to feed. If you store firewood on your property, be sure to keep it at least 20 feet away from the perimeter of your home.

Can Termites Spread Through Books?

Yes, termites can spread through books because the pages of books contain cellulose, a termite food source that attracts new termite activity. As termites eat their way through a book, they can easily spread to other structures in your home, causing severe structural damage to the property. If you enjoy buying used books, be sure to check them for signs of insect activity before bringing them into your home.

Can Termites Spread Without a Queen?

Termites cannot create a new colony without a queen. This means that if you have a single worker termite make its way into your home, it might cause damage to your property, but it will be unable to create a full infestation. However, termites that make their way into your home using a pheromone scent trail can easily make their way back to the colony and bring other termites with them. In this way, termites can spread between multiple areas of your property even without the immediate presence of a queen termite.

Can Dogs Carry Termites?

It is possible for a dog to bring a termite infestation into your home. Multiple types of termites have no problem clinging to hair and fabric, meaning that a dog could feasibly bring a termite into your home. However, this is unlikely to happen — worker termites are exceptionally shy and will avoid moving and living things. They’re also well-known for their nocturnal activity and are unlikely to nest on your pet. Therefore, most pets will not come in contact with termites, which means that moving them from house to house via their fur is unlikely to happen.

Can Termites Spread Through Concrete?

Yes, termites can spread through concrete. Termites do not eat concrete, and they cannot spread through concrete directly. However, when concrete dries, it leaves cracks over time. Termites can squeeze through cracks as small as two sheets of paper — meaning that they will usually have no trouble traveling through cracks in your concrete.

Do Termites Spread Disease?

Termites do not spread disease in the same way that a tick might transmit disease when it bites you. Termites are known to bite only on very rare occasions, even when directly provoked. A bite from a soldier termite can be painful and cause swelling; it might even cause an allergic reaction. However, these pests’ saliva will not spread bacterial or viral diseases. The presence of termites can attract mold, which has been known to cause and irritate a variety of respiratory illnesses and conditions.

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